Later, there would be a booming distillery. There would be artesian springs and copper stills and 11 employees, all cranking out luxury vodka, right there in the heart of Texas. But first, there was just an elementary school kid with an awesome fixation.
"This sounds crazy, but the seed truly took hold when I was a young child," says Gary Kelleher, co-founder and master distiller of Dripping Springs Vodka. "My great, great grandfather was a vodka maker for the Czar of Russia, and as a little kid, I heard all these stories about it from my great aunt. So, at age 7, I announced that I would make vodka when I grew up. And I hung onto the idea."
In the decades that followed (and well after he hit legal drinking age in his native state of Texas), Kelleher worked in bars and restaurants, awaiting the right moment to open up shop, and searching for the key to the whole endeavor: Spring water.
"About 60% of the flavor of any vodka is the water, so in order to get our long, mineral finish at the end, the water was absolutely crucial," Kelleher says. "Some of the water available in central Texas is the very best in the world."
The water chase led Kelleher to Dripping Springs, a tiny town not 30 miles outside of the state capitol, where, alongside his brother and business partner, Kevin Kelleher, he began to teach himself to build and work a still.
"It was completely trial and error. I'm not a chemist, I'm just a guy who likes vodka," says Kelleher. "I thought, you know, I'll work on this a couple months and get it figured out. Well, it was literally two years ... I kept thinking, damn. Surely I'll figure this out tomorrow! I'd found the spring, and after having studied all the great vodkas of the world, I knew what I wanted it to taste like, but I didn't know how to get there. And 279 batches later, I finally got the flavor I was looking for."
Made in tiny batches (at 50 gallons a go, Dripping Springs creates the smallest batches of commercial spirits in the world), the vodka reflects Kelleher's respect for and admiration of the surrounding land. Dripping Springs artesian water "doesn't have an incredibly clean, flavorless taste, it actually has some character," says Kelleher. In order to maintain the Hill Country nuances of the main ingredient, the brothers built a filtration system that would take out impurities, but leave in as much Texas as possible. What remains -- and is bottled after a five-day production process -- is the ultimate in locavore liquor.
"My thought was always to combine the best elements from all of my favorite vodkas," says Kelleher. "It has a complex flavor palate with lots of different notes. There are chocolate and vanilla notes, and a very long, dry, mineral finish at the end. It's what I was always hoping to achieve."
Dripping Springs Vodka is available throughout Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana.