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For the love of the Texas landscape

Featured Article

Taste of The Wild

Desert Door founding partner, Judson Kauffman, toasts Sotol… the drink that brings a taste of Texas to your glass

Article by Sarah Ivens

Photography by Two Hoyles Photography

Originally published in Austin Lifestyle


How did you come up with the idea to launch Desert Door?

The seed was planted when I was a young boy on a hunting trip in West Texas; my uncle, a West Texas native, told stories about locals moonshining sotol. I thought it was really neat! Fast forward 20 years and two classmates in business school and I decided it would make for a fun business plan project to do some sort of alcohol company. These memories of sotol distillation converged with the project idea, and it was a real "aha" moment. The class project soon got us so excited that we decided to turn it into a real business.

How is Sotol different from tequila or mezcal? In taste, growth, look, appeal…

Both tequila and mezcal come from the agave plant and they are cultivated. Sotol comes from the sotol plant, which is in the same plant family as agave but different genus. Both are desert succulents, but agave plants have much wider leaves than sotol plants, and the sotol leaves are sort of serrated on both sides.

When distilled, these plants take on very distinct flavor profiles. Texas sotol tends to be a little sweeter, smoother, and gassier than both tequila and mezcal. What appealed to us most about sotol is that it grows much more abundantly in Texas than does agave, and therefore has a much richer history here. The sotol plant that grows in the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert in Texas is slightly different that the southern plant found in Mexico, so these are different categories as well.

Additionally, we came up with our own processing methods which are very different from traditional ways of making tequila, mezcal, or Mexican sotol.

What do you think makes the brand and its story unique?

From day zero we identified our set of values and have not diverted from them since - we are a purpose driven team. Our top value is connection - we strive to help connect people to nature, art, music, history, and most importantly each other. We value authenticity; we are not afraid to be who we are. Furthermore, we embrace the history of this plant and its relationship with humans dating back 13,000 years. The native people who lived in and around the Chihuahuan desert depended on the sotol plant for food and material to make tools; then, around 800 years ago, began to ferment the plant to make some sort of alcohol.

How are you different from many of the other alcohol companies that have sprung up around Austin in the last few years?

We make our spirit from scratch; the vast majority of spirits you'll find at the liquor store are made from an industrially sourced spirit, then finished at XYZ distillery. There are a lot of great spirits made this way, but few brands are very straightforward about their process. Also, we're doing something that is authentic and unique, so the story resonates strongly with folks and that makes a big difference. 

What did you all do before this and how did you meet?

All three of us owners, me, Brent Looby and Ryan Campbell, were in the military prior to meeting at McCombs business school in 2016.

Tell us about the landscape and wildlife around your distillery, and how it pulls at your Texan heartstrings?

Our tasting room is in the hill country, and is surrounded by the natural beauty of this region. Our ranch, and the other ranches we wild harvest from, are in West Texas in the high desert. Both of these parts of Texas are distinct and beautiful, and we revere them for different reasons.

What is your favorite way to enjoy a glass of Desert Door?

I like to drink it neat or with grapefruit juice.

Where do you see it being in ten years time?

We think the category will grow tremendously; I would bet that it outpaces mezcal. We'll see more brands in both the Mexican sotol category and the Texas sotol category. Our hope is that Desert Door is a household name in Texas by that point.

To book a distillery tour or find out more, go to

  • The co-owners at the distillery
  • For the love of the Texas landscape
  • Perfect sunset cocktail - wherever you are!
  • Bottled in blue.