One Texas Distillery Is Singlehandedly Bringing a Storied Mexican Spirit to the US

Desert door of Sotol Truck
When Desert Door co-founder and former Marine fighter pilot Brent Looby first launched an alcohol brand while on a business school group project, he could never have imagined what would come next.
There was a lot of (possibly illegal) moonlight at home, sweat, tears, and bottles of less than drinkable liquor. It all paid off, however, because Looby and his colleagues Judson Kauffman and Ryan Campbell finally built something special: the first and currently only Sotol distillery in the USA.
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For the ignorant, Sotol can be considered a distant cousin of the much more popular tequila and mezcal. It is a complex spirit distilled from a desert succulent that gives a real flavor to its surroundings.
At the heart of the mind is the Dasylirion wheeleri, or desert spoon plant, a plant with spiky leaves that indigenous Texans and northern Mexicans have turned into moonshine for centuries. Now the earthy spirit is finally finding its spotlight in the commercial spirit world thanks to Desert Door.
From the bathtub to the distillery

Today, Sotol, created by Desert Door, finds its way from the Texan earth to a 6,500-square-foot, bespoke manufacturing facility designed and built by the three entrepreneurs with ambitious plans to create a distinctly Texan spirit. A huge bespoke steamer is at the heart of the operation, a major departure from the earthen stoves that were used in Mexico to create the spirit.
In fact, Looby and Campbell tell us that they have never made the trip south to visit a more traditional Sotol distillery - more a business decision than an overlook. Distillers insist that they wanted the final Desert Door product to sing its own tune, and that visiting (and ultimately comparing) processes at other distilleries could compromise the originality sought.
Instead, the trail to Desert Door's signature Sotol was a tedious trail that began in the bathtubs, on the lawns, and in the kitchens of the founders, whose wives were supportive but not surprisingly dissatisfied with the growing amount of homemade liquor that stank of theirs Homes and the vegetable fibers that continued to overload their kitchen appliances.
"We made a decision that if we want to make Sotol we should probably know how to make alcohol," says Looby. "So we invested in a small 15-gallon still that we're still experimenting with today."
The end product: the original Sotol of the desert door, one of three expressions currently on offer
Desert door
Over the next several months, the three of them got into a truck and drove to West Texas to harvest Sotol plants and brought them back to ferment the mash in Campbell's bathtub before distilling the moonshine product in Looby's garage over the weekend. Outside on the front lawn, a craigslist-bought wood chopper whirred and cut up the huge plants when the food processors finally broke down.
Campbell recalls a time when his daughter came home one weekend and came in wide-eyed to see the operation at home. She compared it to a scene from Breaking Bad.
“We pretty much went from making one bottle to making a thousand bottles,” says Looby. “Ryan and I sat down and started sketching things out on paper. You know, because we were mostly ignorant, and to be honest, if we'd known how hard it was in the beginning, I don't know if we would have even done it. You eventually get in so deep that you're past the point of no going back, you can't come back, but when you've seen all you had to do to get to that point, I just know not that anyone in his sane mind would do it. "
Fortunately, the three founders seem to be out of their minds, because they still find new ways to expand the company.
Just slurp it

While the journey to developing Sotol for Desert Door didn't go exactly smoothly, they pride themselves on the fact that their finished product is. Looby claims that her Sotol tastes like "anything tequila wishes it could be". A bold claim, but one that is not necessarily false.
Much like bourbon evokes the notes of its geographic origin, Desert Door's Sotol is representative of the West Texas landscape it originated from, balancing the smoothness of a high quality blanco tequila with the earthy flavors one might find in mezcal. In addition to the pronounced dryness of the desert, Sotol also brings fresh aromas to the palate that surprise: herbs and citrus notes that make things interesting.
Always careful to emphasize the uniqueness of the spirit, Looby also points out that the process with which Desert Door makes its Sotol is significantly more sustainable than that of tequila.
In the "Rackhouse" of Desert Door
Desert door
While both tequila and mezcal are made from the agave plant, which is chopped out of the earth and its tender heart harvested to make the elixir, Desert Door has devised a way to distill sotol without completely uprooting the plant. This means the plant will stay in dry soil where it will wait for another harvest in a decade or two.
“We need them somehow,” joke the founders. “The development of processes that enable sustainability has been enormous. We only harvest mature plants, we only take about 20 percent of the plants per hectare and harvest above the root system. All of these things are vital so as not to destroy something we love. We love West Texas - it's in our blood and we certainly don't want to be the cause of the problem. "
Not wanting to be the cause of the problem is one thing, but the distillers say they want to be part of the solution too. Next up is the second addition to their so-called Conservation Series, which is just part of the effort they bring to the environmental organization that the team called Wild Spirit Wild Places started.
Spoke Hollow, which will be available for purchase later this summer, is a collaboration between the distillery and a local ranch where Wild Spirit Wild Places performed a cedar removal operation.
"For the project, we took our original botanical and enriched it through the distillation process with juniper that was harvested wild on the ranch and about six or seven other plants like grapefruit, orange peel, rose hip and coriander," says Looby. "It's practically a gin, but instead of using a vodka base, we used our Sotol."
You can keep an eye on their website for more information on how to get your hands on one of the small batch bottles, but Looby and Campbell say the best way to enjoy their original is in the shape of a Desert Paloma.
"It's the craziest cocktail I've had in my life," says Looby.
Insane? That really says something about the guy who shared a tub of fermenting plant parts for most of the year.
The Paloma desert
Allyson Campbell
The Paloma desert

1.5 oz Desert Door Original Texas Sotol
1.5 oz of fresh grapefruit juice
0.5 oz of fresh lime juice
0.5 oz agave nectar
Combine all of your ingredients in one shaker. Add ice. Shake vigorously. Strain in Rocks glass. Add fresh ice and garnish with a grapefruit wheel.
More like that
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6 Mexican Spirits You Should Know That Aren't Tequila Or Mezcal. are
Why almost all of the mezcal is made from a specific type of agave
This article was featured in the InsideHook Texas newsletter. Sign up now for more from the Lone Star State.
One Texas Distillery single-handedly brings a fabled Mexican spirit to the US, first published on InsideHook.
One Texas Distillery Is Singlehandedly Bringing a Stories Mexican Spirit to the US by Austa Somvichian-Clausen was originally published on InsideHook.

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