“It’s called Dripping Springs for a reason,” says Meryl Sager, the sparkly-eyed bartender at the Desert Door tasting room as she spoons a glob of honeycomb into the Yaupon Palmer, a sotol-based version of an Arnold Palmer made with yaupon tea. “Everything here is dripping.” Sager’s right. When you drive the back roads around Dripping Springs and Driftwood, you are meandering through Central Texas’ distillery motherland. Although not visible from these pretty, tree-lined roads, barnfulls of stills are near at hand, all bubbling away to create small-batch spirits—from gin to sotol to whiskey—ready for you to swill, preferably while sitting outdoors on a breezy day with friends. These springs drip the good stuff.
Some might think spring break is just a student perk, a lucky gift bequeathed to kiddos by a pause in the school calendar. But think again. Grown-ups need spring break, too. And, sitting at the bar at Desert Door Distillery, sipping a little copita of the world’s only Texas-made sotol, you are getting one yummy taste of it. While watching Sager and her high-spirited fellow bartenders shake, pour, and bedeck pretty cocktails, you are also witness to the zeal for locally made spirits that is endemic in this neck of the woods. Every single bartender, distiller, and guide you are likely to meet out on Dripping Springs’ Distillery Row seems crazy about the spirits they make and serve. Their friendly booze enthusiasm, paired with a sampling of so many locally made small-batch liquors, means Dripping Springs is ground zero for a very merry grown-up spring break.
There’s Laura Christie, at Revolution Spirits, who beams as you walk into the distillery’s cozy tasting room. “What we do is pretty far out, so we like to give you an introduction,” she says as she generously fills little plastic cups with free tastings from each of the eight handsome liquor bottles before you, from their much-praised gins to a bitter pecan liqueur. And there’s Jason Stein, a guide and brewmaster at Treaty Oak Distilling, who boils down the science and craft of distilling so enthusiastically you feel like you are being let in on the secrets of a sacred art form, which in many ways you are.
Treaty Oak, which opened in 2006, is one of the early leaders in the now super-amped Texas craft distillery movement, one that keeps growing every year. With 28 acres of ample green fields dotted with picnic tables and a live-music shack tucked under a mammoth live oak, the ambience at Treaty Oak is of the sit-back, slow-down, and sip variety. Make sure to line your belly here with something sinful; Treaty Oak’s new restaurant, Alice’s, serves Texas comfort cuisine like chicken mole, creole shrimp and grits, chicken-fried steak, and smoked Bandera quail. Good food is important after sipping 80-proof liquor all afternoon.
To minimize driving, some visitors travel as a posse with a chartered van company. Rideshare services from Austin will come out to this area, but wait times can be long. If you bring a designated driver, make sure everyone else pitches in for his chicken-fried steak; it’s only fair.
And because there are far too many distilleries in the area to hit them all in one day, cozy up in a local hotel, like the Cabins at Onion Creek. While a bit plain on the outside, the interiors of these cabins—decked out in painted white shiplap, luxury beds, and furry pillows—let you recoup from your boozy explorations in comfort. And if you purchased a bottle or two on your tours, the rocking chairs on the front porch are a pleasant place to unwind with one more tipple. As you listen to screech owls make their nocturnal rounds, you can reflect upon all those bubbling stills of Dripping Springs working away nearby for your pleasure.
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