A Free Spirit


It’s a busy Friday evening, and as the winter temperature drops, crowds are flooding into the Spec’s Liquor location in South Austin. In the back corner of the massive warehouse store, there are endless rows lined with every liquor known to man. As customers hunt for that elusive bottle of brandy they tasted and fell in love with at a recent holiday party, or rummage through the rum section in search of their favorite spicy cocktail mixer, a tall, clean-cut E. Carter Wilsford whisks by the scotch aisle, pointing out a specific bottle to a customer who’s clearly overwhelmed by the sheer size of the liquor store’s offerings. A whirling dervish, Wilsford moves quickly on to the next customer, juggling three at a time while also answering the periodic question from his co-workers, tossing one of them a cumbersome bulk of keys.

“We had another employee call in sick today, so I’m working the section by myself,” Wilsford apologizes as he rounds the corner, removing his signature orange Spec’s shirt, preparing for a quick break from the hustle and bustle.

Thriving on the chaos of a busy retail environment, Wilsford simply smiles as he bolts across the floor, on to help another customer despite having clocked out for a break. It’s a truly turbulent environment, but one gets the idea that Wilsford is used to all of it; indeed, he seems to embrace the bedlam.

An enthusiastic worker, Wilsford admits it is his devotion to his love that drives him. “I’m extremely passionate about liquor,” he says, adding that he has long studied the distinct characteristics of each elixir.

Despite his age – Wilsford is a mere 21 years old – he is an old soul, and carries himself with the plucky confidence of a man fluent in the ways of the world. An only child, he credits his parents, both of whom are self-employed and socially active, with this gift.

“My parents have always been a huge deal in my life,” Wilsford maintains. “I don’t think they even know how much of a big deal they’ve been, but they’ve given me their great work ethic, and now it doesn’t really bother me to work 90 or 120 hours a week.”

Growing up in San Marcos, Wilsford spent many an evening at home with his parents, cooking up some imaginative dinner dishes. (“My mom cooks better than anyone, anywhere,” Wilsford emphatically contends.) Consequently, he developed a love of and talent for cooking, and hopes to parlay the forte in to a career down the line.

“I’ve thought about starting an event-planning business,” says Wilsford, who also honed his catering skills while working at Whole Foods for three years. “I think I need more experience first.”

In an effort to build that experience, Wilsford spends much of his free time working as a bartender for special events, film festivals, art gallery openings and the like. In fact, he’s also gaining popularity among certain groups as a keen party planner and host. For years now, Wilsford has played toastmaster at the many parties thrown at his parents’ home.

The very evening of his 12-hour, one-man Spec’s shift, he plans to throw a going-away party for a friend who’s leaving Austin. And he proudly discloses that twice a month every summer he hosts a happy hour at his home.

“One time I organized a party for 70 people in about 20 minutes,” Wilsford says coolly. “It’s just what I love to do and it’s become like second nature to me.”

The trials of maintaining a full-time job and acting as host at periodic parties can be all-consuming, and Wilsford admits that his busy lifestyle may have something to do with the fact that he hasn’t dated in at least three years. But despite his hectic schedule, Wilsford still finds time to get involved with community groups and well-known charities. He’s a regular volunteer for the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, and an avid contributor to the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, Amnesty International, the Save Our Springs Alliance and Clean Water Action, and is proud to call himself a “life-long liberal.”

A Boy Scout for several years as a child, Wilsford gladly touts his consistent preparedness. He’s always got at least three or four days’ worth of clothing in the trunk of his BMW 328, just in case spontaneity strikes. Of course, his readiness also extends to his love of spirits.

“Once the temperature drops below 60 degrees, I take a flask everywhere,” he concedes.

And what distilled firewater gets the honored distinction of being his favorite?

“I’ve been drinking a lot of rum lately. St. James from Martinique is really good; it’s what I keep in my flask,” Wilsford says with a grin. Then he confesses a higher love for that favorite Mexican mash: tequila. “If I could afford it, I would drink tequila every day. I find it to have more passion and life and character than any other spirit.”

As one might expect, Wilsford’s exuberance extends far beyond his recreational interests. A consummate romantic, Wilsford has compiled a list of life goals, a catalogue of experiences he hopes to actualize in his lifetime. The list includes living on a houseboat, perhaps somewhere in Europe; running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; being romantically linked to a celebrity; enjoying a $1,000-plus bottle of wine or Champagne; spending at least six months without an address; living at least one year in a non-English-speaking country; and building and designing his own house from scratch.

They are some lofty goals, for sure, but the committed Wilsford is the one man who might actually accomplish each and every one.

For now, he’s content to hold down the liquor fort at Spec’s and host the most fabulous of parties. His future, however, may possess something more deliberately academic.

“I might go back to school,” Wilsford says. “There’s a school in Boston that I’m interested in. I think I would like to major in international business and minor in chemistry so I could focus on distilling. I just have more passion for liquor than most anything else.”

Cheers to that!