SUBLIME — “Money can’t buy you happiness,” the wooden signs state as you drive into High Hill Distillery, “but rum can.”
On family property in rural Lavaca County near the community of Sublime, the Popp siblings started High Hill Distillery, 3337 County Road 122, Hallettsville, in 2017, and they are now ready for their opening from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Crossroads residents and out-of-towners might look to the new business as a source of tourism and a good spot to grab a locally made drink, as it is the only distillery in the counties touching Victoria County.
The tasting room, on Brian Popp’s property, is a short four-wheeler’s drive away from where the sugar and other ingredients are combined and distilled on his brother Perry Popp’s property next door. Currently, the family is making three varieties of rum for sale by the bottle, glass or in mixed drinks like mojitos — all at the tasting room while they work to solidify distributors.
Many distilling businesses in rural parts of Texas like Lavaca County cater to the experience of visiting a distillery, said Chris Porter, public information officer at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Often these include some combination of a tasting, tour of the manufacturing, restaurant or event space.
“My hope is that the High Hill Distillery will be a great tourist attraction for our area,” said JoAnn Shimek, executive director of the Hallettsville Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture. “I think it will definitely attract out-of-towners; therefore, bringing in the outside dollars, but I’m sure the locals will be supporting it as well. 2020 has definitely been a year for the books and even 2021 a little thus far, but our area has been pretty resilient.”
As Texas comes out of the pandemic, Brian Popp said he hopes folks driving along I-10 or from one major city to another will stop off at High Hill to try a locally-made rum.
“As more people across the state are looking for those types of experiences, we’ve seen the number of permits issued grow overall,” Porter said.
Manufacturing distilleries are looking to non-urban areas for less competition, he said, where there might not already be manufacturers. As that trend continues, he said, Texas will have more and more tourist destinations in those rural places like Lavaca County.
Statewide, he said the industry has continued to grow over the past 10 years for manufacturing.
In the greater Crossroads area, distilleries already exist in Beeville, Gonzales, Rockport and Sinton, and one is coming to the Bay City area. As of late April, there were 177 active or pending wholesaler/manufacturer permits in Texas, according to TABC records.
High Hill is an unexpected addition to the local economy, said Alan Jirkovsky, president of the Type A and Type B development corporations in Hallettsville and owner of South Texas School Furniture. He said he looks forward to hearing what jobs — direct or indirect — and people it will bring.
“I’ve always believed that drawing from within is really the best way to grow,” he said.
The growth was possible by staying up until 3 a.m. some nights working on perfecting the distillation process, Perry Popp said.
“You look like you’ve been working a million years after working in here,” he said. “We want to do it all.”
Unlike other locally-owned distilleries in Texas, the spirits’ ingredients are fermented onsite before distillation.
The two brothers are building the family business with their siblings Randal Popp and Rebecca Adam.
On the rural land, they have converted an old hunting shed into the tasting room with woodwork inside and out, as well as a distilling building, barrel barn for storage, treehouse, restrooms, a hanging barbecue pit and a view of open land where the Popps run cattle.
After saying a prayer and blessing the meal at High Hill’s soft opening April 30, Brian Popp said he and his siblings want “people to enjoy the fruits of the earth.”