1st Black-owned distillery in Texas keeping spirits high during pandemic
Cooked up from scratch by hand in Houston, Highway Vodka is true grain to glass vodka.
How do you like your vodka? Smooth – or with a little bit of hemp? Well, if it is a combination of both, two Houstonians got the recipe you need. And you can add a little bit of history in the mixture, as a bonus.
Highway Vodka, a hemp-based spirit launched in Houston in February 2019 by co-founders Ben Williams and Wendell Robbins III, is the first fully Black-owned distillery in Texas.
The company, which has been growing steadily since its creation, is continuing to soar despite the pandemic, but it’s no easy feat – it’s all about determination.
“Business has actually been pretty good, thank God! Off premise (liquor store) sales have taken off during these times,” said Williams. “The primary reason for growth is our refusal to quit or make excuses for not being successful. When you own your own business, all you can do is work extra hard to figure out a way to win.”
So how did Highway Vodka come to be?
“My partner and I were just distilling spirits as a hobby for family and friends. After years of positive feedback, we decided to see if we could actually make a business out of it. Thankfully it worked out,” Williams said.
The childhood friends started making vodka as a hobby in 2012 in a former horse barn on Robbins’ property in south Houston. That former barn is now home to The Highway Distillery.
Highway Vodka’s mash bill consists of a unique strain of hemp, locally sourced corn and water from an artesian aquifer. The vodka is distilled 6x, keeping only the hearts of the run to preserve the nuance of the grain and oils from the hemp and corn – “All Hearts, No Tails.” The hemp acts as a super fuel to the yeast performing the conversion from sugars to alcohol, forming a thick layer of hemp oil at the top of the fermenter. This yields a smoother product that has a noticeably different viscosity and mouth feel than other vodkas.
The use of hemp helps to provide a nuanced, balanced, unique spirit with a character unlike any other in the world. By using the plant from the very beginning of the distilling process in the grain bill, the plant provides myriad benefits that change throughout the process — mashing, fermenting, distilling and filtering — as the form of the plant changes.
Highway has experienced 500 percent growth year-over-year
Highway Vodka is rapidly expanding. Backed by Houston-based distributor Silver Eagle, it has garnered 500-plus placements in Houston at Total Wine, Spec’s, retailers, bars and restaurants. Highway has distribution throughout the state of Texas and is now moving into Georgia, California, Florida and New Jersey, with more on the horizon.
Highway is part of the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative, a collaboration between Jack Daniel’s and the Nearest Green Distillery. The program is designed to promote diversity and advance African-American leadership in the American spirits industry.
Charity is at the heart of Highway’s mission
Highway Vodka donates $1 from every bottle sold to Lucille’s 1913. Williams is a founding board member of the non-profit, which was started during COVID-19 by his brother, chef Chris Williams of Lucille’s, to feed and nourish Houston’s most vulnerable communities. To date, Lucille’s 1913 has donated more than 100,000 meals to Houstonians in need, targeting the elderly in underserved communities.
What more can we say? CHEERS!
Click here for more information on Highway Vodka.