In the world of spirits, everyone has their signature martini or their favorite highball.
Once you know what works for you, many don’t depart from it一but one local distillery is turning even the most uncertain vodka drinkers into believers. Highway Vodka, the first Black-owned distillery in Houston and one of the few craft distilleries in Texas, is making vodka with a unique twist一the secret ingredients to the homegrown booze? Hemp seeds, locally sourced corn, and water from an artesian aquifer.
The family-run business started by friends Ben Williams and Wendell Robbins III was birthed after visiting a friend in California who owns a dispensary. "It started as a hobby over eight years ago," co-owner of Highway Hemp Vodka Ben Williams says. "We read every book and watched every Youtube video possible to teach ourselves how to do it."
The process for Highway Vodka is made simple through their mashing and fermentation process. After all the products are blended, it’s fermented for one and a half weeks in large bins. During fermentation, the sugars are converted into alcohol, and a thick layer of hemp oil forms. From there, the liquid is then distilled six times, however, figuring out their formula wasn’t an easy process. Codi Alyn Fuller, general manager of the local distillery, recalls all the times her dad would ask for her help. "My dad would call me and ask me to stir the pot, or ask me to add in some hemp seeds when he was perfecting the recipe."
Once they found their groove, Williams utilized his restaurant connections, partnering with his brother, Chef Chris Williams to blind taste test the vodka at their family restaurant Lucille’s. The response from both consumers and bartenders was encouraging. “We put our vodka up against some of the others and we won consistently," Williams says. Since the initial taste tests, the brand has expanded into larger markets一you can find the bottled vodka across the Lone Star State, and at many local bars in the Houston area.
Incorporating hemp into the recipe raised questions for many. 'Will we get high from drinking this?' or 'Will I be able to pass a urine test?'," Robbins says. "The answer is no you won't get high, and yes, you'll pass a urine test. It’s the smoothest vodka on the market. It makes it easy to drink neat and that’s the key. It also is a drink that you can drink a lot of and not have to worry about a hangover.”
The Highway Vodka team is working to expand its reach, with plans to develop a whiskey under the distillery’s umbrella and a tasting room that is soon to come.