If it’s taken Treaty Oak Distilling far longer than expected to open its sprawling new distillery ranch on 27 acres of land in the Hill Country, that’s because founder Daniel Barnes wanted to do it right.
“We’re not going to release anything unless it’s absolutely met our expectations for quality, and the same goes for everything on the property. We’ve got very specific parameters for what we’re looking for this to be,” Barnes said on a recent tour of the Treaty Oak land.
Permitting delays also set back the re-opening of the distillery. But it’s finally almost here: Treaty Oak’s grand opening party will offer Austinites a first glimpse of Barnes’ vision for a large experiential drinking destination that will offer, once it’s fully rolled out over the next few years, several places to dine and drink, beverage classes for the curious imbiber and even a brewhouse where the distillers will transition to also being brewers.
That soon-to-be-installed 30-barrel brewing system is the focus of my story in today’s Austin360. Treaty Oak and Real Ale Brewing, farther west in Blanco, are among the latest of beverage producers to branch out from their respective niches, pushing themselves into new frontiers to continue learning, experimenting and having fun. Real Ale is going to start producing a gin, a blue agave spirit (a.k.a a Texas tequila) and various whiskeys come springtime. And sooner than that, Treaty Oak plans to make beer.
But that’s not all the ambitious distillers are gearing up to do. They’ve got quite a spread on Fitzhugh Road, off U.S. 290 West. Among the attractions is the heart of the Treaty Oak ranch: a large distillery where four 1,000-gallon, open-top whiskey fermenters will help produce a number of new whiskeys beyond Treaty Oak’s lauded Red-Handed Bourbon (which the distillery is open about: Red-Handed is whiskey culled from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee and blended or re-barreled there).
“I think we released our first product at the end of 2007, beginning of 2008, and we’ve been making whiskey ever since then; we’ve just never released any of our in-house whiskeys,” Barnes said. “That will be one of the first things we do out here. The whiskey’s ready. Early part of next year or later this year, depending on when we get our TABC label approval, we’ll start releasing some of those different whiskeys and having fun with the different mash bills.”
Relying on the open air for fermentation isn’t common, he said, but “we discovered we’re big fans of it as we played with all the recipes that we’ve done.”
On Sept. 26, Treaty Oak will open with tours of the property and distillery, live music, games for children and adults, cocktail samples and food for purchase from the food truck.
A rickhouse storing some of the barrels Treaty Oak uses will double as a bar where people can order up to a dozen or so different cocktails on tap (and eventually beer on tap, too). Plus, a gift shop in front of the barn-style building will allow them to peruse cocktail books and tools and various other knick-knacks and, of course, to sample and take home bottles of Treaty Oak spirits. The ranch will also, in a later phase of the build-out, have a restaurant and cocktail house with food created just as thoughtfully as the drinks.
Dispersed throughout the center of the ranch, including in front of the building that will become the restaurant, are a variety of large old trees, their leafy branches stretching upward into the glorious Texas sky. They’ll become shady refuges underneath which visitors can sit with a cocktail in hand — the epitome of the experience Barnes is aiming for his guests to have.
“These huge trees are partly why we wanted this property,” Barnes said. “We’re Treaty Oak.”
Treaty Oak Distilling’s Grand Opening Party
What: A first look at the Treaty Oak Ranch will feature tours of the property and distillery, live music, games for children and adults, cocktail samples and food for purchase from the food truck
When: 2 to 8 p.m. Sept. 26
Where: 16604 Fitzhugh Road, Dripping Springs
More information: facebook.com/TreatyOak