You can maybe tell that we take our summer cocktails seriously here at WDDI and, judging from your Instagram photos, so do most of y’all. The good news is that Denton County is enjoying not only a craft beer explosion, but also a Hooch Renaissance as well. After some research exploration, we’ve put together a quick guide to some of the spirits and local distilleries that are well worth sipping your way through!
We’ve written about Denton’s history with hooch before, and still get out now and again to tell more about our zany local stories, but even more impressive is the history being made today by some local renegade distilleries. The market for hooch grew substantially between 2002 and 2012, from owning 27 percent of the alcoholic beverage market to almost 34 percent, and locally-made craft hooch sales jumped 28.6 percent in 2015 thanks to thirsty millenials and changes to Texas laws about four years back. Texas liquor regulations are plenty wonky, so it takes a special breed of booze aficionados to venture into the hooch business.
The Witherspoon Distillery in Old Town Lewisville has been around since 2010, founded by Quentin Witherspoon with Ryan DeHart and Laurent Spamer, but moved operations into their new repurposed Piggly Wiggly last fall. Master Distiller Witherspoon, a former Marine who developed his craft while stationed abroad, really knows his hooch and enjoys sharing the knowledge during their $10 Friday and Saturday tours. Not only do you get a solid introduction to distinguishing liquor with a little bit of Texas trash-talk, but each tour also includes a sampler of the Witherspoon line of spirits with a fluffy chunk of buttered rum cake. Their River Rum, distilled from pure cane sugar and molasses, has a rich butterscotch aroma with a delicate buttery vanilla taste and delightfully smooth finish. The River Rum Reserve, aged 9 months in their own bourbon barrels, has a punchier dry finish with subtle notes of oak. The Texas Straight Bourbon is a sweet-sipping affair with a caramel pear aroma and a spicy rye finish that’s as smooth as a Sunday morning smile. The real surprise, however, is their Bonfire rum infused with real cinnamon sticks, which tingles like sweetly-spiced Christmas kisses.
If’n you’re lucky, they maybe still have some of their extremely tasty Single Malt “experiment” at the bar for you to sample. Definitely linger with the distillery cat Mr. Waffles at the bar or on the expansive outdoor patio to try their bold cocktail selection. My favorite was The Hemingway Special, a pink powerhouse mixing their River Rum, grapefruit and lime juices, maraschino liqueur, and simple syrup that tastes like a cherry limeade mule kick. It sure did make me realize what poetry tastes like. You can also catch special events on their Facebook page, like live music or bottling parties with this fun bunch of hooch snobs.
To the north of Denton in Pilot Point is the Western Son Distillery, home to some special handcrafted Texas vodka, whiskey, and gin. What began as a 2010 bar conversation between two hooch peddlers, John Straits and Evan Batt, soon grew into thriving Carrollton operation JEM Beverage before moving to Pilot Point in 2011. Refurbishing the infamous “Old Panty Factory” building close to downtown, Western Son focuses on locally-crafted high quality spirits as they steadily build an award-winning reputation for their Texas vodka line infused with blueberry, grapefruit, peach, and prickly pear. The ladies who accompanied me on the lookabout particularly enjoyed the simple fruit-fresh cocktails that these selections produced.
Their Pilot Point facility is fully equipped with a large patio and band stage, swanky tasting room with adjacent lounge, and upgraded distillation equipment just 5 minutes away from Lake Ray Roberts. Western Son Distillery tours and tastings are on Friday afternoon and Saturdays, even as they’ve just released a Saturday Summer Concert schedule that looks to be great fun. If you show up on horseback, the tour is half price!
But that ain’t all! Rumor has it that former Dallas Stars hockey player Ed Belfour will be opening a distillery with his son across the lake in Little Elm. Belfour Spirits has plans in place with the city to open their facility on the West side in late 2016 or early 2017, so there is yet another Denton County booze destination to put on your bucket list.
It looks to be a long hot summer, so staying cool with some finely-crafted cocktails or slow-sippin’ hooch seems like a pretty solid plan. Be sure to tag your photos with #WDDI on Instagram so we can see and share your favorite beverages!
OTHER SUMMER HOOCH DAYTRIPS
Lewisville is also home to Nue Vodka, an award-winning product of the Brothers Odell. Dynasty Spirits is the parent company for brands including Nue Vodka, Henderson Whiskey, George Ocean Rum and Greenhouse Gin. Brothers Dusty and Devin Odell create and oversee every aspect of the quality products developed by their Texas-based company. Up in Denison, the Likearish Brothers run Iron Root Republic distillery, which is worth a field trip. Also worth the drive is the TX Whiskey HQ at Firestone & Robertson in Ft. Worth, or the Duckworth Distillery and the Herman Marhall HQ in Dallas.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.