There is a still in a distillery in Prescott AZ, the first since the end of prohibition. In their own words: Why wasn’t there a distillery in the home of Whiskey Row?
Thumb Butte Distillery is the first legal distillery in Prescott since 1933. Thumb Butte Distillery is a craft distillery. A craft distillery is just like the large distilleries that you have known since prohibition—the difference is the quantity of the product distilled. The distilled liquid is made in very small batches—less that 50,000 cases to be considered “craft.” But just like the larger distilleries, marketing still must be done, lines of distribution need to be created, bottles must be ordered, labels designed and printed, quality ingredients discovered worldwide and ordered, specialty equipment purchased and in some cases custom designed, processes engineered and refined. Oh and, of course, some spirit must be distilled.
Thumb Butte Distillery is located in Prescott AZ, not far from historic Whiskey Row, so named for the numerous saloons that lined the street at the beginning of the 20th century. This company’s product is distributed by about 40 eating drinking and liquor stores in Arizona and the number is growing daily.
The four faces of Thumb Butte are Dana Murdock, Jim Bacagalupi, Scott Holderness, and Mario Passalacqua. Dana and Scott greet you at the tasting bar and educate you on the various distilled spirits. Oh yes, you get samples! Jim conducts the tours and can be seen operating, tinkering, and cleaning the equipment. In between bottling and labeling, Mario was also out front to meet and greet visitors.
Dana is an artist, baker, Yavapai college technician, and former restaurant owner. Dana works with production of the gin and vodka products; her specialty is the infusion process. Jim is an interdisciplinary artist, some of his pursuits include super high-end furniture making and the making of fine lutherie instruments. Jim produces single malt whiskey, bourbon, and ryes. Scott was a physician for 16 years in Alaska, is a ceramic artist, and teaches bartending and mixology. Scott also oversees the gin, rum, and vodka production. Mario can be seen in the back sealing and attaching labels to the bottles. Mario marks each bottle with the bottle and batch numbers, the proof, and alcohol by volume. This a great personal touch that you appreciate from a small handcrafted distillery.
Products made by Thumb Butte Distillery include six various fruit bitters, Bloody Basin Bourbon,Rodeo Rye Whiskey, Smoked Rodeo Rye Whiskey, Central Highlands Single Malt Whiskey,Gurley Street Gin, Western Sage Gin, Meyer Lemon Vodka, Vodka, Hot Potato Vodka, Grapefruit/Prickly Pear Vodka, and Escalante Rum. New infused vodka flavors seem to be added all the time. The Smoked Rodeo Rye is a special edition, produced this year for the World’s Oldest Rodeo, held every year in Prescott in July. At this time there are only a couple of bottles left; I made sure to purchase mine, since I don’t know when it will be produced again. The single malt whiskey only lasted one week before inventory was exhausted, but will be back in supply in October. This overwhelming demand was unforeseen.
I first tasted the Bloody Basin Bourbon. I was initially intrigued how any craft distillery could produce an bourbon that is competitive to distillers that age their bourbon in charred oak barrels for at least 5-7 years before bottling. Well, the aged in oak taste was there, due to a secret process that I cannot divulge. It is a very smooth and balanced bourbon flavor that I personally would never dilute with any mix or even branch water.
The unflavored vodka is smooth and very pleasing. I tasted the Meyer Lemon Vodka on at least three occasions and found that I didn't like it as well as the Hot Potato Vodka. Recently I tasted the new Grapefruit/Prickly Pear Vodka and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the combination of the grapefruit and prickly pear worked, and it easily became my favorite of the vodkas.
Rodeo Rye Whiskey
There are currently the two versions of this Rye Whiskey available; the regular rye and one in which the rye grain is smoked. The aroma and flavor of the special edition Rye was definitely smokey but I prefer the regular rye. The non-smoked Rye was a very similar experience to the Bloody Basin Bourbon, in that I would drink it straight and not mix it. I find that sampling whiskeys warmed to room temperature gives a truer aromatic and tasting experience.
I did miss out on the Single Malt Whiskey, but I am eager to sample when it becomes available in October.
At the time of this research, there are approximately 630 craft distilleries in the US. Craft distilleries are growing in numbers mainly due to changes in Federal and State laws and regulations. The most recent change allows sampling and on site sales at the distillery plus one satellite location. Oddly enough, current regulations in Arizona seem to be in the hands of the distributors associations. Arizona previously had no laws permitting or prohibiting distilleries in Arizona. Currently, Thumb Butte spirits can only be sampled at the distillery, but can be purchased by the drink or the bottle at one of almost forty retail or restaurant locations in Arizona, from Tucson to Flagstaff, and of course from the distillery.
Be sure to visit Thumb Butte Distillery on your next visit to Prescott. To find a distillery near you, check out http://distilling.com/. If you live in Arizona, I found this web reference list to be out of date. Instead, use http://www.bottlesociety.com/states/AZ which lists the following in Arizona:
Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.
(Image Credit: Photography/Jim & Mary St. Germain)