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Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour

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Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour

For the background history on Ironroot Republic Distillery, please refer to part 1 of this article, The Founding of Ironroot Republic Distillery Part 2 is the Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour.

Ironroot Republic Distillery
3111 Loy Lake Rd.
Denison, TX 75020
Ironroot Republic is a Unique Distillery

After covering the brother’s unconventional beginnings into distilling, we next learned about their unique distilling and aging practices. Robert explained that in the course of their training, they had met veteran master blender Nancy Fraley and world renowned french brandy maker, Huber Germain-Robin. The brothers were well aware that their whiskey would be something different. After all, Kentucky whiskey isn’t going to be made in Texas. What they weren’t sure of was exactly what processes to employ. So with Fraley and Germain-Robin working as consultants the brothers began to forge their own path.

Similar but Very Different

Some of Ironroot Republic’s processes and equipment are similar to other American bourbon distilleries, and some are not. Mashing and distilling are primarily on a Kothe cooker and 2 stills. The larger still is a 2000 liter Kothe hybrid used mainly for clear spirits and light whiskey, and the smaller still is a 1200 gallon Vendome pot still used mainly for bourbon. In addition, they have a 240 liter small hybrid still and 2 antique direct fire cognac stills which will be used in the future. A largely automated bottling line provides the finishing touches. However, it is what happens in between which makes the Ironroot Republic Distilery so unique.

The Journey to Ironroot’s Process

According to Robert, the journey towards Ironroot Republic’s ultimate process  began by adapting some of the French brandy distillation and aging techniques. Similar to many French brandy disilleries, Ironroot makes use of 95% local grains and the traditional potstill for distillation. Two other techniques stand out in particular as they are most unusual in whiskey making.

Fermentation has an Extra Step

The first occurs during fermation. Over the course of 6-7 days, the mash undergoes 2 fermentation cycles. The first is the usual alcohol fermentation which is 3-4 days. The alcohol fermentation is then followed by a short malolactic fermentation. This second fermentaion innoculates the mash with bacteria. The bacteria go to work creating more esters and oils which in turn results in a creamier mouthfeel.

Barrel Aging is Where Things are Really Differnt

The second technique occurs in the barrel house and truly sets this distillery apart from any other. Ironroot Republic has adapted the method of élevage used by French brandy makers. In French, the term itself refers to rearing or raising generally in regard to animal husbandry. When applied to wine/brandy making, élevage refers to the process of nurturing the liquid from fermentation to bottling. Like bourbon, the French age brandy in oak barrels. Brandy is generally barreled at 140 proof and ages for the first year in a new charred oak barrel. After year one (sometimes two or three), the brandy is then evaluated, blended with other spirits, and transferred to older barrels (used).

Barrel Warehouse - Ironroot Republic Distillery
Barrel Warehouse
Ironroot Republic’s Method of Élevage

After Robert himself spent time in Cognac, France learning brandy distillation methods, the brothers chose a slightly different process of élevage. Ironroot barrels its new make around 120-125 proof; any higher than 125 and it would no longer be bourbon.  Next, each barrel ages for about a year, whereupon samples are pulled and each barrel’s profile is charted.

Barrels in need of “nurturing” will have a liter of water added into the barrel. This slow barrel reduction process is then repeated every 3-4 months. Chalk marks on the barrel head notate how much nurturing a barrel has had, hence the number of liters added. Robert also pointed out that each barrel doesn’t need the same nurturing. Some barrels age perfectly with no help at all. Most however receive some level of guidance.

Aging Whiskey in Texas is a Bit Different

For the Likarish brothers, the driving force behind their use of élevage, was to discern the best way to mature whiskey in Texas. In continued pursuit of this goal, Robert also shared that several years ago they began to switch from the standard 53 gallon barrel to a 63 gallon wine cooperage barrel. Robert joked that Texas being a huge BBQ state, low and slow is the way to go. This seems to suit their whiskey as well. The larger barrels allow for not only slower maturation with less evaporative loss, but also longer aging capability without the higher risk of the liquid becoming over-oaked.

Corn is Important For Bourbon, Too!

While Ironroot Republic’s adaptation of élevage is clearly unique in the whiskey industry, their undaunting spirit does not end there. In fact it’s been there from the very beginning. For example, Robert pointed out the many different corn varietals used in their mashbills. Bloody Butcher, purple, Floriani red, and atomic orange flint corns, among others, frequently accompany the standard non-GMO yellow dent corn Ironroot uses in its mashbills. Each heirloom corn is chosen for its ability to add specific flavors to the mashbill.

