By June Naylor
Photos courtesy of Grayson Whiskey
Vernon Wells makes a pitch for his made-in-Texas bourbon
So how does a Major League Baseball player slide from an All-Star career into making premium bourbon? For Vernon Wells III, it’s about following his passion.
Wells, a Colleyville resident, is part of the founding trio of Grayson Whiskey, which claims two firsts: the first Texas-blended bourbon as well as the state’s first Black-owned whiskey brand.
Years before delving into the whiskey world, Wells — who grew up in Arlington and was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school — discovered a passion for fine wine. Sitting out with injuries while playing for the Angels in 2012, the slugger and teammate Chris Iannetta, a catcher, realized they really enjoyed good wines when dining at high-end steakhouses. “We just thought, ‘Why don’t we make wine?’ ” Wells laughs at the memory.
They quickly launched JACK Winery in Napa Valley — that’s an acronym for their children’s names (Jayce, Ashlyn, Christian and Kylie) — where their cabernet sauvignon, red blend, pinot noir and white blend earn good reviews from wine critics. “It was really fun building that brand. In the Napa world, you really have to earn your stripes, and we’ve done that — and we continue to evolve and grow.”
Retiring in 2013 after a year with the New York Yankees, Wells began to fully focus on his new winery and to research other spirits. He looked into making cognac, but making whiskey was a more natural transition: “I’d always enjoyed a bourbon or a scotch with the guys.” Along with private equity investor Brandon Davis — also involved in JACK wines — Wells sought a third partner. Dallasite Nico Martini, who authored the book Texas Cocktails, turned out to be just the right fit for the Texas bourbon endeavor.
Through Martini’s deep connections in the Texas spirits world, the trio wound up at Ironroot Republic Distillery in Denison (a town about 75 miles north of here).
“We sat down and talked about what kinds of whiskeys we like and went from there,” says Martini, who considers Ironroot one of Texas’ best blenders. “I loved the idea of working with three great distillers, and that’s what we did.”
Using 100 percent bourbons from Ironroot, Lone Elm’s Five Points Distilling in Forney and Balcones Distilling in Waco, the 119 proof blend is a rich, mahogany-hued spirit that delivers a spicy, maple-raisin nose and clove, cinnamon and dark syrup notes on the palate.
The name, Martini says, comes from Grayson County, where Ironroot is located. But in acknowledging that link to their product they are also giving a nod to all who paved the way for them.
Wells — who enjoys this bourbon neat but also in classics like a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned — says he’s proud of their accomplishment, but all credit goes to the experts: “When you surround yourself with people who know a lot more than you, it works out well.”
The new Mariachi’s Dine-In: Cocktails and so much more
By June Naylor
Photos by Meda Kessler
Mariachi’s Dine-In owner Ashley Miller calls on her mixology background for the cocktail lineup at the recently relocated restaurant in Fort Worth. Her rendition of a Paloma, the classic tequila-grapefruit drink, features Tajín — a tart-spicy Mexican seasoning — on the rim for a sparkly pop of heat to play against the citrus-floral elixir. She uses stemless wineglasses for this but says a Collins glass works well, too. Look for the Paloma and other cocktails along with a small selection of house wines, plus mainly Mexican beers — bottle and draft. The expanded food menu includes both vegan and classic dishes such as street tacos, taco plates, burritos and more. Desserts include sorbets spiked with rum or mezcal; all are dairy-free and vegan. There’s also a menu for kids 12 and under.
Find the new Mariachi’s at 5724 Locke Ave., Fort Worth, 682-760-9606, mariachisdinein.com.
Panther City Paloma
- Lime wedges
- Tajín chile-lime-salt seasoning for rim of glass
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Casamigos Blanco (or similar blanco tequila)
- ½ cup fresh grapefruit juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons simple syrup
- 1 tablespoon St-Germain Elderflower liqueur
- 1 tablespoon Cointreau
- Topo Chico or your favorite sparkling mineral water
Run a lime wedge over rim of glasses; dip the wet rim into Tajín. Combine remaining ingredients in a shaker with ice; shake and strain into glasses filled with ice. Top with splashes of Topo Chico and serve.