The bourbon line began forming around 7 a.m. Saturday.
Better yet, call it the brrrrrrrr-ourbon line.
Temperatures were in the low-30s when the first thirsty souls arrived, and the slate-gray Fort Worth sky made certain the sun wasn’t going to warm them up much as they waited five hours to buy a bottle of Firestone & Robertson’s TX Bourbon, the first straight bourbon ever made in Fort Worth.
Jacob Feldhues and Matt Gauntt came prepared, with jackets layered over fleece, knit caps pulled tight, and Hot Hands in their pockets. (Those amazing hand-warmer packs were invented for a day like today.)
“This is the Black Friday for bourbon lovers.” said Feldhues, unphased by the frosty morning.
But there was one thing the two Fort Worth friends weren’t prepared for: They weren’t first in line Saturday at the distillery on Vickery Boulevard, just south of downtown. That badge of honor belonged to Derrick Brister, who drove over just after work at the Sheriff’s Department. Together, they huddled on the front porch of the 1927 warehouse and waited.
By 9 a.m., the line had grown from three to 30. Co-owner Leonard Firestone had arrived wearing his cowboy hat and bearing coffee and doughnuts. His fans thanked him profusely -- even if he couldn’t spike the Starbucks with a shot of bourbon.
Then something totally crazy happened.
The line grew from 30 to 300. Three hundred to 600. And so on.
It snaked west on Vickery and turned a corner. Cars came from everywhere and people jumped out to grab a spot in line, almost as if they were camping out for Springsteen tickets, circa 1984. Most seemed unconcerned about how far it was to the front door, or how long they’d have to wait.
And then something even crazier happened.
Most of the nearly-frozen faithful told me they had no intention of drinking a drop from the bottle they’d buy Saturday.
“We’re not breaking the seal,” said Feldhues, a process leader at GE Aviation. “This one will stay on the shelf.”
Everyone nearby nodded.
They weren’t here to drink or party. They wanted to be part of this day in Fort Worth, circa 2016, because they respect the kind of patience, precision and perseverance it took Firestone, co-owner Troy Robertson, and head distiller Rob Arnold to make TX Bourbon.
Nearly five years in the barrel. Seven years in the planning stages. That’s an eternity in this day and age.
“They’ve been waiting longer than anyone,” said Gauntt, a Fort Worth real estate agent. “So a few hours in the cold is no big deal.”
Finally, at about 11:58, a chain rattled and a metal door rose. The owners emerged to cheers like rock stars -- on the rocks stars.
When shouts of “speech! speech!” went up from the porch, Firestone sheepishly obliged: “This is a toast to five years, guys. It’s a toast to everyone here. We appreciate your support, and we hope you love the bourbon.”
And with that, the line began to move inside, past the 53-gallon wood barrels filled with bourbon, up to a small bar where the first purchases were made. One bottle per person; $50 per bottle. Next, there were samples of the bourbon, rich in color and flavor, in plastic TX shot glasses -- because if you wait that long in the cold you need a drink, no matter who you are. (There were samples of TX Whiskey, too, the F&R’s wildly popular blended whiskey that debuted in 2012.)
Then the proud owners of the new TX Bourbon bottles took their purchases to a table in front of the distillery’s 500-gallon copper stills, where Firestone, Robertson and Arnold greeted them and autographed what is likely to become a collector’s item. A few asked to take photos for Facebook, for posterity, and then they exited through the gift shop, of course, with a shopping bag, a sparkling bottle and a bourbon-soaked memory.
Around 3:30 p.m., long after the first credit card was swiped, the line outside was still several hundred strong. A distillery rep said they had to cap the line at 750, and turned away about 250 late-comers because in their wildest dreams they thought at most 300 people would show up. But people just kept coming, which is even more amazing considering TX Bourbon will be available at Fort Worth stores by mid-week.
A man riding by the line on his bike stopped to ask: “What’s going on here? What are y’all waiting for?”
When they told him “bourbon,” he smiled, bewildered. And then he pedaled off, telling them, “have a nice day.”