DISTINCTLY TEXAS | The Texan roots behind Desert Door Sotol
Author: Kris Betts
Published: 10:23 PM CST February 22, 2018
Updated: 10:23 PM CST February 22, 2018
LOCAL 4 Articles

DISTINCTLY TEXAS | The Texan roots behind Desert Door Sotol

Chapter 1


To quote the famous author John Steinbeck: "Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word."

And yet, for all that Texans hold true, there has never been a liquor directly associated with the Lone Star State.

Until now.

John Steinbeck quote graphic
John Steinbeck quote graphic

That’s the goal for three University of Texas McCombs School of Business graduates, at least.

While getting their MBAs, the three men realized this: Russia has vodka, Tennessee has whiskey and Kentucky has bourbon. But what about the great state of Texas?

Chapter 2


That’s where the idea for Desert Door was born.

Made from the “Dasylirion texanum,” or the Texas Sotol plant, Desert Door is the first distillery to make liquor from sotol outside of Mexico since prohibition, according to Ryan Campbell, one of the distillery’s three founders.

“If you go out to west Texas, a lot of the old timers out there, they moonshine this stuff,” said Campbell. "We're not creating anything from scratch here, we've just taken something that has a local culture and a local feel to it and we're bringing it out to the masses."

"This is more of a resurrection than anything else,” Campbell proclaimed.

The three partners naturally came together in their MBA program because they all had one thing in common: each of the men is a former U.S. service member.

Brent Looby is a former Marine pilot, Judson Kauffman is a former Navy SEAL, and Ryan Campbell is a former Army intelligence analyst.

Photo: Judson Kauffman (left), Brent Looby (right)
Photo: Judson Kauffman (left), Brent Looby (right)

Looby said the shared military discipline formed a strong bond early on between them.

"We do have a core set of values and it's the sheer fact of us understanding that what I do, what you do, what the next person does, there's a synergy there,” Looby said. “It's like the three-legged stool. We all have to support the stool. Everybody has to carry their weight."

Chapter 3


They began making Sotol out of one plant from west Texas.

"We started it all on the small scale,” explained Campbell. “We were cooking sotol in my wife's kitchen in pressure cookers. If you came to my house in an 8-month period, every time people walked in they'd be like what's that smell? And my wife would be like 'oh Ryan’s cooking sotol again.'"

It took a lot of trial and error to find the exact recipe and cooking process to create the final product. Now, they’re in their own distillery in Driftwood with custom-designed equipment to create Desert Door.

Photo: Judson mixing a cocktail.
Photo: Judson mixing a cocktail.

Inside the distillery is a tasting room. When you walk in, you can’t help but feel the spirit of west Texas. The light, open space is reminiscent of an adobe. There are wooden tables and leather couches cozied up against a fireplace with chic artistic details everywhere you look. It’s a feeling of desert meets metropolitan -- a perfect blend of Texas’ many facets.

"There's a greater purpose to this than just the business itself,” explains Campbell.

Campbell hopes people experience the culture and taste of Texas while drinking Desert Door Texas Sotol.

"When you drink our spirit, you can actually get a sensation of where it was grown and what was special about the land."

Sotol is unlike anything you’ve likely tasted before. It has an earthy sweetness, but doesn’t come from an agave plant like tequila. It’s also not as versatile as vodka.

"When you taste it, it's somewhere between a high-end bourbon and a high-end tequila, with even some cognac flavors that come in,” explained Campbell.

"There is a hint of the wild west Texas desert in every sip,” said Kauffman.

Judson Kauffman quote graphic
Judson Kauffman quote graphic
Chapter 4


This week, Desert Door made its first distribution shipment. Campbell said their goal is to be in every Austin bar and restaurant, then statewide, and eventually nationwide.

Photo: Cocktails made with Desert Door Sotol.
Photo: Cocktails made with Desert Door Sotol.

According to Campbell, "If we can't sell this to Texans, we really don't have much business selling it outside of Texas, right?"

Visit their website for tasting room hours and directions here.