Many of our local spirits producers are trying to keep up with the demand and growing popularity for their product: Dragoon Brewing recently gave up the dream of self-distribution and began sharing trucks with Miller High Life through Finley Distributing; Hamilton Distillers moved from their alleyway distillery off of Fourth Avenue to a higher production facility near the highway; and the future of wine in Willcox looks to be trapped in courtrooms for the next decade, as judges decide what can be labeled as Arizona wine.
Not everyone has entered the bittersweet embrace of mass appeal. Iron John’s Brewing Company, the brainchild of John Adkisson and John Markley, remains the quiet contender in Southern Arizona’s craft beer scene. I recently tasted their Muse de Brussels Belgian Pale Ale at Good Oak Bar. The unfiltered amber opacity of the beer coupled with barely ripe apricots and lightly toasted barley on the nose immediately reminded me of my first experience with a Trappist beer. The beer diverges a bit from tradition with a slightly heavier dry hopping with Bramling Cross hops, but they lend a dry brambleberry character to the brew more than any added bitterness. Crisp, dry, and with just the right amount of fruit, the Belgian yeast strains in this beer are singing. Buy one at Iron John’s bottle shop at 245 S. Plumer Ave. and drink it with some sausage and sauerkraut at your next barbeque. IronJohnsBrewing.com.
Wilko remains one of the few reliable places you can get high quality food, great wine, well-made cocktails, and hand selected beers near the University of Arizona campus. Luke Anabel and Sara Holcombe’s recently released summer cocktail list remains with the restaurant’s overall theme—consistent reproductions and subtle variations of classic drinks. The standout on the summer list is the Island Manhattan, a slightly lifted velveteen Manhattan with hickory-smoked Madeira, bottled in bond Bourbon, Applejack, and Gran Classico bitter. The bonded whiskey portion of the drink brings the usual suspects of a stirred whiskey cocktail (vanilla, sawmill) while the hickory smoke and Madeira dial down the intensity with dried fruits and some sweetness. Many people connect summers in the Sonoran Desert to shaken lime juice and tequila cocktails; the true spirit animal of summer nights down here is a strong stirred whiskey cocktail. 943 E. University Blvd. 520.792.6684. BarWilko.com.
Nathan Ares, the accidental mastermind behind Prep & Pastry’s runaway breakfast and lunch success, is taking over the Foothills restaurant space previously filled by The Abbey for his new joint Commoner and Company. He is trying to use the same concept as Prep & Pastry but apply it to dinner fare and a full bar. Prep & Pastry has been able to take the same general dishes you could find at any breakfast place in town, make every component from scratch with consistency and quality, and provide it to diners with a heightened awareness of presentation. This winning combination is being applied to the cocktails at Commoner and Company. Their Old Fashioned variation is made with sous-vide honeycomb Dickel Tennessee whiskey, Cabernet Sauvignon soaked cherries, orange zest, and tobacco tincture. While it may not change the world, I can guarantee there will be a line of north-side residents out the door demanding their Honey Old Fashioned cocktails by the time autumn rolls around. Prep & Pastry. 3073 N. Campbell Ave. 520.326.7737. PrepandPastry.com. Commoner and Company. 6960 E. Sunrise Drive. CommonerTucson.com.
Not every night needs high-concept cocktails. For the nights that Budweiser and Jameson are in order, there is a wonderful dive bar in Drexel Heights called the Lazy V Saloon. Wood paneling covers all the walls save for a nighttime mural depicting the pastoral bliss of the arid landscape outside the bar. Three six-foot pool tables fill half of the bar; the open area on the other half leaves enough room for you to attempt to dance to the Internet jukebox as stray dogs from the neighborhood run between your legs. Jose “Monty” Montenegro was the extremely charismatic young bartender working the room during a recent visit. While he was explaining to me that the bar was at least 50 years old, I couldn’t help notice a sign taped to the cash register warning, “The ENTIRE Canez family is 86’d from this bar. If anyone enters, please report to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.” Monty said that the Lazy V Saloon was one of the top five dive bars in the city and probably the top 10 in the state. With a pedigree like that, it’s no wonder the place has lasted so long. Make a visit to the Lazy V Saloon when you need a reminder of the beautiful simplicity and authenticity that is southern Arizona. 2812 W. Alvaro Road. 520.578.0202. ✜
Bryan Eichhorst is a native Tucsonan, unapologetic sommelier, dedicated evangelist of Oaxacan mescal, and the beverage director at Penca.