Without a doubt, whether its nurturing barrels or switching from sweet mash to sour mash (yes, this too happens on occasion), Ironroot Republic values its ability to experiment. The only thing written in stone seems to be that there is not really much that is. This was no more evident than when some tasting got underway.

Heirloom Corn Used at Ironroot Republic Distillery
Heirloom Corn Used at Ironroot Republic Distillery
Let The Sampling Begin!

Our palates were treated graciously with a dizzying array of spirits. Sampling from the barrel we were able to taste just how well Ironroot Republic learned brandy making techniques. We first tasted a 2 year brandy made with Riesling grapes, followed by a 7 year Chenin Blanc brandy. While these will not be ready for release for some time, these Texas brandies are certain to be fan favorites. Along with the brandies, a 2 year single malt and a light whiskey made their way into our glasses. There’s no doubt that Ironroot Republic has a seemingly endless list of ideas from which they choose, and they continue to choose wisely. Both whiskeys are aging well and on their way to becoming premium spirits.

Let’s Try Some of Ironroot’s Releases

After getting a good peak at what’s in the barrel, it was time to sample a few of Ironroot Republic Distillery’s bottlings. The Harbinger XC at 90 proof and the Harbinger at 115 proof headline the distillery’s standard straight bourbon releases. However, we were to try something a little different. 

First, we sampled the Harbinger Tri-Barrel, a blend of 4.5/5.5/6.5 year barrels bottled at 129.6 proof. Next, we tasted the Apotheosis Straight Bourbon Whiskey in two versions; one finished in Armagnac Casks bottled at 127.6 proof and the second finished in Pineau Des Charantes Casks bottled at 112.2 proof. We were strong admirers of Ironroot’s talents before our visit and these samples ensured that this fact would not change. With the sampling winding down lest we overstay our welcome, we made our way to the gift shop for a few bottle purchases. We thanked Robert for his time and for sharing his wealth of information with us.

Come Visit or Take a Tour

Ironroot Republic Distillery offers a behind the scenes tour and tasting every Saturday at noon and 2pm. Reservations can be made online and the cost is $10 plus a booking fee. Currently each tour has a 10 person maximum. The gift shop is open for bottle and swag sales Tuesday-Friday from 10-5:30 and Saturday 11-3. This distillery visit is well worth the cost of gas. Ironroot’s uncommon approach takes whiskey learning to a whole new level.

Bottling Line – Ironroot Republic DistilleryTour
Conclusion – Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour

Earlier, Robert confirmed what we had already suspected. He and brother, Jonathan, have no regrets leaving all their “formal” education behind. The lure of those copper stills continues to captivate. The Likarish brothers are now thriving business owners, successful entrepreneurs, and last but certainly not the least, damn fine Texas whiskey makers. Any one of which would make a parent proud.

For the background history on Ironroot Republic Distillery, please refer to part 1 of this article, The Founding of Ironroot Republic Distillery Part 2 is the Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour.

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Ironroot Republic Distillery - Visitor Informtation

Days of operationTues-Fri: 10 am-5:30 pm
Saturday 11:00am-3 pm
Closed Sun. & Mon.
Paved Drive / LotYes
Motorcycle ParkingNo specific spots for motorcyclists
Motorcycle unfriendly featuresNo
Number of tours per dayTours only on Saturday at noon & 2pm
Length of Tour(s)Distillery Tour & Tasting lasts about 1.5 hours
Advanced topic tours?No
Advanced topic tour namesN/A
Tours by owners /distillers available?Yes. The Saturday tours are generally given by one of the owners.
Number of different types of tours1
On-Line Tour Reservations AvailableYes
Advanced Reservations Recommended/RequiredYes
Cost for tour(s) in $$10 plus fees
Tasting Included?Yes
Number of samples included in tastingVaries
Tasting Only Option?Not Currently
Tasting Only Option CostN/A
High-end tasting option?N/A
High-end tasting option cost?N/A
Designated Driver OptionNo
Handicapped Accessible?Yes
Souvenirs included with tour?No
Gift shopYes
On-Site bottle sales?Yes
On-site food: Restaurant/Cafe/SnacksNo
On-site Cocktail barNot currently, although they have a beautiful bar!
On-site event spaceNo
Should I visit? (Yes, Perhaps, No)Yes
Unique FeaturesLearn about the distillery’s unique method of aging whiskey

Would you like to learn more about distilleries and bourbon? Are you planning a trip to Kentucky Distilleries? Maybe you would like to live the bourbon life vicariously through us?🙂 If any of these are true, then check out today!

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