Booze News:
January/February 2016

 

January 5, 2016

BuzzIssue 16: January/February 2016

Luke Anable has played a major role in the growth of Tucson’s craft cocktail scene. He has helped write cocktail lists and spearhead spirit selections at The Red Room, Wilko, Penca, Sidecar, and most recently has been working with Derrick Widmark to grow Good Oak Bar into its next stage. From the beginning, Good Oak has been exclusively an Arizona beer and wine venue, becoming an important foothold for the local spirits community to show off their products. With Anable’s new additions of distilled spirits and cocktails, the bar is hoping to fully embrace the pub aesthetic of the space and become more inclusive to a range of drinkers. Through a modest cocktail list, some examples of natural California and Oregon wines, a selection of agave distillates, and a small list of craft whiskeys, he’s hoping to showcase those drinks that helped shape the development of the Arizona beers, wines, and cocktails. The success of the craft drink scene locally will come from the hard work of many people across the country to change the status quo across the country and bring craft drinking into our daily lives. By featuring Del Bac Whiskey next to microdistilleries from the Hudson Valley, we see a more complete picture of our own craft in Arizona—a sense of context and maybe a chance to see what makes our own spirits different.

Three Wells Distilling, a new Tucson distillery, has released their first product into the market. The Sonora Silver is what I would describe as a prickly pear eau de vie—a fruit brandy—although the Tax and Trade Bureau in charge of liquor labeling seems to disagree, calling it instead a “special distillate.” The prickly pear fruit is co-fermented with sugar cane, double distilled in handmade pot stills, and proofed down to 40 percent ABV. I have tasted a few different examples of prickly pear brandy, and its close relatives, and this is by far the most accessible entry into the category. The spirit presents a candied prickly pear flavor from top to bottom with just a touch of heat from the alcohol. Prepare to find this popping up on every cocktail list around town—the flavor almost demands to be used as a mixing ingredient. Hopefully the entrance of this product onto the market will inspire other distillers to begin searching through our native and indigenous plants for fermentables to start making novel Arizona spirits. Taste the growing line of Three Wells’ liquor every first and third Saturday from 3-6 p.m. at their tasting room near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Growing up on the east side of Tucson, I used to pass by a bar called Eddie’s Cocktails every day on my way to school. There were no real outward clues as to what went on inside of Eddie’s. Every Wednesday night there would be cars parked as far as I could see. Something exciting must have been going on inside that building—I knew that one day I would find out what that something was. A few weeks ago, I ventured back to my old stomping ground and finally went inside Eddie’s. What was actually going on inside was fairly tame: a group of mostly middle-aged and older people relaxing, drinking beer, and watching live country music. The bar could fit about 20 people, and another 20 or so tables spread across the room focused on a modest stage that barely held the band. Eddie’s boasts 16 beers on tap. Not that long ago, any bar that had more than four draught beers was something to behold. The crowd and service wasn’t the least bit intimidating, the beer was cold, and the music was great. These are the bars that maintain the unique nature of our city. Businesses that focus on serving their populations for decades at a time are businesses that we should all support.

After more than 20 years of consistent high quality food, impeccable service, and a strong domestic wine list, Kingfisher Bar and Grill has become one of our strongest and most decorated institutions of food and drink in Tucson. Their long line of charismatic bartenders has been an important part of that continued success. Although I would wager that nine out of every 10 drinks coming out of the service well are wine, why not discuss one of their simple, impressive, and concise cocktails: the Swizzlefish. Mostly a Rum swizzle played fairly straight, the cocktail is simply this: Rum, Velvet Falernum, cinnamon syrup, Angostura bitters, and lime juice. Molasses-driven spirit, baking spice, citrus, and a touch of sweetness are the dignified building blocks of a classic tiki drink that many too quickly overlook in lieu of something more bourgeois. Before the oysters, before the Muscadet, before you have to impress your guests—order a Swizzlefish.

Located in Williams, Grand Canyon Brewing Company’s Black Iron India Pale Ale is a reasonably priced can of beer. It leans heavily on the richness and nuttiness gained through the addition of Maris Otter malts in the fermentation. Centennial and Columbus hops make themselves present in the floral and reserved citrus bitterness but aren’t as loud as those found in Pacific Northwest-inspired Arizona IPAs. It has a fairly weighty mouthfeel, pleasant nuttiness in both the nose and palate, and an unmistakable British Pale nostalgia that sings throughout the beer. Another great can to add to the arsenal of Arizona’s maturing beer scene.

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Rune Vineyards are the up-and-comers within the perennially up and coming Arizona wine industry. Although there are many competitors, most of whom have more funding, this new label has a lot going for it. The 2013 Viognier, sourced from Pillsbury Vineyard in Cochise County, splits its points of interest between the Rhone varietal’s always compelling Arizona aromatic expression and the decisions made in the winemaking process. The inclusion of wild yeast into the fermentation process (in concert with a selection of commercial yeasts) allows the Viognier to become even more a product of its own terroir. A touch of neutral oak adds a tinge of color, helping emphasize the honey on the nose. In the mouth, the wine is full-throated and lengthily driven by stone fruits. This wine is perfect to drink as the opening toast of a family holiday gathering in Baja Arizona. ✜

Bryan Eichhorst is a native Tucsonan, dedicated evangelist of Oaxacan mescal, and the beverage director at Penca.







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