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New Hill Country distillery and tasting room marks a return to Texas’ spirited roots

New Driftwood distillery marks a return to Texas’ spirited roots

Desert Door sotol harvest
Harvesting the sotol plant involves removing the leaves before the core pina is steamed to extract sugar. Photo by Michael Thad Carter

It’s no secret that San Antonians have had a longstanding love affair with Mexican spirits. Over the past few years, mezcal has become an essential spirit at bars across the city, and margaritas are so ubiquitous that they might as well be declared the official city drink.

But if a trio of military vets have anything to do with it, locals may soon be trying something new in their palomas: sotol, a liquor that until now has until now only been rarely commercially distilled in the United States.

Desert Door Texas Sotol is the brainchild of Judson Kauffman, Ryan Campbell, and Brent Looby, who met while attending the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. An entrepreneurship class inspired the friends to consider producing a spirit with true Texas terroir. The found their answer in the Dasylirion texanum — also known as sotol or Desert Spoon — an evergreen plant native to northern Mexico and parts of Texas.

The namesake spirit has a long and storied history. According to archeological records, it has been distilled for more than a millennium, first by indigenous peoples and later by Texas moonshiners and a handful of producers in Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuil. Until fairly recently, it was thought to be a part of the agave family, but the plant does not produce sap.

Although the harvesting and fermentation process are similar to tequila, sotol is cooked without smoke, giving the final spirit a much more vegetal quality without sacrificing complexity. The natural smoothness makes it ideal to drink straight, but it also lends interesting notes to smashes (think a fruity Mint Julep) and daisies (a fizzier version of a sour). Desert Door’s portfolio — made with only West Texas wild sotol, organic yeast, and purified natural Texas water and bottled in striking blue ceramic — include an unaged spirit and a version that has been aged in charred white oak barrels for 24 weeks. The latter, not available until February 2018, will take on vanilla and smoky flavors that should fare well in an Old Fashioned.

The spirit will eventually be available in a few select bars and restaurants as well as liquor stores in both San Antonio and Austin, but those who are impatient should make the short drive out to the new Driftwood distillery and tasting room at 211 Darden Hill Rd., which opened to the public on November 16. There, customers can learn about the liquor, relax with a craft cocktails by the fireplace, and shop from a curated selection of goods.