An engineer and a lawyer walk into a bar…
For brothers Robert and Jonathan Likarish, that’s not the start of the joke, it’s the start of a story that will come to an end in early 2014 with the founding of Ironroot Distillery Denison.
“We randomly wandered into a small distillery in Spokane, and really just kind of fell in love with the idea,” said Robert. “We started doing the research and decided ‘Why the heck not, let’s go for it.’”
Jonathan, a biomedical engineer by trade, and Robert, who earned a law degree after his undergraduate career at Austin College, settled on Denison after touring several locations in Texas, including Corsicana and Lubbock.
“All these other small downs we were visiting — north, south, east, west — it was just like Denison ‘got it,’” recalled Robert. “The support was instantaneous and immediate. We felt at home as soon as we got here.”
According to Denison Mayor Jared Johnson, the feeling was mutual.
“We have a diverse group of young professionals who have chosen Denison as a place to live,” the mayor said Thursday at a Chamber of Commerce press conference announcing the new business. “(In Ironroot,) we’ve successfully recruited an industry that’s not only industrial, but has a retail component and a tourism component.”
Mayor Johnson pointed to the city’s hotel/motel tax as a vital tool in providing funds to incentivise companies to do business in Denison. In the case of Ironroot, those incentives will take the form of a $20,000 grant for infrastructure improvements to the distillery building located at the corner of Loy Lake Road and Trail Drive, as well as a temporary bridge loan guarantee.
“We couldn’t be here without the city’s help,” said Robert. “It’s going to help us make sure that the building’s done correctly, so we don’t have to take any shortcuts.”
Liquors produced at the Denison location will include vodka, whiskey, and gins made from local produce, including north Texas junipers, said Robert. According to the Likarish brothers, the distillery when operational will immediately become one the three largest artisan distilleries in Texas.
Scott Stewart, executive director of the Texas Distilled Spirits Association, said fewer than 50 distilleries are operating in the state, but the number is growing rapidly. Stewart points to recent changes in state law that allow distilleries like Ironroot to sell their own products on site, both in 750ml bottles and directly to customers as cocktails.
“This is an exciting time for Texas craft distilleries,” said Stewart. “With the huge successes from this past legislative session, craft distillers in this state will be given more opportunities to grow and promote their unique spirits.”
On Thursday afternoon in downtown Denison, high spirits were the only spirits on display at the announcement ceremony. No matter how the the story of the Ironroot distillery got started, it’s a story that wouldn’t have included Denison if not for the work of the development alliance and chamber of commerce, insisted Robert Likarish.
“The warmth and excitement we got from (Denison city officials), it was like nowhere else in Texas,” he said.