Homegrown distillery is on the move in Lewisville

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 17, 2015

If you’ve driven around Old Town Lewisville in recent months, you may wonder what’s happening where the abandoned Piggly Wiggly once stood at 225 S. Charles St.

It’s the start of a move city officials are excited about. The homegrown Witherspoon Distillery is expanding its operations from its previous location at 545 N. Cowan Ave.

James Kunke, a spokesman for the city, said he’s also excited to see the work being done at the new location.

“They are giving a beautiful facelift to a building that has sat vacant for many years, and they will serve as another draw for visitors to historic Old Town Lewisville,” he said. “Witherspoon is a sponsor of Western Days and we all hope they will be able to open in time for the festival, but whenever they open it will be a great addition for the area.”

The 15,300-square-feet building was constructed in 1988. It’s divided almost equally in thirds for liquor production, barrel storage and the bar and retail area — with an additional outside sitting area of 4,000 square feet.

Construction is slated for completion by the Lewisville Western Days festival, Sept. 25- 26, said Quentin D. Witherspoon, master distiller and the namesake founder.

Natasha Dehart, head of sales and marketing and a founder, said the business partners looked at multiple locations all over Lewisville.

“The city has been so supportive so we really wanted to stay here. But there were a couple other locations that just ended up not being feasible cost-wise or that things just didn’t work out,” she said. “This property presented itself just kind of out of the blue.”

Dehart said that if the distillery opens by the festival, she will consider it a soft opening with an individual grand opening “about a month after the craziness from the festival dies down.”

“The city is very supportive of us going in here,” Dehart said. “We plan to be a part of pretty much every festival that happens in Old Town Lewisville.”

The company is scaling up significantly with new, customized equipment, Witherspoon said. While the new location is only about a mile from where the distillery currently stands, it will be closer to downtown Lewisville. To commemorate the upcoming move, the distillery is selling new T-shirts.

Witherspoon, a former Marine, founded the distillery with his business partners Laurent Spamer and Ryan and Natasha Dehart in 2011. He developed a passion for distilling spirits while in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic where he was one of five tasked with protecting American diplomats.

The Marines formed relationships with international diplomats who shared specialty beverages from across Europe with them, not anticipating the lack of refrigeration. At the time, Witherspoon was in charge of filtering drinking water from the Congo River. As the goods spoiled, Witherspoon decided to distill the wine into brandy and the beer into whiskey.

The business became licensed as a distillery in 2012 and has been pumping out whiskey and rum since. It is Witherspoon’s second attempt in the area; he tried to start a wine vineyard in Flower Mound in 1995.

In 2013, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported that founders were already working on plans for expansion, “looking at historic spaces in Lewisville to convert into a destination distillery, where the company will be able to provide tours, serve drinks and sell bottles — thanks to new legislation passed this session in the state Legislature.”

Witherspoon partnered with Glazer’s, an alcohol distribution company, and asked for its input on what customers wanted in a product instead of waiting to see if anyone would buy the final version.

“We’re throughout the state of Texas now and our expectation is that sometime in 2016, we should be able to bounce out of the state into a couple other states,” Witherspoon said. “We’re currently doing our first ever single-barrel project with Total Wine [liquor retailer] and we’re really excited about that, and we’re going to continue to experiment.”

The founders hope to experiment with brewing beer and are already looking at candidates to hire for helping with the brewing side, they said.

“Quentin’s passion has always been on the spirit side,” Natasha Dehart said. “Me and my husband have been home brewers. Our plan is to very soon acquire a brewer’s permit and start serving beer out of the bar. We’re hoping to offer our first beers later this fall.”

Distilling equipment also functions as brewing equipment. As a regular part of making whiskey, distillers essentially start making beer, adapting the process along the way. So the equipment setup can easily be modified for beer production.

“These guys are making beer all day long; it just doesn’t have hops and they end up distilling it,” Natasha Dehart said.

Right now, the company sells whiskey and rum in Goody Goody Liquor, Total Wine, Spec’s, Fossil Creek and to several independent clients in the D/FW area. The spirits are Witherspoon’s River Rum (a white rum), Bonfire (a cinnamon-infused rum), The Cross Timbers Single Malt Whiskey, and Witherspoon’s Texas Straight Bourbon and River Rum Reserve (an aged rum only sold out of the distillery).

After the expansion, Natasha Dehart said they plan to make and sell brandy, vodka and an agave spirit similar to tequila.

“Basically, we’ll be making any liquor type you’d find at a fully stocked bar only for sale in cocktails and stuff at our bar,” she said. “It will allow us to test the market and see if these are things we’d eventually want to take to a wider distribution.”

Dehart said that the Cowan distillery had about 200 visitors for tours a week, which offered quite the testing setup for what to take to the market.

“Our goal is to hold as many tours a week as we can accommodate,” she said. “We’ll probably start off with just a few days a week and then we will also have a fully stocked bar which will be open a few days a week and extend hours as demand grows.”

Witherspoon’s new location will also serve as an event venue, such as concerts, birthdays and weddings. The founders are already booking events as early as October, Dehart said.

“We actually designed this outdoor space to accommodate live acts both inside and outside,” she said. “We changed design about halfway through the process because we didn’t have any space for live acts in the original plans.”

The new location will have a shuffleboard table in the bar area, and a cornhole beanbag game setup for play outside. It may also offer a regulation-sized bocce ball court. Founders have also been in touch with multiple caterers, all within a ten-mile radius of the new location.

“Also, next to the beer garden is going to be an electrical box and paved area where we can fit two food trucks that can serve right over the fence,” Dehart said.

The old property was a lease and will be turned back over to the leaseholder. Some of the equipment won’t be put into use.

“We’re surprised by how much growth we’ve seen in the last few years,” Natasha Dehart said. “We hoped for it and planned for it, but when it actually happens, it’s exciting.”

Jenna Duncan contributed to this report.

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