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The Founding of Ironroot Republic Distillery

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Ironroot Republic Distillery

To learn more about the Ironroot Republic Distillery and their distilling process, please see part 2 of this series, Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour. Part 1 is about the Founding of Ironroot Republic Distillery in Denison, TX.

From Law School To Distillery Owner

It was Christmas 2011 and soon to be law school graduate, Robert Likarish, had not just one, but two life-altering announcements to share with his family during Christmas dinner. First, Robert stated that he had no desire to be a lawyer. This was pretty big news considering he was  one semester away from graduation. Ripping the band-aid completely off, he then declared that once he finished his last semester of law school, he wanted to open a distillery. Surprisingly, as Robert recounted the story, there was no mention of any blood being spilled over the meal, only that older brother, Jonathan, was definitely on board.

Ironroot Republic Distillery - Robert Likarish - corn
Ironroot Republic Distillery – Robert Likarish – corn
A Family Affair

We recently caught up with Robert Likarish, co-owner of Ironroot Republic Distillery at the family business in Denison Texas. Family plays a pivotal role at the distillery. Jonathan Likarish, handles head distiller duties, while mother, Marcia Likarish manages daily operations. Robert sees to sales and whatever else might be needed. For example, the distillery is in need of more space for barrel storage so Robert has been gathering bids for the imminent project. Even dad, John, gets in on the action as he was helping out in the gift shop during our visit.

A Father’s Innocent Comment Spawns A Life Changing Plan

So why would 2 well-educated young men abandon that education in favor of something they knew absolutely nothing about?  Blame it all on father, John Likarish. A few years earlier, the Likarish family had headed out west for a family reunion. After lunch at a Thai restaurant, the family wandered over to the neighboring Dry Fly Distilling. For Robert, one look at all that gleaming copper (the stills) and he was bitten by the distilling bug. Furthermore, it was dad who “joked” that this would be a great retirement gig for the boys. Little did he know that the seeds of Ironroot Republic Distillery had just been sown.

Time For Full Immersion – The Founding of Ironroot Republic Distillery

From the very beginning, the Likarish brothers immersed themselves in all things distilling. Robert shared that the adventure began during his last spring break when he and his mom hit the road and visited distilleries in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. The trip even included a stop at the well-known still making company, Vendome Copper & Brass Works, in Louisville, KY. While Robert had no answers to any of Vendome’s basic inquiries such as “What kind of still do you want” or “How much do you want to produce”, he nonetheless put his name on the production list. After all, the waitlist for design and build was 2-2 1/2 years. Ample time for questions to be answered by the soon to be Ironroot Republic owners.

Over the course of the next 2 years, the brothers continued on in their quest of whiskey making knowledge. Courses in distilling were completed and visits became internships including one at Balcones Distilling in Waco, an early entrant into the Texas whiskey making scene. As the two schooled themselves in the world of distillation, they settled on a location for their new venture, Denison, TX.

Ironroot Republic Distillery - Robert Likarish - Icarus Corn Whiskey
Ironroot Republic Distillery – Robert Likarish – Icarus
Why Dennison, Texas?

This small north Texas town sits just 8 miles south of the Oklahoma border and 72 miles north of Dallas. Robert had history in the area as he had attended Austin College in nearby Sherman. Furthermore, Denison was a wet town, meaning alcohol could be sold. Robert explained that at the time most of the area between Dallas and Denison was dry, no liquor, no distillery. So Denison would become the home of the Likarish brother’s distillery.

What’s in A Name?

Along with a location, every distillery needs a name. According to Robert, Likarish Brother’s Bourbon Whiskey didn’t exactly roll of the tongue. Especially given the fact that the family name is pronounced just like the black/red chewy rope candy. The association would certainly not be an advertiser’s dream. Therefore, the brothers turned to Denison history from the later half of the 19th century and viticulturist, T.V. Munson.

Who is T.V. Munson? What does he have to do with the Founding of Ironroot Republic Distillery?

Munson’s story dates back around 150 years ago. He had relocated to the Denison area in 1876.  A horticulturist by trade, he had developed a strong love affair with the grape. He focused on improving American varietals, especially those best suited for the Texas terroir. Munson was eventually able to develop a strain of grape rootstock that was highly resistant to phloxora, a nasty plant pest that infects the roots.

Via the many papers he authored, Munson’s work made him a recognized authority in viticulture. So much so that when disease and pests threatend to annihilate the European grape and wine industry, southern France in particular, they turned to Munson. Upon the request of the French wine industry,  Munson sent over the phloxora resistant strain he had developed. This strain, when grafted with various other European grape varietals, helped to avert disaster overseas.

Ironroot Republic Distillery Bourbon and Awards
Ironroot Republic Distillery Bourbon and Awards
Ironroot Is A Part of Denison History

Therefore, the brothers chose the name  “Ironroot” as a way to honor this long ago but important piece of Denison history. Munson’s “ironroots” played a key role in the survival of much of the European grape industry while forever linking Denison to the region of southern France. The second half of their name, Republic, followed nicely and was fitting, since Texas was first a Republic from 1836-1845. With a bit of the state’s history to thank, in August 2014, the small north Texas town of Denison welcomed its first distillery, Ironroot Republic Distilling.

To learn more about the Ironroot Republic Distillery and their distilling process, please see part 2 of this series, Ironroot Republic Distillery Tour. Part 1 is about the Founding of Ironroot Republic Distillery in Denison, TX.

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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