The few miles’ stretch where Jester King Brewery, Solaro Estate Winery and Argus Cidery draw thirsty fans is getting another boozy neighbor by the end of the year: Treaty Oak Distilling is opening an 8,000 square foot distillery on ranch land in Dripping Springs not far from them.
Although it’ll immediately double production on Treaty Oak’s handful of spirits — and then, once a large continuous column still is installed in about 10 months, be able to produce 15 times the amount of current production levels — the distillery is not all that Treaty Oak plans to house on the Ghost Hill Ranch acreage at Ranch Road 12 and Fitzhugh. Accompanying the distillery will be a cocktail house and a gift shop and, in later phases of the big expansion project, a brewery and a set of 10 to 12 cottages.
"The focus of what we’re looking to do is not just market our spirits, but to provide an experience to people," Treaty Oak owner and distiller Daniel Barnes said.
Education is a crucial part of that experience. Barnes said he and the Treaty Oak staff came up with the concept of the cocktail house, as well as regular cooking and cocktail classes, as a way to get people comfortable with making drinks at home.
"Sure, it’s great to try spirits straight, but that’s most likely not how people will drink them at home," he said. "So we want to show that our bourbon’s high rye content makes it great for an Old-Fashioned. That kind of thing. We want you to learn not just how the spirit is made, but how you can use the spirit."
Therefore, the bartenders at the cocktail house will not only serve drinks made with Treaty Oak’s rum, vodka, gin and whiskey offerings, but show people how to make those cocktails, both classics and innovative ones alike.
And the classes, Barnes said, will get even more in-depth and hands-on. Taught by Treaty Oak staff and other culinary and cocktail experts in Central Texas (David Alan as an instructor is a very good bet), they’ll be as varied as "learning different knife methods you can get trained on in culinary school to making the best chicken fried steak," Barnes said. "On the cocktail side, we’ll have hands-on whiskey tasting classes, as well as how to make different whiskey cocktails. Some will be in the distillery, some will eventually be in the brewery, some will be outside, some in the cocktail house . The venue will change in accordance to what the class is."
Recently announced as the Distiller of the Year by the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards, Treaty Oak has been releasing spirits since 2007, starting first with rum but quickly running the gamut, with currently seven different award-winning spirits on the market, including aged versions of the Waterloo Gin and Treaty Oak rum, as well as a blended bourbon called Red-Handed that Barnes said is going fast. Opening up a much larger distillery, now that Texas law has changed to allow on-site sales and consumption, is a natural next step "to help us to keep up with production as we grow to a more national brand," he said.
Going into brewing also makes sense for Barnes, who was an avid homebrewer. But don’t expect to be trying Treaty Oak beers anytime soon — that’s in the next phase of expansion, once brewing permits are in. Even farther out in the future are the cottages that Treaty Oak wants to add so that people visiting "Jester King and Solaro and the other great places in our general area," he said, have a place to stay for a weekend trip.
What visitors to the distillery can expect shortly after it opens by the end of this year is a line of small-batch whiskeys, all made with various mash bills, barrels and aging times, that will only be available at Treaty Oak — as if there needed to be an extra reason to visit.