President and Founder, Treaty Oak Rum
Ahoy, Captain Jack Sparrow: Daniel Barnes and his crew at Graham Barnes Distilling are cranking out rum. In North Austin, no less.
Using cane sugar grown at the state’s last operating sugar mill in South Texas. Using a reflux column still distillation process and a filtration process involving carbonized, crushed coconut shells, Barnes produces a landmark flagship silver rum called Treaty Oak, after the famous arboreal landmark in downtown Austin. He’s not stopping there. Barnes is also getting into gin … and vodka-infused sweet tea … and whiskey. And perhaps seasonal, small-batch releases like his friends in the microbrewery business.
Barnes grew up in the West Texas town of Menard, in a part of the state where spirits are often regarded as “the Devil’s breast milk.” Barnes came to Austin at the height of the 1990s craft-brewing movement, headed by the late Pierre Celis. He’s determined to make a small-batch rum using the same attention to detail.
“I came to U.T. and then started working as a sommelier at the Four Seasons. I did insurance for a couple of years and started up a company that does cost containment of medical exams. But I wanted to mix the passion I had with wine and food service and get back in that arena.”
“Why rum? We wanted to latch onto something that had some readily available Texas agricultural product to base it on – in our case, sugar cane and molasses from South Texas, along with water from Hill Country springs.”
“Second, there were a lot of (Texas) vodkas coming out. We thought it would be neat to grab something like rum and show that there more to it than just a Spring Break-style spirit. There’s an artisanal side to it that’s good to go into cocktails or to be sipped on the rocks.”
“People associate rum with Puerto Rico or Cuba or Jamaica, so when you say you have a rum from Texas, people kind of wrinkle-up their noses at you. But once they give it a try, the people who are cynical or skeptical at first, wind up being some of your biggest fans.”
“We got our license in 2005 and hit the shelves about 28 months later. Before that, I spent a solid year learning about fermentation and the nuances of working with molasses. Read lots of books, hosted lots of parties with my friends, making them drink bad rum out of Mason jars.”
“My wife Rachael is a graphic artist and does all our design work. She took a look at all the rum bottles out there. We wanted to make it simple and elegant, to reflect the product in the bottle. So there are no parrots, no pirates, no palm trees, no bananas.”
“We’ve got a signature cocktail, the Pepperita. It’s a take on the traditional daiquiri; basically, the rum, agave nectar, lime juice and jalapenos, strained over ice. It’s got just enough heat to keep you coming back for more.”
“Our new Waterloo No. 9 Gin uses all Texas botanicals – rosemary, lavender and three different Texas citruses, as well as Texas pecans instead of the customary bitter almond. It’s 94-proof, a big gin.”
“We try to focus not on what this particular product says about us, but what does our distillery say about us? We really like to embrace the idea of enjoying what we’re doing, and getting to be creative.”