Life was good for Jonathan and Robert Likarish. Jonathan had a successful career and a family and Robert would be graduating from law school at St. Louis University in one more semester.
During Christmas dinner, Robert, then 24, told his parents, John and Marcia, he had other plans.
“We had visited a small distillery as part of a family reunion in 2008 and my dad was joking that when my brother and I retire, this is what we should do,” Robert said. “Fast forward to that Christmas dinner and I announced to the family, ‘I don’t want to be a lawyer, I want to be a distiller. Can I start it now?’ I did it on that day because Christmas dinner is the least confrontational place you can have dinner.”
Jonathan, then 28, a biomedical engineer, said “if he’s doing it, I’m doing it.”
Robert may have had some second thoughts after graduation, but those doubts literally went up in smoke. He graduated on June 6 and had extended his apartment lease a month. He did not extend the insurance. When he returned from a celebration dinner with his parents, his apartment had burned down.
“That was the easiest moving job ever,” he can joke about today.
The brothers took off across the country to learn the craft of distilling. During those two years, they had to purchase a still, go after financing, find a building and get the proper permits.
Marcia, who is called “The Mother of Texas Whiskey” got the brothers on a list to purchase a Scottish still, usually a five year wait. They got it in two years.
ETX View took a team of reporters, videographers and photographers to Denison because this small distillery made history. At the Whiskey World Championships, for the first time ever, a distillery from Kentucky or Tennessee did not win. Instead, it was Texas. Ironroot Republic’s Harbinger Straight Bourbon Whiskey was the winner.
The family explained the name Ironroot pays tribute to viticulturist and Denison native T.V. Munson’s hardy “iron” roots that helped save the French wine industry from total destruction. Munson’s efforts resulted in Denison and Cognac ultimately becoming sister cities. The brothers found inspiration in adapting the French distilling techniques, especially the process of elévage, to tame the intense climate of Texas rather than imitate traditional flavor profiles.
They’ve been open since 2014 and because they are so small, local liquor stores usually only carry six bottles at a time.
During our travels in East Texas and to Denison for stories in this magazine, each brewery, winery or distillery not only had wonderful flavors, but incredible stories.
As fun as it was to learn about pairings and flavors, we equally enjoyed learning and telling the stories of how families started these local destinations.
And who knows, the next sip you take might be the best in the world.