Microbreweries sprout abundantly about Tucson, and the vineyards of Sonoita and Willcox continue their upward ascent in acclaim and volume—but hey, enough about the soft stuff. Could the next big thing in the desert Southwest’s booze scene be the production of hard liquor?
Yes, distilling and distilleries are coming to our region, and really, what could be more Wild West than that? The word through the (yes) grapevine is that Dos Cabezas Wineworks is now working on creating hard liquor. Bigger still, Flying Leap Vineyards is now being rebranded as Flying Leap Vineyards and Distillery, as it prepares to break ground on a new 5,000-square-foot distillery in Elgin. The distillery will produce vodka and whiskey using local grains from Cochise and Pinal counties, while also crafting brandy (using their own grape harvest).
But perhaps most intriguing—especially for fans of green fairies and/or Italia—is that Flying Leap will be creating special distillations including, it’s rumored, a version of absinthe, as well as grappa. For the uninitiated: Absinthe is the beguiling green spirit noted for its hallucinogenic potency (no word yet on the availability of local wormword, the semipoisonous ingredient that contributed to absinthe’s banning in the United States until the 1990s). But grappa is the real spirit here to cheer for. Grappa is a hard liquor fermented from the products normally discarded in the wine-making process—leftover grape skins, seeds, and stems—and, depending on whom you ask, it tastes like an especially developed brandy or an especially flammable rocket fuel.
Back to those microbreweries sprouting up around Tucson. An especially compelling trend is that of home-brewing circles—like those mentioned in this issue—spawning professional breweries. For example, Black Rock Brewing is bringing its vision and kick-starter campaign to the East side. Its name is based upon the etymology of the word Tucson, as well as the texting acronym BRB. Also, Flux Brewing, yet another new brewery, is now online. All this talk of breweries is making me thirsty for a beer … BRB.
An existential question: Are you good at drinking? And by “drinking,” I mean the drinking of spirits. And by spirits, I mean liquor. By which I mean: Are you good at drinking liquor? If not, there’s a class for that. Specifically, there’s a class offered by Salud, at the Starr Pass Marriott, on the second Saturday of every month from 3:30 to 5 p.m. A different spirit is featured every month, and for a mere $35, a student will study four different samples of the month’s liquor (along with accompanying appetizers, er, study aids). And yes, there’s a final: A specialty cocktail. That’s a final that even the most addled student could pass (and I’ve taught a few addled students).
And speaking of the intersection of academia and liquor, there’s the Grape to Glass Symposium at Lawrence Dunham Vineyards. If one must go to a symposium, then “grape to glass” sounds like the ideal choice. From 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Aug. 2 ($65 to preregister), there will guest speakers, a barrel tasting panel, in-depth tours of the vineyard and winery, and a lunch specially paired with Dunham Vineyards wines.
And in other viticultural happenings: Kief-Joshua Vineyards is putting on its Third Annual Magdalena Bash on Aug. 23 from 1 to 5 p.m., when they’re be releasing new wines during a special day of vino, food, and music. And Sonoita Vineyards is holding its annual Harvest Fest on Aug. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be wine tastings with food pairings, winery and vineyard tours, and a grape stomping at 1:30 p.m.
Should you desire to sample brews in beautiful surroundings but you don’t wish to leave the bounds of Tucson, then there’s more good news: The beautiful milieu of La Cocina and Old Town Artisans is getting even more great, with the opening of The Dusty Monk Pub. Tucked into the southwest corner of the Old Town Artisan complex, the pub will be serving up Trappist and Abbey ales on 12 taps, with 50 brews in the bottle for more variety, as well as an expanded selection of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch. Even better news? The pub has air-conditioning—which, if you know and love the open-air courtyard at La Cocina, will be a welcome novelty in the summer months. 201 N. Court Ave.
Master mixologists throughout Baja Arizona will be testing their tequila talents and more than 50 chefs will be showing off their salsa skills at the 2014 Southern Arizona Salsa and Tequila Challenge on Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. Held at La Encantada, this festival brings together food and liquor competitions, along with an abundance of cultural offerings (for example, dancing will fill the courtyard, with performances by Ballet Folklorico La Paloma and local mariachi and flamenco musicians). The $40 per person ticket includes a salsa-and-chips sampling from more than 40 participating competitors and tequila-based mixed drinks; proceeds go to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation. ✜
Dave Mondy is a freelance writer/imbiber, as well as a college instructor.