HELENA – WEST HELENA, Ark. – It starts with sweet potatoes grown in the rich Delta dirt on the family farm. Harvey Williams loads them up and uses machines to wash them off and dice them up.
The sweet potatoes are then cooked and fermented with corn, eventually becoming the basis for the recipe for Delta Dirt vodka.
“Sweet potatoes was something I knew, and I heard of the concept of sweet potato vodka and became intrigued by the idea,” Harvey said. “And I’m like, ‘We’re going to figure out how to do sweet potato vodka.’”
His son Thomas went to school to learn the trade and was even featured on the TV show “Master Distiller,” but it took him some time to get their 86-proof spirit just right.
“He said, ‘I got this product, it’s ready,’ and I was like, ‘No it’s not.’ And he’d come back again, ‘This is it.’ I said, ‘No it’s not,’” Harvey recalled of the development process. “Right before Christmas, he came back. I thought we were going to do this song and dance again. He brought another product, and it was great.”
After living all over the country, the Williams always wanted to come back home. Their delta dirt distillery is in the heart of downtown Helena.
“This was an opportunity to come home and do something with the farm but not necessarily farm,” Harvey explained.
“I feel like all our years of travel and all the jobs that we had was preparing us for this moment,” Donna Williams, Harvey’s wife & Thomas’ mother, added.
In addition to the distillery, there is also a tasting room, and they sell more than just their own vodka. The focus for this family owned-and-operated concept is bringing people together.
“We have young, old, black, white, married, single,” Donna said of their customers.
“Our tag line (is), ‘Raising spirits in the Delta,’” Thomas added. “I think it is quite literally doing that right now.”
Raising spirits in the Delta has more than one meaning. The distillery is raising spirits, but the Williams hope by bringing this business there it will help raise spirits along Cherry Street in Helena to drive in more businesses, something Donna thinks is already working.
“We have people who came in and say, ‘I’d like to do this’ or ‘I’d like to do that,’ so they see possibilities,” she said.
Right now, the family is producing 30 cases a week, with Thomas noting that they are looking to increase that production as demand grows.
That is likely to happen since the family sells all the vodka they make. In due time, they hope the idea ferments around the state and beyond.