For as long as Codi Fuller can remember, spirits, namely the creation of them as well as wines, have been an important part of her family’s life. Her father owned a bar, had a full bar in their home, and her parents made wine for years. But she never thought that she would end up being one of the youngest Black female distillers in the country, crafting the hemp-based brew that is Highway Vodka, a Black-owned brand based out of Houston. It was created by her father, William Robbins III, and his longtime friend, Ben Williams.
“I definitely had other aspirations for my life,” she tells ESSENCE. Nevertheless, she started doing small jobs to help her dad with the growing business while in college, making boxes for the bottles, putting cases together, stirring the ingredients back when they were made on the stove and more. Then when COVID hit, the opportunity opened up to have a significant role in the business. Fuller had begun bartending, and when Robbins and Williams found themselves needing assistance handling the distilling process, she offered to help.
“I was like, ‘Okay, well I know how to do this. I know how to do that. I would love to learn. Could you guys teach me, or do I need to take a class?’ And they were like, ‘No, no, no. We can teach you everything you need to know,'” she says. “‘So after that I spent, I would say at least six months [learning], like a regular job, 40 hours a week. I would be taking notes. My dad taught me everything I know from start to finish. And it took me about six to eight months to really learn everything fully. I’ve been going strong ever since.”
She now leads a small production team in the distillery, putting together the ingredients, which include hemp, corn and water. And if you’ve never had hemp-based vodka (it’s THC-free in case you were wondering), there are many benefits.
“Hemp is amazing,” she says. “It’s really about what the plant does for the process and creating the vodka.” That includes the smooth flavor it gives the vodka, being gluten-free, acting as an anti-inflammatory, and most interesting of all according to Fuller, the ability to keep you from having a hangover. (Drink responsibly, though.)
“I have drank over half a bottle by myself just to try to be the crash test dummy. I woke up the next day and I went to work like nothing was wrong,” she says. “I always tell people I really have never gotten a hangover from it. Even if I drink other things, I’ll take a shot of Highway first and drink something else that will usually give me a hangover and it’s just a magical vodka. I still won’t get a hangover even if I overindulged in something else. So it’s really a great product for that reason, too.” The end result is something she is really proud of. A drink that appeals to more than just the usual vodka lovers.
“It’s really not like anything else I’ve ever tasted. I can drink it and my face won’t scrunch up in disgust,” she says. “So I feel like if I’m drinking it straight, and room temperature, and I can just sip it, I think that says a lot about the flavor.”
Fuller is most proud though to be one of the youngest distillers out there, and is grateful for what the opportunity has allowed her to do and learn — about herself.
“It just really taught me like I am enough. And I know that’s a very vague realization. But for so long I just felt like I had to dim my light, or had to change my character in order to get the places I wanted to go in life. And I feel like I’ve finally come to an industry and a place where I’m blessed to have this career that shows me other parts of myself,” she says.
So while she never saw herself on the path she’s currently on, there’s nothing else she would rather do now.
“God always laughs at our plans. So He just completely took what I wanted to do and transformed it. And it’s not to say that I feel like I’m missing out on anything. I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “So even though I did not think that I was going to be here, this opportunity has completely changed my life.”