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Photo by Christina Berger.

The evening commenced with an anxiety-inducing golf cart ride, the wind whipping my hair back and forth Willow Smith-style as we zipped toward the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival’s Desserts after Dark event at the Firestone & Robertson distillery just east of downtown. The promise of 16 booze stands and 14 pastry stations presented the perfect opportunity for me to heed the modern proverb “flaunt what yo mama gave ya” — in this case, my incorrigible sweet tooth.

My fingers growing pale from clutching the seat, we flew over the gravel parking lot, passing two women making the trek by foot — their exasperation palpable as it became clear they were unaware of the shuttle service. Moments later, we hopped off at Whiskey Ranch, presented our press passes, and traipsed toward the main area.

Photo by Katie Shelton.

Just beyond its sixth year, the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival spans four days of events featuring ideal food and alcohol pairings: tacos and tequila, burgers and brews, and more. But it’s more than just an excellent excuse to stuff yourself with victuals and spirits cooked up by your favorite local restaurateurs and mixologists. The festival’s nonprofit foundation raises funds for local grant programs and scholarships benefitting aspiring culinary art students in Fort Worth. It’s all for a food — er, good — cause.

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Exhilarated from the brisk commute and ready to carb-load, my crew approached the large courtyard hedged by three buildings arranged in a horseshoe shape. At the center, a stone fire pit blazed and a smattering of trees displayed strands of bulb lights. The distillery’s giant barn doors lay open, revealing an endless system of pipes and the stories-tall copper tank branded with the “TX” logo. At the base of the doors stood a DJ with rolled-up sleeves bathed in the neon purple glow emitting from a series of floodlights. 

Though we were there for the drinks and confections, we were here for the music. The DJ mixed a spectrum of crowd-pleasers, from “Son of a Preacher Man” to “Back in Black” and “Jump Around,” with song transitions as smooth as butter.

Photo by Katie Shelton.

With the city skyline as our backdrop, my friends and I zigzagged through the crowd, sampling each of the cocktails and pastries while moving to the beats. Beginning with TX Whiskey desserts, as one should at TX’s birthplace, we first indulged in the mouthwatering whiskey buttermilk pie from Sweet Lucy’s Pies, then Alchemy Pops’ frozen delight, which was composed of honey, ginger beer, apple juice, and a good ol’ TX kick. 

Eventually, we divided and conquered, splitting drinks and desserts to avoid the risk of getting three sweets to the wind. After consuming everything from espresso and cherry cheesecakes to red velvet cake balls to French bread pastries, we concluded that Sweetie’s Cheesecake took the cake (pun intended). My friend described its whipped yogurt-like consistency infused with peach slices and a crumbly, buttery crust as “last-meal delicious.”

As for the refreshments, the clear winner came first and was never surpassed. Though each drink distinctly differed from the next, none but one paired well with the comfit. Some mixtures seemed needlessly complex — like the bartenders were locked in an unspoken battle to see whose concoction could boast the strangest ingredients. “Who knew there were so many ways to ruin whiskey?” my cohort quipped.

Though I’m uncertain who won that particular contest — Bird & Branch’s overwhelmingly cardamom-laced Spiced Carrot Cake or B&B Butcher’s spicy hot TX AF Old Fashioned garnished with chocolate-covered bacon — I do know the true victor: Good Morning, Vietnam! crafted by Four Sisters. I imagined Robin Williams’ character Adrian Cronauer bellowing his signature sign-on as I chilled by the fire and sipped the hootch brewed with Vietnamese coffee and sweetened condensed milk, topped with a cookies-and-cream-dipped wafer. 

Our waistbands tight and our blood sugar spiking, we left (almost) the same way we came — gripping the cart as we barreled down the road, none the worse for wear.

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