Fans of western movies tend to romanticize whiskey. They imagine bellying up to a bar in an old saloon and demanding the brownish-gold liquor from a sullen bartender, who then dutifully grabs a bottle and sets it before them. The stuff looks like it’d grow hair on your chest and light your throat on fire.
You don’t tend to feel that dusty romance browsing the liquor aisle these days. One exception, though, is Tucson-based Whiskey Del Bac. Over the past few years, the national and world whiskey scene has been taking notice. With write-ups in magazines like Forbes and Whiskey Advocate, Whiskey Del Bac is placing a copper-colored star on the map for a state not really known for its distilleries. The whiskey it produces might well be the closest thing you’ll ever drink to that of your western movie fantasies. It oozes Arizona in a wonderful way and warms the belly with a lovely fire.
Whiskey Del Bac is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a party from 1 to 7 p.m. on October 23 at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., 201 East Roosevelt Street. The party is the first chance fans will have to sample Whiskey Del Bac’s 10th Anniversary Release, a smoky single-malt that has been aged in Calvados and Muscatel casks.
According to founder Steven Paul (his daughter, Amanda, is the other founder), the flavor brought out by the Calvados and Muscatel casks is akin to “a warm, slightly spicy pancake covered in hot butter and maple syrup that dances on the tongue.”
Only 250 bottles of the anniversary distiller’s cut will be available for sale, 30 of which will be on hand at the October 23 event. An additional 30 bottles are reserved for a second celebration on November 13 at Westbound, 267 West Avenida del Convento, in Tucson. The remaining bottles will be available at the distillery, 2106 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 106, in Tucson.
Festivities in Phoenix on October 23 begin at 1 p.m. with a cocktail class at the outdoor bar led by Tom Jonovich, the distillery’s Arizona sales manager. He will showcase some of the best pairings, and spotlight a few of the local partners working with Whiskey Del Bac and Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., like Shrubwell Mixers, Blue Clover Distillery, Agritopia Farm, and Iconic Cocktail Co.
At 2 p.m., there will be a farmers’ market for guests to browse, sample, and purchase an array of products for your home bar. Blue Clover Distillery is crafting special bitters for the event that will be unveiled after 5 p.m.
Paul says it has been a journey for him and his team to land on their signature flavors.
“The first whiskey was our classic,” he says. “It didn’t involve any mesquite smoke. It is modeled after a Speyside Scotch.”
Speyside Scotch is named for a region in Scotland where they don’t use much or any peat to dry the malt. Think brands like Macallan or Glenlivet for a reference, Paul says.
The Dorado label is the more intriguing of all the whiskeys produced, Paul says. The mesquite smoke is softer on the palate than a traditional Islay Scotch, which is heavily peated with an almost iodine-like taste and scent on the nose.
Whiskey Del Bac also has an unaged whiskey, Old Pueblo. It hasn’t been in a barrel, which is why it is clear in color. Jonovich points out that the mesquite in the Old Pueblo presents itself much more clearly.
“It’s a pure expression of what barley does when it is distilled and mesquited,” says Jonovich.
Whiskey Del Bac malts its own barley and, often with the help of the mesquite wood that Paul used to make furniture, creates flavors that cannot be found anywhere outside of the Arizona desert.
“We are not just a Tucson brand, but an Arizona brand,” Jonovich says. “This is the culmination of 10 years of making sure that what we are doing is viable enough to take it to a broader market. This is us announcing that we are representing Arizona in a space [the whiskey market] that does not have a lot of Arizona representation.”