Popplewell, who has raised rattlesnakes and turtles at Bayou Bob's Brazos River Rattlesnake Ranch for more than two decades, surrendered to authorities Monday. He spent about 10 minutes in jail after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission obtained arrest warrants on misdemeanor charges of selling alcohol without a license and possessing alcohol with intent to sell.
If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Popplewell said he will fight the charges. His intent, he said, is not to sell an alcoholic beverage but a healing tonic. He said he has customers of Asian descent who believe the concoction has medicinal properties.
"It's almost a spiritual thing," said Popplewell, 63.
But alcohol commission agent Scott Jones pointed out that investigators confiscated 429 bottles of snake vodka and one bottle of snake tequila. At $23 a bottle, that's almost $10,000 worth of reptilian booze.
Even if Popplewell intended his drink be used as a healing tonic -- an assertion the alcohol commission disputes -- his use of vodka requires a state permit, authorities said.
"It's sold for beverage purposes, and he knows what he's doing," commission Sgt. Charlie Cloud said.
Popplewell said he uses the cheapest vodka he can find as a preservative for the snakes. The end result is a super sweet mixed drink that Popplewell compared to cough syrup.
"I've honestly never seen a person drink it," he said.
An Asian studies lecturer at the University of Texas said there is some merit to Popplewell's claim that snake vodka could be seen as a tonic.
There's a street nicknamed "Snake Alley" in Taipei, Taiwan, where street vendors put the gall bladder of a freshly killed snake into a glass of strong liquor. The drink, sold to the highest bidder, is supposed to improve eyesight and sexual performance, said lecturer Camilla Hsieh.
"It's like the ancient version of Viagra," Hsieh said.
Santo is located 60 miles west of Fort Worth.