North Texas resident Quentin Witherspoon is confident that his rum can go up against some of the best in the world. After all, if he can distill liquor in the Central African Republic and make moonshine in the Appalachians, then creating rum in Lewisville ought to be smooth as, well, good rum.
Distilling out of a small warehouse a few blocks from I-35 and Main Street, Witherspoon has been selling Witherspoon’s River Rum — a white, un-aged variety with water from the Trinity River — since January of this year. But his journey to this point began as a Marine stationed in Africa in the ’90s.
"Kentucky, Tennessee, they have their own whiskeys, so I thought, why doesn’t Texas have an identifiable whiskey?" — Quentin Witherspoon
Poor water quality in the Central African Republic and exorbitant prices for a bottle of imported Jack Daniels led him and his fellow Marines to produce their own liquor. By Witherspoon's own admission, it was terrible.
But when he returned to the states, he found himself in the Carolinas, learning the moonshining trade from relatives and neighbors. "In the tail end of the Appalachians, everyone has someone that they get their moonshine from," Witherspoon says.
After years of working the moonshine business and time spent in the Caribbean savoring the high-quality rum that rarely makes it off the islands, Witherspoon returned to Lewisville to be closer to family. He had a job working with the TSA but found the lack of control over his own life to be stifling.
"I’ve got family all over the area. My grandfather was the mayor of Lewisville at one time," he says. "My father and grandfather have owned businesses here, so I’m just another entrepreneur in the chain."
Witherspoon’s plan for a distillery came into sharper focus when he ran into old friends Ryan Dehart and Doug Kearns, who were interested in getting involved with the project. Dehart came aboard on the financial side, while Kearns handcrafted the distillery that Witherspoon uses for his rum.
Incorporating the skills he mastered around the world and the techniques that make Dominican and Puerto Rican rum the best out there, Witherspoon has already seen immediate success.
At the 2012 Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition, the River Rum received the silver medal in the un-aged rum category. It was also recognized with a silver medal at the 2012 MicroLiquor Spirit Awards.
The rum is smooth, with a vanilla characteristic and hints of cherry and ginger bread. Witherspoon says he maintains his sugar, yeast and molasses sources diligently to keep a consistent product from a recipe he concocted himself.
He also introduced his Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey to the public back in June. Releasing a 100 proof bourbon made sense to Witherspoon.
"Kentucky, Tennessee, they have their own whiskeys, so I thought, why doesn’t Texas have an identifiable whiskey?" he asks.
Witherspoon blends the bourbon from a handful of distilleries around the country for what he calls his "master recipe." He plans to eventually bring the manufacturing to Lewisville to create a five-year-aged bourbon.
To show off his liquors, Witherspoon intends to open up the distillery for free Saturday tours beginning September 7, during which people can purchase drinks and bottles of the rum and bourbon. He says the best way to stay updated on information about the tours is through the company's Facebook page.
He also plans to release an aged rum. Using the Missouri White Oak barrels that the bourbon comes in, he has been aging his River Rum with a time frame between six months and a year. The wild temperatures in Texas have made the aging process hard to predict, but he hopes to have it ready by January 2014.
Witherspoon recognizes that his outfit is a small one trying to go up against the Bacardis and Captain Morgans of the industry. But, ever the military man, he sees himself ultimately triumphing.
"It’s a modest facility, but I’m not ashamed of it," he says. "We’re like King Henry at the Battle of Agincourt. They marched for days without food or sleep against the French and ended up annihilating them 10 to one."