If the only time you think about black-eyed peas is New Year’s Day, or when Fergie shows up in the pages of People, well, a Fort Worth distillery hopes you’ll give these peas a chance year-round.
A second chance, actually.
Black Eyed Distilling Co., located in a historic firehouse just south of downtown, will start pouring its signature BLK EYE Vodka on Saturday at its grand opening from noon to 9 p.m. at the distillery, 503 Bryan Ave.
Billed as the “the first vodka crafted by hand from black-eyed peas,” BLK EYE has its roots in a family-owned farm in Muleshoe, a Panhandle town roughly an hour northwest of Lubbock.
The concept of using black-eyed peas to create vodka came from head distiller Trey Nickels, whose inspiration was born out of desperation. After years of drought took its toll on his family farm in Muleshoe, Nickels sold his stake and in 2014 moved to Fort Worth and began making TreyMark Black Eyed Vodka in the firehouse on Fort Worth’s near Southside.
His mother, Deborah Nickels, invested in the black-eyed pea dream, too. They mashed and fermented their unique liquor on site, using black eyed peas from back in West Texas. They even managed to fit their 22-foot-tall still column into the firehouse by having it extend up through the old space for the fireman’s pole.
But launching a liquor, particularly in Texas, can be difficult. And in April 2016, TreyMark closed and morphed into BLK EYE Vodka when investors, led by Scott Billings and Todd Gregory, bought into the black-eyed pea brainstorm. Billings, a CPA, and Gregory, a former banking executive, helped replace some equipment in the distillery and add new decor to the tasting room. The investment group provided enough capital to give the peas another chance.
And now, together with Trey Nickels, who continues as master distiller, and Deborah Nickels, tasting room manager, they are poised to re-launch BLK EYE Vodka.
For Gregory, who grew up on a farm in West Texas, the idea takes him back to his roots.
“We grew up with rows and rows of black-eyed peas on the farm. We’d pick ’em, shell ’em and eat ’em,” he said. “Now, years later, I’m drinking them.”
And how does it taste?
Our friend Steve Wilson, The Weekend Chef, got a sample Friday and said it was smooth, with a hint of vanilla and a nutty flavor that reminded him of some sakes. According to BLK EYE’s website, the vodka is distilled 22 times, with a 40 percent alcohol by volume, and the amino acids in the black-eyed peas “contribute to a higher-quality spirit.”
The grand opening Saturday will feature tastings, of course, but also tours, craft cocktails and music. Bottles of the vodka will be available for purchase, with a limit of two per ID’d customer. The event is for people 21 and older. Each bottle will cost $28 and will be signed.
Not only does the star ingredient in the vodka come from Olton, near Muleshoe, but local artists have been commissioned to design its labels. The debut bottle is by Pat Gabriel, a Fort Worth landscape artist.
Billings said interest in BLK EYE’s launch on social media has been strong so far, and while he doesn’t necessarily expect a line around the block, with nice weather slated for Saturday he thinks the grand opening will be another only-in-Fort Worth moment.
BLK EYE plans regular distillery tours starting March 11. Details are on the website.
And if you can’t make it Saturday but are still curious, the vodka is available at several DFW liquor stores, including Specs on Hulen and Chicotsky’s on West Seventh. For a list of stores stocking it, go here. For updates, follow @blackeyedco on Twitter.