One of the most interesting things about being a spirits writer is that people always want to know about the most interesting thing is that they’ve never heard of. Some little thing that is really special but that nobody has heard of. However, unlike restaurants or beer, most of the really large liquor companies actually do a pretty decent job of making a good, distinctive product. A beer snob will certainly scoff at a Bud Light. A whiskey drinker is normally fine with Jack Daniels Old No. 7 or a glass of The Glenlivet.
But sometimes there is something really special being done in small batches that the whole world doesn’t know about yet. That is surely true of IronRoot Republic Distilling in Denison, Texas.
Founded by two brothers who really understand how to put craft into their distilling, they are doing something unique in the shadow of Dallas. “We chose Denison because of its long wine heritage,” says Jonathan Likarish when asked about their locale. He tells me that Denison was one of very few places that had French grapes that could be sent back to the motherland after blights had decimated the French wine industry in decades past, and how the rich farmland in the area could be used to create some unique flavors. Ninety percent of the label’s ingredients are grown within 60 miles of the distillery, and the brand makes use of a veritable witch’s brew of berries, herbs, peels and grains. Both Jonathan and his younger brother Robert (pictured together at the top of the article) will tell you about the rare “bloody butcher” corn that they use in their vodka and moonshine recipes, and either one can tell you how they choose their grapefruit peel or how they use orris root to bind flavors together in their gin. Robert will gladly tell you of his love of brandy and how they are using brandy techniques in their barrel aging process. Jonathan, with his love of whiskeys, spoke of their myriad batches and their upcoming Texas bourbon.
Currently, they have three offerings. Their vodka is very distinct and done in the Russian style. Rather than being filtered until it is flavorless, like Grey Goose or Stolichnaya, the Blue Norther Vodka has a distinctive honey and caramel flavor with a vanilla finish. It makes a nice Moscow Mule (they like to call it a Denison Donkey, above right), but would also make a superior gimlet or vodka martini.
The Carpenter’s Bluff moonshine is an all-Texas corn whiskey. However, the brothers know a lot about corn. They barrel several different corns in different woods to blend, and have used the combination of bloody butcher corn whiskey, heirloom red corn whiskey and others to create something that is much sweeter and fuller-bodied than most unaged whiskey. The moonshine has flavors of honeydew, peach and berries. It is tailor-made for cocktails, though it also stands up well on its own.
IronRoot’s Texas Drought Gin is what they describe as a “gateway gin” for people who have been burned by the strong juniper flavors of some of the liquor made in the English style. The juniper is almost an afterthought. This tastes of lemongrass and citrus flavors, but mostly of pecan. It makes an excellent martini, and rather than pairing this with tonic water, it could easily be mixed with club soda to simply allow the aromatics to free themselves a bit more. The brothers plan to add both bourbon and brandy to their offerings in the future.
Currently, there are distillery tours available, and IronRoot Republic is distributing throughout Texas and parts of Oklahoma. If plans hold, the distillery will have a tasting room opening on Dec. 5. For further details, visit IronRoot’s website.