Treaty Oak Distillery: Austin's Worst Kept Secret

Daniel Barnes of Treaty Oak DistilleryDaniel Barnes
Treaty Oak Distillery Making a Name For Itself


Pssst, don't say anything, but Daniel Barnes is making rum in Austin. Not a lot, just a couple hundred cases a month. But that's fine with him. He wants to keep his Treaty Oak Distillery small. That way he can focus on the fun parts of making a whole line of unique spirits without having to spend all his time on the less fun parts.

He might want to work on his strategy though. In addition to rum, he's also making gin and sweet tea-flavored vodka. He'll be releasing a clear vodka and an aged rum soon and he's toying with the idea of creating his own whiskey. Distilling and distributing six different spirits is not the best way to keep a low profile in Texas.

Treaty Oak began as a collaboration between Barnes and his father in law, Bruce Graham. "It started out as a vision of handcrafting a quality product," Barnes explains. "Phil's background is in engineering and I grew up in the food service business so it was sort of natural that we try to create something unique in the food and beverage world."

While Graham was designing the stills being used at Treaty Oak, Barnes was working out the recipe for his rum. Using molasses from the last sugar mill in Texas and Hill Country spring water, the two have developed a rum that's so smooth it's compared to high-end vodkas. "I come from a wine background," Barnes adds. "I've been involved in food and beverage most of my life and back in the early 2000's I got out of the business after I met my wife but I stayed very active in home brewing and made my own wine at home. I saw what was going on in the craft distilling movement in the Pacific Northwest and California and I decided it would be really fun to open a distillery here in Texas and do things a little differently than what was out on the market so far."

Treaty Oak's platinum rum is a dry, neutral style with distinct citrus overtones. After filtering out the sulfur, Barnes distills the spirit five times to give it a crisp, clean finish.

"We treat our rum like high-end vodka," he says. "The yeast we use was specially crafted just for us in California. It brings us much closer to a whiskey brew. It gives our rum a mellowness and more fruit flavors. We still have that sugar cookie finish but without that black strap molasses flavor that dominates a lot of rums."

And yes, there really is a Treaty Oak in Austin. It's where, legend has it, Stephen F. Austin signed the first boundary treaty with the Native Americans who inhabited the area. The tree is the last of a grove of 14 and is in the American Forestry Association Hall of Fame. In addition to the flagship rum, Treaty Oak is also becoming known for Graham's Texas Tea featuring premium teas blended with turbinado (raw) sugar and Hill Country water. The sweet 70-proof drink is dangerously smooth on a summer day.

"I tasted between 40 and 50 different teas trying to figure out which direction we were going to go," says Barnes. "I finally settled on Nilgiri tea because of its intense flavors, strong fragrance and balanced body. It's starkly different from the American and English breakfast teas most of us are used to. One smell and you can tell the difference." I tasted between 40 and 50 different teas trying to figure out which direction we were going to go

Meet Your Waterloo Gin

The latest Treaty Oak product is Waterloo gin, featuring all Texas-grown ingredients. A distilled gin, Waterloo (Austin's original name) is made by placing various botanicals in the column of a still while the wash is boiled. The vaporized distillate passes through the botanicals and absorbs the flavor. A compound gin is made by steeping botanicals in neutral grain spirits and creates a milder taste. In addition to traditional gin ingredients like juniper and orange, Treaty Oak adds lavender, grapefruit and pecan. "Our goal," says Barnes, "was to stay true to the traditional London Dry Gin style while still making the gin's Texas roots evident. This combination of flavors is big – we by no means intended to make this a soft or quiet gin."

Barnes is also squirreling away about 200 cases of his rum every month in American white oak barrels. He's expecting the rum that comes out of those barrels 18 months later to be exceptional.

"We'll be releasing the first of our aged rum in 2012. With the hot days and the cool evenings in Austin we're able to age the rum pretty quickly. A lot of rums are aged in used bourbon barrels but we're using new white oak because it imparts so much more flavor." Instead of diluting his rum to 80-proof as most makers do, Barnes will release his aged rum at barrel strength, 110- to 115-proof.

"That's the beauty of being a craft distiller," he explains. "On the scale we're operating we can afford to be a little more experimental. We can make small batches of a specialty spirit that a large distillery can't do. That's the fun of craft distilling; not operating on such a scale that you can't take a chance." Just keep it on the down low.

Treaty Oak Recipes

Sunday Morning
  • 1 1/2 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 2 oz. Orange juice
  • 1 oz. Pineapple juice
  • Method: Serve over ice with an orange wedge.
The Red Oak
  • 1 1/2 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 1 can Red Bull
  • Method: Mix well over ice.
  • 1 1/2 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 1/4 tsp. Champagne
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice
  • 4 fresh Mint leaves
  • Method: Mix mint, lime juice and Treaty Oak. Shake with ice. Serve up in a chilled martini glass. Add Champagne and garnish with a mint leaf.
Texas Daiquiri
  • 2 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. Grenadine
  • 1/2 tsp. Sugar
  • Method: Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain and serve up in a chilled glass.
Oak ‘n' coke
  • 1 1/2 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 3 oz. Cola
  • Method: Mix, pour over ice, and serve with a lime wedge.
Cosmic Cowboy
  • 1 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 1/2 oz. Cranberry juice
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice
  • Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.
Ruso Blanco
  • 1 1/2 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 1 oz. Kahlua
  • 1 1/2 oz. Milk
  • Method: Mix all ingredients and serve over ice.
Top-Shelf Mojito
  • 1 1/2 oz. Treaty Oak
  • 1 1/2 oz. Club soda
  • 1 1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice
  • 8 fresh Mint leaves
  • 2 tsp. Sugar
  • Method: Muddle sugar and mint with lime. Add Treaty Oak and club soda and mix. Top with ice.
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