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Arizona Distillers Providing
Toast-Worthy Beverages

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Images by Gretchen Gesell.
Raise Your Glass: Devour Phoenix Event Shows Off Local Tequila And Vodka Brands With A Special, Locally Sourced Twist


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

March 16, 2018 —  While the Devour Phoenix Bartending Competition is primarily an event to highlight the best bartenders and craft cocktails in the Valley, it is also a showcase for a slew of unique Arizona- inspired liquors.

Several distillers that provide the competitive backbone source ingredients for their libations locally and deliberately craft products that reflect the Arizona landscape.

One such such supplier is Three Wells Distilling Company, which produces a line of prickly pear spirits known as Sonora. Much like tequila, the liquor comes in three varieties from the unaged silver to gold, which is aged 16 months.

However, this is not some local tequila knock off. Three Well’s Sonora has a flavor profile all its own and is much sweeter than its blue agave-based sibling.

To craft the liquor, Tucson-based Three Wells sources prickly pears from local growers and ferments and distills everything in house. The local liquor producers also have a Mt. Lemon Gin and source the juniper berries from the eponymous southern Arizona mountain to give the gin its herbaceous flavor.

“We try to stay as local as possible,” Three Wells Brand Manager Tafao Faumuina said.

That sentiment also applies to another Tucson distiller, Hamilton Distillers. Founded by a local furniture maker, Hamilton Distillers is crafting what is ostensibly a scotch, though the company doesn’t call it that.

First started in 2011, Hamilton crafts a single malt whiskey and malts the barley over mesquite — the same wood that founder Stephen Paul used to craft furniture at Arroyo Design — instead of the peat traditionally used in Scotland. The result is a whiskey that tastes like a scotch with a unique Sonoran Desert kick.

“This is a very terroir-driven whiskey,” said Karley Brumner, who represented the distillery at the bartending competition.

Hamilton’s Dorado mesquite smoked variety, specifically, is smokier than any scotch I have ever tasted and reminds the drinker of a desert campfire. The distillery also has an unaged clear smoked whiskey with hints of chili peppers, and a classic unsmoked variety.

Hamilton is a “grain to glass” facility, Brumner said. That means that the company does everything, from malt and smoking the barley to distilling and bottling the whiskey, in house.

In Phoenix, O.H.S.O Brewery & Distillery is taking a similar approach to spirits as its fellow distillers down south. The business, primarily known for its beers and restaurants, is now churning out some of the finest craft liquors in the state.

O.H.S.O has produced its standard #Vodka and #Gin for a few years, and its product line now includes an array of flavored vodkas, including a trio of locally-inspired citrus varieties in its Arcadia line.

Inspired by the community that houses the original O.H.S.O. in Phoenix, the Arcadia line features lemon, orange and grapefruit vodkas.

“The idea with those three is to capture one of the five C's of Arizona, citrus,” said O.H.S.O. distiller Greg Arias.

The distillers source the lemon and orange peels used to make the vodkas from Cottonwood, though they don’t source grapefruits locally.

They soak the peels in vodka, distill the resulting mixture off and use the resulting extract, natural sugars and acid to flavor the vodkas.

To put it more simply, the stuff is bursting with local flavor — proving that even in Arizona’s desert landscape, there’s a bounty to be had as long as you’re willing to drink it.
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