Tina Williford has always been a generalist. When she ran her own wine importing business — which stretched across 30 states and sourced from multiple continents before she sold it — Williford’s “natural curiosity” drove her to carry a wide range of styles. So it’s no surprise that her new venture will follow a similar model.
Downtown Durham’s new Liberty & Plenty distillery (609 Foster Street) will produce vodkas, whiskies, rums, and gins. First up — a blended mature bourbon, followed by a rye whiskey. A vodka made from neutral grain spirit and a gin will soon follow. Eventually, the distillery will focus on its own spirits produced primarily in-house, but to jumpstart the business, Williford is sourcing six- or seven-year-old mature bourbon and four- to five-year-old rye whiskey that Liberty & Plenty will blend and perfect before releasing.
Williford spent years working in finance, including stints as a stockbroker and selling bonds at BB&T. Later she turned her interest in wine into a thriving company before selling it to another import business. She worked in the Caribbean for five years “doing the same thing for someone else” before joining grocery chain Earth Fare.
“That’s when I decided to go back to my entrepreneurial ways,” she said. “You never lose your passion for things you like to do. When I left Earth Fare, I knew one thing — I didn’t want to be in the middle of the supply chain, benefiting someone else’s brand. I knew that I wanted to be the person producing something.”
At first, she didn’t know what. She went to the School of Artisan Food in the U.K. and toyed with the idea of becoming a cheesemaker. But she landed on liquor, elbowing her way into the acclaimed Scottish Heriot-Watt University where she earned a masters in brewing and distilling.
“I was super proud of myself, going back to school at my age with a bunch of 20-year-olds,” Williford said. “And there’s not too many women who have gone to Heriot-Watt or who own distilleries in the United States.”
Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but only about one percent of distilleries are owned by women in the U.S., according to the best estimates available. Williford is in better company locally; Melissa Katrincic is the co-founder and CEO of Durham Distillery around the corner from Liberty & Plenty’s 609 Foster Street location. But there are roughly 80 distilleries in North Carolina, and only six appear on Women in Distilling’s map, including Liberty & Plenty.
Opened to the public in late October, the distillery is named for the two women on North Carolina’s state seal. Liberty & Plenty’s logo also includes common distilling ingredients, including a thresh of wheat and juniper berries.
Like Durham Distillery, the new addition boasts an adjoining cocktail bar. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday later in the day — after production hours — and can seat 20 people inside and 20 more comfortably on the porch. The “industrial chic” space in Durham’s rapidly developing Warehouse District — which is better known for luxury condos and apartments than tobacco warehouses these days — is within three blocks of three breweries and stands next to Urban Axes. The distillery offers tours, and once available, patrons will be able to buy bottles of products like Liberty & Plenty’s Bronze Bull Spirits Bourbon and Slate Belt Vodka on site.