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It’s not weed: This Houston-based distillery is making hemp vodka

Wendell Robbins III, left, and Ben Williams, right, founded hemp-based distillery, Highway Vodka.

Ben Williams knows a lot about cannabis. He co-founded the hemp-based distillery, Highway Vodka, with his business partner Wendell Robbins III.

The two native Houstonians entered the market in 2019 after nearly eight years of perfecting their product; their first still was set up in Robbins’ barn.

But it didn’t start as a profession.

“It wasn’t a thought to do it as a business,” Williams said. “We were playing around, trying to make it better and discovering new ways to filter.”

After partnering with his brother, chef Chris Williams, to open Lucille’s in 2012, Williams began conducting blind taste tests at the restaurant, and the response was encouraging.

“We would let some of the regulars taste what we were making. I kept winning,” said Williams. “That’s when it occurred we might really have something. That’s when we started the filings.”

Williams said it took nearly three years to get the company’s permits, which finally happened in 2017.

“The application took a long time because of the nature of our product and getting testing done by approved labs,” said Williams. ““The government is meticulous with the permit process, as they should be.”

Highway Vodka is Houston-based.

What’s the difference between marijuana and hemp?

While the hemp plant’s fiber is versatile and used for many purposes including clothing, rope and Highway Vodka, getting high is not one of them.

Although the plant’s structure is similar, the Controlled Substances Act no longer classifies hemp as marijuana. Marijuana is defined as any Cannabis sativa plant that has greater than 0.3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The more THC you consume, the greater the change in your cognition and how you feel.

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Hemp plants have 0.3 percent or less THC, and do not produce a noticeable psychoactive effect.

Instead, Williams said the ingredient’s utility comes from its role in the process of making vodka.

Highway Vodka is a unique strain of hemp, locally sourced corn and water from an artesian aquifer.

After mashing, it is fermented for one-and-a-half weeks. During that time, sugars are converted to alcohol and a thick layer of hemp oil forms. The liquid is then distilled six times.

“It has a different nose and different texture. It is very smooth and almost drinks like a wine,” said Williams.

The vodka seems to be resonating with customers, according to Williams. Sales are up 500 percent year-over-year, he said.

As a result, Highway Vodka is set to expand beyond Texas, Williams said, moving into Georgia and Louisiana with California on the horizon.

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Ben Williams, co-founder of Highway Vodka, says his hemp-based product has a unique… ]]>