Tape holds up a distiller’s and rectifier’s permit from the state to the front window of Jerrod Leon Henry’s emerging business.
A gold 120-gallon copper still made in Tennessee sits inside of what will become the Rio Grande Distillery and Magic Valley Moonshine. It’s on Highway 100 on the outskirts of Los Fresnos. Traffic buzzes by on the way to Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
Henry is bringing a little piece of his native Missouri Ozarks to the Rio Grande Valley.
“Up there, in everyone’s family, you’ve got a preacher, a carpenter and a moonshiner,” he said. “People make the liquor and bootleg it unless they decide to go legal.”
Opening Soon in the RGV
Henry is all legal in South Texas with the necessary federal and state permits to do business. He was dealing with the last of the county building code requirements in mid-June in aiming for an opening in July.
“Down home and no frills” is how he defines the restaurant he was putting the finishing touches on to completion.
“Carolina barbecue, pull pork, deli sandwiches and moonshine,” he added in rounding out the description.
Moonshine is unaged whiskey with high alcohol content and marked by clear color and a corn base. They are many different types of moonshine. Henry will have his share with lemonade mixes including peach, strawberry, blueberry, apple pie and lemon.
A copper still like the one Henry owns has three components working together. They operate in sequence to produce the beverages with a punch. A kettle, thump keg and condenser worm boil, distill and drip moonshine into the mix of varieties to follow.
“We think we’re bringing something new here,” Henry says of bringing a slice of the Ozarks to the Valley.
Serving RGV With Hand Sanitizers
Henry was busy in recent months on another project before driving up to Tennessee to bring the copper still south to get his restaurant dream going. He decided in early March after getting necessary permits to use his distillery background to manufacture hand sanitizer. The store aisles of sanitizer emptied out in March and April. Consumers hoarded the product.
Henry initially tried using his own facilities to produce sanitizer. The demand was too much. He couldn’t keep up. Henry used his distillery contacts in Missouri to order and eventually drive down hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer to the Valley for sale in the parking lots of pharmacies, restaurants, Veteran of Foreign Wars halls and fellow distilleries like the 5X5 Brewing Co. in Mission.
“We went wherever they let us set up,” said Henry of selling the sanitizer by the ounce, with a 50 percent discount for first responders, law enforcement, truckers and health care workers. “It was a situation where not many people had it or could make it, so we stepped in to do it and help out before the stores could restock.”
Henry would end up selling about 8,000 gallons of hand sanitizers over about a two-month period. It was quite a different course for someone who first came to the Valley 20 years ago to go into shrimping. Now it’s on being a restaurateur and legal moonshiner. He made many new contacts and friends in his trips from Rio Grande City to San Benito to sell hand sanitizer.
“We made a lot of friends all over the Valley when we were selling,” he said. “We hope they’ll remember us and come by and visit.”