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From humble origins in a horse barn to booming sales in three states, Texas' first hemp vodka distillery has become one of the fastest-growing Black distilleries in the U.S. in just a few years of business. Their latest stop? Austin, Texas.
Highway Vodka, founded by partners Ben Williams and Wendell Robbins III, is available for sale at over 25 retailers in Austin alongside cities across Texas, Georgia, Florida and California. The company, which is the first Black-owned distillery in the state of Texas, is almost growing too quickly—Williams said they're looking to slow down for a second before they spread too thin.
"We don't have any outside investors or anything like that, so I want to make sure I know what I'm doing," Williams said.
So why hemp? CBD is illegal to use in the distilling process, so the only effects the ingredient really adds to the mix is anti-inflammatory properties.
Hemp comes more into play in the distilling process itself. When experimenting with the ingredient in initial stages, Williams and Robbins discovered that hemp acts as a "super fuel" to the yeast as it converts sugar from its other main ingredient, corn, into alcohol (which also adds a slightly sweet taste.) The plant that helps make Mary Jane also "keeps the negative stuff down" by helping form an oily layer on top that protects the product from outside influence. The result, Williams said, is a smoother vodka that won't make the morning after drinking quite so bad.
"(Adding hemp) is not about flavor at all," Williams said. "I'm my own crash test dummy, so I know even if I overdid it the night before, I'm not getting that headache I might otherwise get."
Highway's journey started eight years ago in a horse barn in Houston when the two buddies decided to start experimenting with spirits as a hobby. After 9 years of trial and error and "a whole lot of drinking," the bustling business has seen an increase of 500% year-over-year.
Williams and Robbins still operate within their original horse barn. (Highway Vodka)
Williams said it's no coincidence that the two love live music, drinking, and socializing at bars and restaurants; if the two were just in it for the money, he said the industry would "eat them alive."
"That's the biggest thing, to like what you're doing," Williams said. "Now I have a product that can play into all of these spaces that I enjoy."
When asked if he expected to see this kind of short-term growth, Williams simply said "no." Now that business is booming, however, Williams sees the company expanding nationwide in the next several years after they take a minute to regroup.
While Williams and Robbins are happy with their success, the most important thing is building a business that can be passed down the family. Robbins's daughter Codi Fuller has already started the legacy; at 26, she became the one of the only Black female distillers in the United States as she took the helm as Lead Distiller.
Robbins' daughter Codi Fuller is one of the only female Black distillers in the United States. (Highway Vodka)
Williams hopes his younger daughters will eventually follow suit.
"That's the dream," Williams said. "That's what you're building it for. I'm just hoping they don't go, 'Oh, that's dad's stuff' and think it's not cool."
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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