Meanwhile, in the some-things-were-just meant-to-happen department:
Chad Auler and Clayton Christopher knew and admired one another's products. Auler — of the Fall Creek Vineyards Aulers — runs Austin's Savvy vodka as well as the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. Christopher was, until earlier this year, CEO of Sweet Leaf Tea Co., one of the past decade's great local business success stories.
"Chad was always sending people over to get cases of Sweet Leaf, and I was always sending people over for cases of Savvy," Christopher says.
And they knew area bartenders were blending Savvy and Sweet Leaf, calling the elixir Sweet & Savvy.
So Auler went to see Christopher with a simple enough pitch, which, according to the bottle, occurred over a few cocktails: Let's put these two things together and bottle it.
Comes now Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka, named for the swimming hole celebrating its 75th year this year as a city-owned attraction. (Before that it was privately owned.) This beverage is 70 proof, made with Hill Country water, Indonesian leaf tea (not Sweet Leaf Tea Co.'s product), vodka that's not quite Savvy — as it's not distilled 20 times or more in Auler's column still as Savvy is — cane sugar from Sugarland and clover honey from Austin's Good Flow. It's not the only tea-flavored vodka out there but their competitors use (boo) high-fructose corn syrup. And you can taste the difference.
After Nestle Waters North America invested more than $15 million in Sweet Leaf and Christopher stepped down as boss, you'd think the guy would kick back for a while. And he allows that he has found time to go surfing in Costa Rica. But: "I love traveling, but I love creating things."
So there he and Auler were, making test batches, putting samples in Mason jars and making calls to retailers, showing them pictures of what the bottle — designed by Austin artist and Christopher's mountain biking friend Toby Sudduth — was going to look like.
Interest was strong early on, and now that the 70 proof finished product is in stores, they're thinking they've got a hit on their hands. Christopher has a photo on his phone showing a single remaining bottle of the new product on the shelf of a Dallas liquor store, looking a little forlorn. Their plan is to conquer Texas — you can find it easily around town in liquor stores — and then hatch a plot for worldwide domination. The stuff is put together, with the help of five employees, at Auler's Savvy distillery in a North Austin warehouse but they're already looking for another, separate location to just make Deep Eddy rather than juggle production schedules.
"It is the easiest thing to sell," Christopher says.
Craig Jamil, who sells liquor at the Arbor Walk Spec's, says customers are coming in specifically asking for Deep Eddy, which is a good sign. And one weekend they ran out, so Christopher's lonely bottle isn't necessarily an isolated incident.
I have to confess to being a fan of both Sweet Leaf and Savvy, so this is dang cool. And as someone who tries to limit his intake of high fructose corn syrup — yeah, I know, good luck with that — the drink's arrival is especially welcome. Mix it with a little fizzy water after mowing the lawn. That's good summer fun. (It should be noted that this is not the only boozy tea produced locally. Graham's Texas Tea from the folks at Treaty Oak Rum is, according to their website, "coming soon.")
They'll be doing events to roll out the brand and chip in a portion of the proceeds to Friends of Deep Eddy, because it's the right thing to do and they both have something of a love affair with Austin.
It's available locally at Spec's and Twin Liquors locations. If you feel like letting someone else make your drink, it's behind the bar at Paggi House, Red's Porch, Hula Hut and other establishments.
The Deep Eddy Splash
Half Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka
Wedge of lemon
Serve over ice.
Lorena's Diving Horse (so named for a former Deep Eddy attraction)
2 oz. Deep Eddy
1 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 basil leaves
Combine, shake for 20 seconds, strain over crushed ice with an optional garnish of a spanked basil leaf.
Reminder: We talked last month about the first-ever Great Austin Beer Festival from 4-8 p.m. June 26 at the Austin Music Hall, but don't forget the $30 tickets go up to $40 on June 21. Ticket info and more at greataustinbeerfestival.com .
Brewery updates: Thirsty yet? Upstart local breweries, among them South Austin, Circle, Jester King and Thirsty Planet, are all in varying stages of construction, waiting on or installing equipment and the like. And in case of Thirsty Planet, they're brewing already. Black Star Co-op, meanwhile, had a fun and goofy "grainbreaking" ceremony not quite a month ago, sticking shovels in spent grains from North by Northwest for a photo op. They're on track to open what's billed as the first cooperatively owned brew pub in late summer. We'll have a more comprehensive report for you in the next column.
Buy this and put it away: One of the finer pleasures of this job is checking the mail because now and then somebody sends a bottle or two of something they're looking to get ink on. Some of the product is a little gimmicky (although I must confess the Michelob Ginger Wheat really wasn't bad) and I don't bother with it. And I endeavor to sample the stuff — I know, work, work — before I tell you about it.
But I've got to make an exception for Deschutes' Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale, bottles of which you should be seeing right about now if you haven't already. This one took a year of tweaking at the Bend, Ore., brewery before they pronounced it ready for prime time. Deschutes, Widmer, Rogue and other breweries in the Pacific Northwest are pioneering this newish style, so named for the Cascade mountain range and, but of course, the citrus-y Cascade hop. These ales are also called Black American India Pale Ale. That's right — the style is so new they haven't even settled on a name. It's 75 International Bittering Units — which certainly earns it its place in the IPA club — and 6.5 percent alcohol by volume.
And here's why I haven't tried it. You know how some beers are freshness dated, "best before" and all that. This one says "best after 5/29/10." The beer is big enough to stand up to a little aging and potentially would benefit from it. Argh. It's a seasonal, so I plan to buy some of these dark and mysterious beauties, hide them and try to forget about them.
That or maybe I'll open the bottle they sent me tonight.