One in the Chamber
The high desert college town of Las Cruces, New Mexico is famous for its sprawling mountain ranges, ancient buildings, and burgeoning art scene. However, an afternoon strolling around the desert will inevitably leave your mouth drier than a tumbleweed. To help quench that thirst, stores around Las Cruces offer the first collegiate-licensed liquor in the United States. Pistol Pete’s Six-Shooter Whiskey conjures up images of Old West saloons and swinging batwing doors, but it’s the country’s first collaboration between a distiller and a university. New Mexico State University (NMSU) teamed up with alumni-owned Dry Point Distillers to make history with a dang good whiskey.
“Early on in the business, we would be babysitting stills and sipping on some whiskey and planning where we wanted this business to go,” Chris Schaefer, owner and operator of Dry Point Distillers, shared with The Business Download. “We had all these opportunities and one of the early ideas was a potential collaboration with New Mexico State.” NMSU is a fairly progressive and unique college that already had a working relationship with Schaefer. “There’s a concession store on campus and we were selling them bottles of liquor and there’s a bar on campus, so we already had a loose relationship with New Mexico State,” he said.
NMSU famously collaborated with Bosque Brewing to create the Great American Beer Fest Award-winning Pistol Pete’s 1888 American Blonde Ale, and earlier in the year the University partnered with D.H. Lescombes Winery to produce Crimson Legacy, a hearty cabernet sauvignon. These NMSU-licensed beverages help promote the Aggies Athletic program, and when the pandemic hit, NMSU finally had the time to look into the liquor industry.
“A mutual friend introduced myself and the business to Mario Moccia, who’s the Athletics Director at NMSU. He would come down, and we had drinks and got to know each other then the pandemic hit in March,” Schaefer shared. “The bar got shut down, and everything going on at Aggie Athletics got shut down. So around that time Mario approached me and said basically let’s figure out a way we try to make some money with each other.” This kicked off a relationship that would make history. While a few other universities were also experimenting with their own licensed alcoholic beverages, no college had forayed into the world of whiskey.
“I think the success of the first two products broke down some barriers of thought,” Mario Moccia told Whisky Advocate. “And I think it’s a compelling story. It’s a small business, it’s owned by an alum, and those are two overriding factors of saying, ‘Let’s get in this category.’” Pistol Pete’s Six-Shooter Whiskey is certainly a win-win — every bottle, case, and shot sold goes to a good cause. “It’s not only supporting a small business during a pandemic on my end, but also 12 percent of all of our earnings on this goes directly back to Aggie Athletics and supporting their staff, and their 400 student-athletes.” Schaefer said. “Right now their revenue has been significantly cut and so Mario has been creative about finding these alternative revenue streams for Aggie Athletics, and so I’m really hoping I can do him good and you know make some money for Aggies and NMSU.” As an alumni and resident of Las Cruces, Schaefer wasn’t sure how he’d give back to his alma mater, but this collaboration has provided a chance for the community to work together to keep everyone in business.
“I graduated in 2008 from NMSU, and at the time I was studying geography, and I had zero plans for going into the booze business. But you know that’s just how the cards are played sometimes — you find yourself in unexpected situations but it’s been great. The business has been solid through the pandemic and now this collaboration with NMSU has been a massive opportunity for us,” Schaefer shared. To meet demand, a private distiller in Indiana is currently providing the base spirits for Pistol Pete’s Six-Shooter, but Dry Point Distillers is ramping up their production to meet the demand of so many thirsty New Mexicans. “They are drinking this stuff down,” said Schaefer.
Before the shutdown, Dry Point Distillers were focused on its bar and tasting room, creating cocktails with unique, local ingredients that celebrate the beauty of New Mexico. Since the collaboration with NMSU, their business has exceeded all expectations. “We sold out of the first 1,235 bottles in four days,” Schaefer shared. “It just flew off the shelves, and everybody’s been excited to get their hands on this product. Ultimately it’s got an NMSU logo and NMSU support, but once they taste it, people know it’s an excellent product. So they are coming back for seconds.”
Pistol Pete’s Six-Shooter Whiskey is a three-year-old rye whiskey composed of 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley. According to Schaefer, “It’s got a really long-winded flavor, so you know on the first taste you get the more spicy, peppery notes you’d expect out of a rye, but then that quickly turns down into more of a sweet, robust full body with cherry and caramel flavor.” Every bottle sold goes to support the Aggie Athletic program and it helps a small, local alumni’s business thrive. Schaefer shared, “this is allowing me the opportunity to grow my business to get larger stills and bigger capacity.” The teamwork between NMSU and Dry Point Distillers is not just breaking barriers in the liquor industry, but it’s showing how organizations can come together to create a product that benefits everyone.