Ironroot Republic Inspired by French Craft

Robert Likarish co-founder of family distillery Ironroot Republic in Denison | Image by Ironroot Republic

Before he opened Ironroot Republic almost a decade ago with his brother, Robert Likarish was finishing school when he felt he needed to let his loved ones in on something.

“After having worked at a law firm for a number of years, I decided it wasn’t the thing for me,” he told The Dallas Express. “I decided that Christmas dinner was the best time to tell the family. I didn’t feel like it would bring down the world too much. So, I announced it to mom and dad and my brother. There was stunned silence for a little bit.”

As Robert’s announcement lingered over what was left of the holiday spirit, someone broke the silence.

“Dad asked, ‘What are you going to do then?’ Likarish said. “Then he asked, ‘When are we going to start a distillery?'”

It was an idea the family had tossed around for a while. By Christmas dinner, however, Likarish, 37, had graduated from Austin College and was about to graduate from St. Louis University School of Law. His career path had been set — or so he thought.

“In 2008, at a family reunion in Spokane, Washington, we ran into a small distillery out there, and we just fell in love with it,” Likarish said. “Me and my brother had joked about doing this when we retire. Dad brought this back up and I said, ‘Well, I’m young right now and don’t have any kids. I can eat ramen noodles if I have to.'”

His brother, Jonathan, shared a similar sentiment.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to work in a cubicle, so I want to join you,'” Robert said. “His wife said that as long as it’s in Texas, we can do it.”

They opened Ironroot Republic in 2014 after interning around the world for a few years learning the industry.

“We fell head over heels over the way the French approach distilling,” Robert explained to DX. “I started looking for a place and we found our way to Denison. It felt like the right place. We came back from France having learned more and applied it to what we do.”

Denison and Cognac, France, are sister cities.

“Little did we know at the time this connection would make huge bounds,” Robert said. “This allows us to do more things in the whiskey space. We make bourbon a different way than they do in Kentucky. We have different flavors than Kentucky whiskeys. The market has been very receptive to what we’ve done, and it has blown us away a little bit.”

In 2020, Ironroot received some recognition.

“Whiskey Magazine awarded us ‘Best Bourbon‘ in the world,” Robert said. “We sell all over Texas. Technically, we do sell into 30 other states. We also do a tiny amount with individual bottlers in the UK, but the vast majority of it is sold here in Texas.”

Ironroot uses pot stilling to create its spirits.

“It’s more like a still you would see in Cognac or Scotland versus the column stills you see in Kentucky or Tennessee,” Robert said. “What that means for you is it showcases a lot more of the base ingredients. We use a lot of red corns and purple corns that have really different flavors than yellow corns. Ultimately, it’s how we age it.”

The family wants to create spicy barrels and sweet barrels, “those with a lot of complexity to them,” Robert said.

“Our goal is to create a lot of different flavors in our warehouse.”

Over the last 10 years, Ironroot has grown from a company of five employees to 15, including the brothers’ mom, Marcia, who they call the “mother of Texas whiskey.”

“She’s the distillery manager,” Robert told The Dallas Express. “She makes sure everything gets done around here. She’s got her hands on everything on the production side, the ordering, making sure the books are done properly. She goes out and does sales.”

The company’s name pays tribute to Denison native T.V. Munson’s hardy “iron” roots that “helped save the French wine industry from total destruction.” Its lines include Carpenter’s Bluff Moonshine, Texas Drought Gin, Blue Norther Texas Vodka, Icarus, Sleight of Hand Brandy, Esoteric American Whiskey, Hubris, Harbinger XC, Promethean, and Harbinger 115.

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