Austin, Texas has become known for being the melting pot of cultural progression. From world renowned BBQ restaurants, to a bustling music scene, and SXSW dominating the city every March, Austin seems to be the IT spot in America these last few years. However the city itself isn’t home to all of the action. Located a little over 20 miles outside of the city, you’ll find yourself in the quaint city of Dripping Springs. A world removed from the bustling downtown of Austin, Dripping Springs has been home to Treaty Oak Distilling since 2014. It’s a location where distillation, cocktails, and world-class food all meet up to provide not your normal craft distillery experience.
Founded in 2006, Treaty Oak Distilling is the brainchild of founder and CEO Daniel Barnes. The distillery has dabbled in a number of different spirits over years, first with rum and then vodka, before settling on their current lineup of whiskeys and gins which they’ve focused on for the last several years now. It was their latest whiskey lineup that we recently dove into that piqued our interest. Their sourced whiskeys are good, but their young house-produced Ghost Hill Bourbon got our attention. As Nick stated in his tasting notes, “Ghost Hill Bourbon is only 2 years old, and while it allows a youthful quality to show through, it succeeds in doing so with impeccable style. It has a wonderful mouthfeel and robustly rich flavor profile that doesn’t suggest any shortcuts were taken.”
When Treaty Oak reached out with an offer to come explore the distillery in person earlier this month, I was intrigued by the opportunity. While I often enjoy exploring younger distilleries all over the country, rare is the one that actually piques my interest with a younger product that has me do a double take. With that, I set out to Dripping Springs to see just what Treaty Oak has built up and to see where they’re heading.
Located on a 28 acre ranch, the distillery derives its name from the famous 500-year old tree in Austin, under which Stephen F. Austin signed agreements defining the borders of Texas. Immediately upon entering the grounds you realize you’re in for quite the big Texas experience. From the vast parking area to the expansive grounds littered with the various buildings comprising the infrastructure of all of their ongoings, Treaty Oak looks very different than the typical upstart distillery I’m used to.
The grounds contain a few main areas that I explored liberally throughout the day. These include their innovative cocktail lab, their distillation and rackhouse area, and Alice’s Restaurant.
Distillery and Rackhouse
Treaty Oak distills their own gin (bottled under the Waterloo Gin brand name), and small amounts of beer (for their onsite restaurant and bar), and whiskey. While I can state I was thoroughly impressed with their gin, especially the unique Old Yaupon Gin, I was of course most interested to see their whiskey distillation process. Their continuous column still juts from the roof of the distillation building and is hard to miss as you enter. It is joined by a number of other Vendome stills which prominently stand out, including a mash tank adorned with the first spiral staircase Vendome ever built.
Moving onto their rackhouse, I was greeted by a building that is capable of housing about 2,500 barrels. The rackhouse currently holds around ~1,200 barrels, and 99% of these barrels were the standard 53 gallon variety sourced from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville. Inquiring further, I was told that Treaty Oak actually started with 53 gallons right from the get go. Knowing this, my interest is piqued even more to see what their Ghost Hill Bourbon will taste like after aging for a few more years. I was able to taste Ghost Hill Bourbon aged 4-5 years and was impressed with what I tasted. It makes me interested in what a standard bottling will taste like once this is readily available.
Mixtape Cocktail Lab
Stepping into the small cocktail lab onsite, you’re instantly transported to a scene that could be taken out of any chic cocktail bar in San Francisco or New York City. The back of the bar helps the Cocktail Lab live up to its name, as it’s adorned with various scientific equipment, including a RotoVap, Condenser, and Spinzall Centrifuge among others. While the venue might make you think you’re located in a major metropolitan area, the cocktail prices are firmly grounded and bring you back to reality. Prices are reasonable ranging from $7-$13 with most drinks only costing $11 or $12.
The bar itself is a small intimate space and Treaty Oak limits its occupancy to only 34 people at any given time. The vibe is laid back and unpretentious with classic hip hop music thumping in the background. I thoroughly enjoyed the Don’t Wanna Be Cool, Hypnotize, and No Diggity cocktails that I tried and only wish I had more time to sample them all
As impressed as I was by the onsite Cocktail Lab, I was truly blown away by my experience at Alice’s. The restaurant is named after Daniel’s mother and offers an unpretentious yet high-end dining experience. A hint at what’s to come was the fact that Notorious B.I.G. hung above our table and overlooked the restaurant right when you walked in.
The dinner that night truly was a standout including eight courses that were a culinary delight. Run by executive chef Justin Richardson, the food could stand up to some of the finest restaurants you’d find in a major city. In fact by the end of the meal I had to remind myself that I was still at the distillery and not at a high end restaurant plucked from the likes of Austin or Chicago. It didn’t hurt that the entire meal was complimented with onsite barrel aged Old Fashioneds.
I should also note that I had a chance to actually meet the real life Alice, who is the definition of Texas charm and was an absolute delight to talk to.
The distillery grounds also includes an onsite food truck serving BBQ, Treaty Oak’s Rickhouse Cocktail Bar which serves their craft beers, cocktails, and Treaty Oak spirits, and an outdoor stage which hosts a variety of monthly concerts. Visiting Treaty Oak is less of a traditional distillery experience, and more of an all-evening affair. I find it refreshing that this young brand is willing to think out of the box and offer guests a chance to come and fill their time for an entire afternoon whether it be sipping on cocktails, learning more about the distillation process, or taking in a bite to eat while listening to some music in the waning hours of daylight.
Much like Treaty Oak’s whiskey line, I’m looking forward to see how the distillery grows and changes over time. Hopefully this won’t be my last time on the grounds, as I’m already thinking about diving into another delicious meal at Alice’s while sipping on a cocktail during a warm Austin night.
Our visit was provided at no cost by Treaty Oak Distilling. We thank them for allowing us to visit and share our unimpeded thoughts about our time on site.