Behind most artisanal brands of whiskey stands a handful of individuals who comprise the heart and soul of the spirit. Their likeness may not appear on the label, their names may not be on the bottle, but rest assured, someone has poured blood, sweat and tears into the brand. Such is the case with the grain-to-glass Whiskey Del Bac, a sophisticated range of handmade whiskeys skillfully crafted at Hamilton Distillers of Tucson, Arizona.
These elegant, small batch wonders are the brainchild of distiller Stephen Paul, a local businessman, furniture maker and malt aficionado. "One day in 2007, my wife and I were sipping some Scotch while barbequing with mesquite scraps from our longtime custom furniture company when my wife struck on the idea of making a single malt whiskey imbued with the smoky flavor of Arizona mesquite. I'd been crafting custom furniture out of mesquite for years and had developed a deep abiding respect for the wood. This project is way more successful than I ever imagined."
After 7 years learning the trade, Paul expanded Hamilton Distillers in 2014. The whiskeys are distilled from locally sourced barley in 5,000lb batches, which are soaked in water and allowed to germinate in the distillery's specially designed germinating and kilning tank. To arrest the germination process, and preserve the enzyme that will later convert the starch to sugar, the sprouted barley is dried over a wood fire fueled by native velvet mesquite. The dried malt is then mashed in water, and transferred into a large, stainless steel vat and fermented with yeast. Afterwards, the fermented wash is double distilled in the facility's 500 gallon, copper pot still.
The Whiskey Del Bac portfolio consists of three, stylistically similar, yet significantly distinct spirits.
Those who firmly believe that barrel aging is the best thing that can happen to whiskey need to have a fling with Whiskey Del Bac Clear Mesquite Smoked Single Malt. Upon exiting the still, a select amount of the smoked, 100% malted barley whiskey is rendered to 45% alcohol (90 proof) and bottled in its natural state, free of the obscuring effects of oak aging.
The whiskey has ideal clarity, a velvety, lushly textured body and a wafting, mesquite smoke, spices, and malted barley bouquet. Unlike the Sonoran Desert, the whiskey never comes close to being hot, a mark of masterful distillation. On the palate expect waves of warm malty, anise and fruity flavors with the mesquite smoke making a return appearance on the lingering finish. The unaged marque offers enthusiasts a rare opportunity to taste a single malt stripped of its oaky personae.
Then again, the large majority of the world's whiskeys are matured in oak casks, typically charred, once-used bourbon barrels. Barrel aging has the capacity to elevate a whiskey to greatness, which is quite true about Whiskey Del Bac Dorado Mesquite Smoked Single Malt. Guaranteed the 45% alcohol (90 proof) whiskey deserves every bit of the critical acclaim it's receiving.
Upon exiting the still, the remaining portion of the mesquite smoked, 100% malted barley whiskey is placed in charred, 15-gallon, American white oak barrels for maturation. These small casks accelerate maturation due to higher ratio of wood surface to contents. During its stay in the barrel, the whiskey develops a dark amber/brown appearance, a silky, medium-weight body and the alluring aromas of dark chocolate, fresh brewed coffee, anise, baking spice and tropical fruit with lilting notes of smoky mesquite. The whiskey warrants allowing it more time in the glass to breathe and fully open. Your patience will be well rewarded. On the palate the whiskey delivers layers of flavors—caramel, toffee, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, toasted oak and wisps of mesquite smoke. The long lasting flavors eventually fade into a warm, thoroughly satisfying finish.
The third spirit in the trio is Whiskey Del Bac Classic Unsmoked Single Malt. The barley used in its production is dried with a natural gas fire instead of mesquite smoke, thereby leaving the flavor profile of the malt unaffected. True to its name, the 42% alcohol (84 proof) whiskey is classic in character and style, rather reminiscent of a soft Highland Scotch. The deep amber/brown, medium-bodied whiskey has an enticing bouquet of red berries, heather honey, vanilla and spice. The palate is a brilliant offering of sweet, malty flavors with dry barley notes on the long finish.
Named after Tucson's historic San Xavier del Bac, Del Bac is the combination of Spanish and native O'odham words meaning "of the place where the river reappears in the sand."
All three expressions of Whiskey Del Bac are sensational spirits, cosmopolitan in their own right. Chalk up another win for the Old Pueblo.