hey say everything’s big in Texas, and arriving at Ironroot Republic Distilling, you’ll be inclined to agree. Helmed by Robert and Jonathan Likarish, two brothers raised in Texas, and their mom Marcia Likarish, Ironroot Republic Distilling is a strange, wonderful combination of European-style technique and Texas attitude. They just started distilling three years ago, but the scope of the facility—a three-and-a-half acre lot that was once a boat dealership—says loud and clear that these guys have their sights set on something big. There’s something predestined about the Likarish brothers’ love for distilling. Their family has been in the copper industry for years—their dad was a metallurgical engineer—so when they visited their first distillery back in college (Washington State’s Dry Fly), it flipped a switch. “That was the starting point in our minds that you could actually make your own liquor,” says Jonathan. “But then, we fell in love with the copper. So we knew at that point, we’d eventually be in the distilling business.” Not long after, the Likarish brothers decided it was finally time to take the plunge. Trouble was, they weren’t alone. In 2013, competition for stills was fierce. They’d originally ordered a still from Forsythe in Scotland, but a few weeks later they got a sheepish phone call that Edrington Group had bought up all of Forsythe’s capacity for the next two years, and that theirs couldn’t be manufactured after all. Discouraged, they called Vendome. Last they’d checked, the American still
manufacturer had a waiting list at least two years long. But it turned out that the Likarishes had inadvertently ended up putting themselves on the waiting list during that first call, and their still was scheduled for production in just two months. Surprised, delighted, the Likarishes put down their deposit. Ironroot Republic makes a wide range of spirits, including vodka, gin, moonshine, brandy, and several different award winning whiskeys, including Harbinger Bourbon Whiskey & Hubris Corn Whiskey, many incorporating locally grown grain. “We started more on the wine end,” explains Jonathan. “We were into Armagnac, Cognac—whiskey as well—but it wasn’t just whiskey. That’s a little different. A lot of our distilling brethren come from a brewing background.” That wine-influenced approach is evident in Ironroot Republic’s approach to warehousing and maturation. Full size barrels are the norm here, and unlike many American whiskey producers, they do everything they can to keep the warehouse temperatures down and the humidity up, including insulating the warehouse with foam and spreading water on the floor to keep the air more humid. “We don’t want it to get up to 140 degrees in here,” says Robert. “That’s the opposite of what we want. We’re more oak averse. Coming from the brandy tradition, the cellar has very slow oak introduction. So for us, with our non-bourbons, we practice elevage, switching from newer casks to older and older barrels as the spirit gets older.”
Jonathan gestures to a few smaller barrels that dot the warehouse. “Smaller barrels are reserved for experimental batches,” he explains, like a series of bourbons made with different rye varieties grown in Oklahoma. “We’ve got purple corn, green Oaxacan corn, black Aztec corn, Bloody Butcher corn, flint corn, this beautiful Magic Manna corn—off the still it smells like sugar cookies,” says Robert. “For us, if you’re not trying new things every year, you’re staying pretty stagnant. And when you’re playing around in the whiskey geek world, they want to know what’s coming next.” Like many craft distillers, the Likarish brothers have had help come from unlikely places. Their boiler inspector, Jim Jake, moonlights as a grain farmer, and gave them a recipe for some of the original moonshine distilled in the Denison area generations ago. Their real estate agent heard about their property at church (where so much good Texas networking happens) before it hit the market, and they got a great deal on the transaction. Local farmers have been thrilled to collaborate with Ironroot Republic by supplying custom-grown grain. “The farmers really, really started embracing it,” says Robert “We’ve got standing offers from five or six different people: ‘Do you want something different grown here? Tell us what you want.’” They’re even working on bringing back a barley variety bred right there in Texas, although the largest seed quantity they can find is just 75 seeds. “I have no idea what it tastes like,” says John “But it would be really cool to have some guys raise some.” But perhaps the most amazing, WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
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