It all started in a small warehouse on a road that, for the most part, only the town’s locals knew about. Brothers Kevin and Gary Kelleher leased an abandoned church in a small Texas town in the Hill Country.
The decision to move into distilling was a mix of legacy and opportunity, as the Kellehers were raised with stories of their great-great-grandfather, a German who migrated to Russia tasked with making vodka for the Czar of Russia. In 2005, with both Kelleher brothers looking for new opportunities they decided to go into business for themselves.
The choice to distill in Dripping Springs came down to the area’s reputation for delicious water from natural springs. The Kelleher family launched Dripping Springs Vodka in 2007, building their recipe from that special water in a one-of-a-kind handmade copper pot still.
Within a year, their flagship product won Gold Best in Class and The Vodka Purity Trophy at the 2008 International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) in London. To this day, Dripping Springs Vodka remains the only North American vodka to win the coveted IWSC Vodka Purity Trophy since the competition was founded in 1969.
The company has since added several products to their name, including Dripping Springs Texas Orange Vodka, Well No. 1876 Vodka, Dripping Springs Artisan Gin, Dripping Springs Traditional Gin and 1876 Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
In March 2018, San Luis Spirits Distilling Company, which now does business as Dripping Springs Distilling (DSD), acquired Empresario brands, expanding their brand portfolio to include Republic Tequila and Whiskey, Pepe Z Tequila, Paula’s Texas Spirits, Martine Honeysuckle Liqueur and Republic Spirit Blends.
Dripping Springs’ success can be attributed to the Kelleher family’s passion for creating true craft products. “Our whole mantra is to spend the time to make the best product possible as opposed to mass production,” said Kevin Kelleher, who still oversees the distillery as CEO.
And a true craft it is — Small batches and quality water are the name of the game at Dripping Springs, as their vodkas and gins are distilled in small 40-to-50-gallon batches in proprietary copper pot stills designed specifically for the distillery.
“When you add the unique profile of our artesian spring water to the mix, it makes for incredibly smooth products that are hard not to love,” said Marissa Wagner, Public Relations Manager for the distillery.
The company’s commitment to consistency and quality across all DSD brands can also be seen in the hands-on approach the distillery has maintain given rapid growth over the past decade. “For Dripping Springs Orange Vodka, our Dripping Springs Gins and Paula’s Orange, Lemon and Grapefruit Liqueurs, our distillers take the time to zest our citrus with handheld micro-plane zesters,” said Wagner. “It’s wonderful to be a part of a company that truly takes pride in every small detail in order to produce a true quality product.”
The company has also adopted the quality-over-quantity mindset when it comes to their marketing and advertising strategy. “Our approach is organic growth. More guerrilla marketing, as opposed to having a lot of ads in large publications,” said Kelleher.
On the marketing front, the distillery is heavily focused on events, sponsorships, donations and tastings. Kelleher says they donate to over 350 events each year and conduct in-store tastings at more than 300 liquor stores.
As the number of distilleries, wineries and breweries in the state continue to grow and launch their products, it’s good to know that the original brands like DSD can continue to enjoy the support of loyal Texas drinkers as well.
“There are so many craft distillers, it’s increasingly difficult to stand out,” said Kelleher. “But if you take the long view you can be successful.”
The distillery is open to the public for tastings, tours, cocktails and special events. They offer walk-in tastings Monday through Saturday, tours on Thursdays and Fridays at 3 p.m. and on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Cocktails are currently available on Saturdays from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and the distillery hosts a variety of special events throughout the year.
Dripping Springs Distilling is planning to open a new Visitor’s Center in 2019.
To book a tour or for details on a special event visit www.drippingspringsvodka.com. For more information on a particular DSD product or for questions on how to find and buy a bottle, you can visit https://drippingspringsdistilling.com/ or call the distillery at (512) 858-1199.