By Alison Bailin Batz
While Arizona’s sister to the south is a titan of tequila, and our neighbor to the west is a world leader in wine, State 48 is quickly becoming a mecca for craft distilleries specializing in vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, and more. In fact, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, there are more than 50 registered distilleries or micro-distilleries in Arizona right now.
Breweries Feeling the Spirit(s)
A favorite of many Phoenicians is O.H.S.O. (Outrageous Home Brewer’s Social Outpost), which opened in Arcadia in 2011. Initially focused on beer, distilling was added to the mix a few years into their success. Today, the North Scottsdale location serves as the headquarters for the distillery operations, including the popular Arcadia Vodka collection (with eight flavored offerings), as well as gin, rum, and whiskey brands. During its tour and tasting package, which costs $35 for two people, guests receive a guided tour, a tasting of four spirits, and one bottle to take home.
SanTan Brewing Company is another beer-making pioneer that quietly expanded into distilling in 2015. Quiet no longer, SanTan opened Spirit House, a craft distillery and tasting room, in 2019 behind its long-time Chandler pub. There are both traditional and experimental offerings in their current line-up, notably bourbon, vodka, and gin, plus bottled cocktails, herbal amaro, coffee liqueur, and brandy. Their whiskies are a particular point of pride for founder Anthony Canecchia. Each varietal is curated between two and four years and is rotated ever-so-slightly at specific time intervals to allow each batch to breathe deep into the wood. This painstaking process is used for the company’s more traditional and cask-strength offerings, as well as its newer flavor-infused whiskies, including CaraMellow. As the name suggests, there are definite notes of a Cadbury Caramello candy bar. But, unlike the bar there is no chocolate present. Instead, sea salt caramel is combined with a hint of toasted marshmallow and then added together to the freshly distilled whiskey prior to proofing.
The current distillery tour ($15 per person), takes guests behind the scenes, showcasing a 35,000-square-foot working production facility. And yes, there are ample samples along the way.
Rounding out the list of breweries-turned-distilleries is Grand Canyon Brewing + Distillery, offering tours by appointment almost daily at its full distillery operation in Williams, Arizona. The cost varies based on group size, tastings, and optional food pairings, as there is a full scratch kitchen on site. There are additional locations in Flagstaff and Page that also offer extensive tasting flights of both beer and spirits (pro tip: do not miss the Cinnamon Fire whiskey) as well as a full dining menu, though no formal tours are provided. Taking advantage of the canned cocktail craze, Grand Canyon is also using its spirits in several canned products, including vodka-, rum-, and gin-based beverages. The Orange Blossom Vodka Soda is a standout, as much for being completely sugar-free as it is for its bubbly effervescence and sweet and heady flavor.
Certainly, there are also a number of distilleries solely focused on spirits from the jump, starting with Arizona Distilling Company. When Arizona Distilling released Copper City Bourbon in 2013, it became the first legally produced local spirit since before Prohibition. Honored at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Arizona Distilling paved the way for barely burgeoning distillers to follow in its footsteps. Today, the distillery offers regular tours and has its own cocktail bar and kitchen in Tempe.
Also in Tempe are Adventurous Stills and Wild Hare Distillery.
Adventurous Stills got its start in 2015 and proudly uses 70% local grains in its recipes. There are nearly a dozen varietals in its lineup, notably Lost Dutchman Rye Whiskey, Absinthe Minded Verte, and Orange Witsky made with Helluva Brewery Orange Wit Beer. The distillery is open for tastings, tours starting at $14, and hosts a “become a distiller for a day” program.
Wild Hare Distillery offers the tasting adventure of a lifetime. Ever tried a toasted Madagascar vanilla-infused agave spirit? You can at this husband-and-wife operation that imports blue agave directly from Tequila, Mexico for its line of agave spirits. They distill small-batch whiskey and vodka, as well. Tours and tastings are available by reservation only.
In Old Town Scottsdale, Blue Clover Distillery is another beauty. The area’s first micro distillery makes its vodka with farm-fresh corn and uses reverse osmosis water for a clean taste. Its gin is also special, given that it is infused with various fruits and plants from the American Southwest, including blood orange, desert rose, and peach — a crop that many may not know grows readily in Arizona. Thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass walls, anyone visiting can see where all the small batch spirits are produced in the distillery room, including its impressive handmade copper stills. While the front-row access to the process is complimentary, private tours and buyouts are available for a fee.
Finally, among the most awarded distilleries at the national level is Whiskey Del Bac. Founded in Tucson by a furniture designer who used mesquite wood in his work to showcase the native Arizona plant, Whiskey Del Bac is made by malting barley over mesquite wood to achieve what the founder calls a “mesquited, not peated” flavor profile. Tours of the popular Southern Arizona distillery, both public and private, are offered several times a week for $35 per person. The 75-minute experience starts with a welcome cocktail followed by a guided tour of the distillery, followed by a comprehensive tasting of the brand’s core products.