Wilson Valley Mercantile is open Friday and Saturday nights with live music, pool, mixed drinks and food items
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
The Evans and Wilson families have been farming a piece of land near Little River for about 155 years, and now in addition to corn, wheat, oats and cattle, the ranch also is home to Bell County’s first farm-to-glass distillery.
Wilson Valley Mercantile has been four years in the making and officially opened in September, said John Evans, co-owner of the distillery along with his wife, Erica.
“We started building the distillery in 2018, and we did the work ourselves in between farming and ranching,” he said.
John is the fifth generation of his family to work the ranch.
“My great-grandmother was a Wilson, and she married an Evans,” he explained. “We call it the Mercantile because my great-grandpa and a couple of great uncles ran a store in Little River. They built the building in 1911 and sold everything from nails to coffins — anything you could want. The building later was home to Wayne Shirley’s popular restaurant.”
Crop farming and cattle have been mainstays on the farm for more than a century-and-a-half, but as far as John knows, he is the first to make whiskey.
“We have three products, and two aren’t really ours,” he said. “We sell a straight bourbon brought to the farm in 53-gallon oak barrels from Virginia. We finish and proof the bourbon, and bottle it up.”
“It’s a great bourbon, and we learned the ropes at that Virginia distillery. We also carry vodka.”
The pride of Wilson Valley Mercantile is Broken Post White Whiskey. It’s made at the distillery using three grains grown on the farm.
“White whiskey is unaged — it’s basically moonshine,” John said. “It contains 51 percent corn, 34 percent wheat and 15 percent oats — all grown right here in Wilson Valley. Right now we’re producing about 25 gallons of Broken Post every week.”
Opening a distillery and liquor bar in the Little River-Academy area required a change in local laws, plus federal and state licenses.
“We needed to get a proposition on the Bell County Precinct 3 ballot to make and serve whiskey,” John said. “We needed 8,000 signatures to get on the ballot. We collected the signatures, and 70 percent voted ‘yes.’”
“Now we have the distillery and we can sell bottles and mixed drinks.”
While whiskey and vodka are sold at Wilson Valley Mercantile, beer and wine sales are not allowed.
“We can’t legally make liquor and sell beer,” John said. “But, we could do a brewer’s permit and craft our own beer — maybe someday.”
In addition to selling booze, the Mercantile also sells branded merchandise and apparel, plus beef from Erica and John’s cross-bred Angus and Charolais cattle.
“Our family has been in continuous ag operations in Wilson Valley since 1867,” he said. “In addition to cattle, we also produce corn, wheat, oats, sesame, rye and barley, and we use some of those grains in our distillery.”
Wilson Valley Mercantile is open 5-9 p.m. every Friday and 4-9 p.m. on Saturday, and the tasting room usually features live music. In fact, the popular Jypsy Rose will be on stage at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. Another band, JP with Jon Fox, will be at the Mercantile from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11.
The 2,000-square-foot tasting room also features a small menu that includes charcuterie boxes and nachos, a pool table, a large-screen television and a cigar lounge.
“We plan to have live music as often as possible,” John said. “Also, the tasting room can be rented out as a venue.”