To really appreciate the recently opened Acre Distillery you have to know a little about Acre's founder Tony Formby and head distiller JB Flowers.
Formby is a story in himself. The Vancouver-native spent the early part of his career opening and managing restaurants before he and four partners revolutionized that industry by promoting a touchscreen order entry system (Squirrel POS) that has become the industry standard here and abroad. In 2006, Formby was heading a signage company when he met Rahr & Sons Brewing founder Fritz Rahr.
The young brewery needed an investor, and Formby agreed to help. While working in his new role as managing partner at Rahr, Formby brought on Flowers to oversee brewing operations. The rest, as they say, is history.
Flash forward several years. Now out of the beer brewing business, Formby received a call from Flowers in late 2014. Looking back, Formby admits he was skeptical about the idea initially. But after reflecting on what the craft beer world had gone through, he began to see parallels with where craft spirits are at the moment.
Here was a chance to capture some of the craft beer magic through a different medium. The first step was to find a suitable location.
"We looked at a couple of buildings in the Near Southside, but they required that we have a landlord," he said.
Knowing how much money it would take to refurbish any building, Formby knew he preferred to invest in a property he owned.
Eventually, he found an empty building near the Fort Worth Convention Center. Formerly home to The Keg restaurant, his first impression wasn't exactly glowing. The restaurant had been closed in haste. Tables were still set with dusty dinnerware, and several kegs of rancid beer had been left in the bar.
The wood floors, tables, and bar top caught his attention, though. Formby has a thing for wood, and he knows quality when he sees it. Over the next several months, the location underwent a transformation from grungy abandoned business to its refined present day manifestation.
The pine wood floors were refinished, along with the tables and bar top. Mahogany French doors were added. And as the distillery developed, so did the concept.
Initially, Formby envisioned a lone cappuccino machine to compliment selections of whiskey.
Then he realized that nearby Texas A&M University School of Law students would be looking for several caffeinated offerings.
"Well, if we're going to do coffee let's really do coffee," Formby told himself.
So Acre Distillery now offers full barista service.
And the food? Well, that came about because of the college students too.
UTA and A&M students were all-too-happy to encourage Formby to offer breakfast and lunch options. The immediate area surrounding the convention center doesn't offer a wide variety of restaurants.
"Originally, we were going to buy baked products from local bakeries," Formby recalled.
But a local baking wizard, Jane Sokolov, happened to be looking for a new venture. Formby quickly snatched her up.
Flowers and Formby decided that Acre Distillery would start with the most widely consumed styles: bourbon, whiskey, vodka, and gin. Other selections like rum may be added in the near future, Flowers said.
Making liquor didn't mean starting over for Flowers, who worked at Rahr from 2007 to 2009.
"You have to be a brewer before you can be a distiller," he said. "It's a natural evolution of the brewing process with another added step at the end. But here's a lot to learn. We've been working on this for two or three years."
The term craft spirits may be new to some ears. And it's the novelty of the idea that has Formby and Flowers excited about Acre's future.
A few years ago, there were only around 600 distilleries in the United States, Flowers noted. By comparison, Austria has around 20,000.
So what defines a craft spirits distillery?
"Basically, it refers to small batch distilling," Formby said. "So craft distilling is much more labor intensive. Small batch stuff done in the old way, not on an automated floor. You're not going to have the same consistency as bigger distilleries for a number of reasons. The mash, barrels, and climate are all going to have an impact."
In short, a little bit of variation can be a good thing because customers can appreciate the unique profile of each batch. And the recipes and cocktail mixes can be changed based on public feedback or the adventurousness of the brewer.
"There's more room for the creative process. But once we get it right we try not to mess with it too much," Formby said with a laugh.