On the next leg of the RackHouse Whiskey Club tour is Desert Door Texas Sotol. Never tried sotol before? Think Texas love child of whiskey and tequila and you’ll be on the right track.
When we heard that the first and only distiller of sotol in the United States since prohibition was located just outside of Austin, Texas, we had to take a trip to check it out.
"Sotol has been around for almost 1,000 years so it goes back a ways, especially here in Texas and northern Mexico," Desert Door co-founder Judson Kauffman told us. "It comes from the sotol plant. [It] grows in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is only found in northern Mexico, southern Texas and the tiniest corner of southeastern New Mexico."
The sotol plant, which resembles an artichoke but 30 times bigger, isn’t farmed, it’s wild harvested in west Texas using machetes, axes and crowbars to harvest the plant.
Sotol grows in elevation and Kauffman says it’s that location away from the colonized sea level areas of Mexico that initially earned its historical moniker of being a hillbilly moonshine much like whiskey in Tennessee or Kentucky was.
"Over time it was looked at like the poor man’s tequila, even though in our opinion it’s equally if not a superior spirit in terms of quality and flavor profile. Because it wasn’t respected by the educated Spaniards, it fell by the wayside." Kauffman told the RackHouse Whiskey Club Podcast. "We’re proud to be in a position where we can bring that back to the forefront and make it a real spirit that stands next to tequila, bourbon or whiskey."
Kauffman got the idea after his time serving in the Navy. He went to business school where he met two other veterans, Brent Looby and Ryan Campbell. An MBA project then turned into a business in 2016.
Starting with a kitchen still bought off eBay and lots of trial and error, they landed on a distilling process, raised some money and opened their distillery on the outskirts of Austin, Texas.
"It’s worked out and we’re making pretty good booze," Kauffman said. "We have a lot of folks coming here and they’re blown away how smooth it is and how easy to drink it is. It’s been rapidly adopted in our local community in Austin and San Antonio."
From field to bottle, the distilling process can take as little as 10 days and is bottled at 80 proof. An aged variation is barreled for six months in Missourian New American oak.
As far as the name, Desert Door is intended to represent the timelessness of the sprit itself.
"When you drink it, it’s a transportive experience. The natives believed it was a psychedelic plant and they would get high on it," Kauffman said. "So that’s part of it, you drink this and you’re stepping through this doorway to a different world, a different mentality."
As we tasted it, we all agreed it really does taste like the west Texas desert. "It’s a smooth sip of the Chihuahuan Desert," Kauffman explained.
There’s no label you can put on this - it’s sotol.
"It’s got some great American history and it’s a damn good spirit," Kauffman said. We agree.
For those not in Texas, the only way to try some is through being a member of RackHouse Whiskey Club.
"We’re proud to be getting our juice out to the country through RackHouse Whiskey Club," Kauffman noted.
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