On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Ben Williams and Wendell Robbins III join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss their locally made Highway Vodka. Distilled from a combination of hemp and corn, Highway Vodka has seen its sales double year-over-year and will ship approximately 5,000 cases this year.
Williams, the brother of Lucille's chef-owner Chris Williams, explains that distilling with hemp brings advantages including a milder flavor and a thicker, more viscous texture. While most people prefer it chilled with some soda, Williams notes that Highway Vodka can be consumed neat.
The company's growth has been fueled by two important partnerships. The first is with Silver Eagle, which selected Highway as one of the first spirits it added to its distribution portfolio. The second is the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative, a program launched by global spirits giant Brown Foreman to promote diversity and foster African-American leadership in the whiskey industry.
"With that Initiative, there's a lot onboarding fees involved in getting involved with these [other distribution] companies . . . that they waived for being part of the Initiative to get into the game," Williams says. "Now we're in California and Florida, we're in Georgia. By linking up with them and seeing what was possible and them giving you a push and support, it was, okay, let's do it."
Listen to the complete episode to hear about the company's future plans for growth and to hear Robbins' surprising confession about the roots of his interest in the spirits business.
Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Michael Fulmer discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: James Harden's plans to open a new restaurant in Midtown; the imminent of opening of Hidden Omakase, an intimate sushi restaurant; and the closure of doughnut shop and cafe Morningstar.
In the restaurants of the week segment, Fulmer and Sandler describe their recent meals at the new location of Masraff's, the steak and seafood restaurant that recently relocated to Memorial, and at Ostia, the Italian restaurant that opened in Montrose earlier this fall.