Whiskey Del Bac is an award-winning mesquite-smoked spirit from the heart of Tucson.
“My goal was to make a great American single-malt whiskey using the Scottish model but with a regional flavor character,” says Hamilton Distillers owner Stephen Paul of his fan-favorite single-malt Whiskey Del Bac. The Tucson, Arizona-based distillery was founded informally in 2006, when Paul was drinking Scotch while smoking meat with mesquite wood. Mesquite has always been a fixture in Paul’s life. It is for anyone who grew up in the Sonoran Desert.
“One night in 2006, while barbecuing and drinking Scotch, my wife said, ‘Why couldn’t you dry malt over a mesquite fire instead of a peat fire?’ I was riveted by the idea, and it led to starting Hamilton Distillers,” Paul recalls.
Whiskey Del Bac Dorado is a Sonoran Desert single-malt similar to an Islay Scotch in its intent, Paul says, though it’s softer on the palate than most peated whiskeys and lacks the iodine astringency that so many Islays have. That flagship whiskey has become an award winner, capturing Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, among other contests. Other offerings include a white whiskey, also mesquite-smoked, and a classic unsmoked distillation, along with several seasonal bottlings that pop up during the year.
Also notable is Hamilton Distillers’ process. They malt their own barley and mash, ferment, distill, barrel, and bottle under one roof, a departure from most so-called “craft” or “artisan” whiskeys, most of which originate from the same mega-distillery in Indiana.
While some may do a double take upon hearing about whiskey from the desert, it’s precisely that quirk that keeps Paul’s interest ignited. “It is odd to have a single-malt whiskey to come out of the Southwest,” he admits. “But whiskey-making in America has entered a creative phase — innovation and regionalism are important drivers in what whiskey drinkers are looking for.”
Corona de Tucson
Created by Dale Riggins
1½ ounces Whiskey Del Bac – Classic
1 ounce sweet vermouth
¼ ounce Ancho Chile liqueur
¼ ounce coffee
2 dashes orange bitters
Coffee beans, for garnish (optional)
Combine all ingredients into a shaker and stir to chill with solid cubed ice. Strain out into a cocktail glass and garnish with coffee beans.
Created by Quentin Thomas
1 part Whiskey Del Bac – Clear
3 parts milk (or you can use a mixture of milk and cream for a more decadent glass)
2 parts Kahlua
Fill a shaker with ice. Add all ingredients. Shake and strain into chilled rocks glass filled with ice cubes and top with a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.
Open House Margarita
Created by Nathan Thompson-Avolino
1 ounce Whiskey Del Bac – Clear
½ ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
½ ounce simple syrup*
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
Squeeze of lemon
Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker, add ice, shake vigorously. Serve in a cocktail coupe.
*Adjust the simple syrup based on how sweet or tart the grapefruits are.
For more information on Whiskey Del Bac and Hamilton Distillers and for more recipes, visit the distillery’s website. All images courtesy Hamilton Distillers. Subscribe to the forthcoming monthly Taste of the West e-newsletter below.