The Independent Distillery is a local distillery in Tucson that offers quality, handcrafted gin. The bar opened in September 2015, and owner and lead distiller Trevor Streng began distilling gin in September 2016. Streng and his team are exclusively distilling gin for now (offering three different varieties), but are also experimenting with vodka infusions and have their sights set on eventually delving into distilling rum and whiskey. Streng says, “The plan is to do a little bit of everything.”
The distilling team began with multiple gin infusions, eventually creating the flavor profile of their signature gin, dubbed the 10 Botanical Gin. The 10 botanical ingredients found within the gin are juniper berries, cardamom pods, lavender, coriander seeds, angelica root, licorice root, orris root, vanilla beans, and a combination of lemon and grapefruit peel. This gin possesses a dominant aroma of juniper berries and citrus zest, which are juxtaposed with spice notes from the cardamom and angelica. This gin is 80 proof and 40% ABV. After perfecting the 10 Botanical Gin, Independent Distillery set out to create their Barrel Rested Gin, a rose and lemon -infused gin that rests in a barrel for 2-3 weeks. The time in the barrel gives the Barrel Rested a golden/champagne color, along with vanilla and caramel notes. It is 104 proof and contains 52% ABV. The third gin that The Independent Distillery distills is the Big Pat Gin, in honor of the late Pat Conners (owner of Pastiche in Tucson). All the profits from the Big Pat Gin are donated to Pat’s son and wife to honor the greatly respected restaurant owner. Big Pat Gin is a London Dry style (similar to Bombay), with citrus notes and aromas. It is 84 proof and 45% ABV.
Streng explained to me that distilling is a lot like the water cycle because the spirits transition between phases of liquid and gas. The Independent Distillery works out of two tanks. First, they take a neutral spirit (Everclear, for example) and proof it down by adding water. Next, they add the botanicals for 24-48 hours (depending on the recipe and desired flavor profiles) and heat it, turning the liquid into vapor which then goes through a condenser where the vapors go from a gas state back to a cooler liquid state. The gin is then put through a chill filter, proofed some more to get to the appropriate ABV, and, finally, bottled for sale. The distilling and bottling all takes place in house at The Independent Distillery. One of their 26-gallon distilling tanks yields approximately 95 bottles every run and the whole process takes a week from start to finish.
Streng says that, “Starting off was a lot of trial and error for the most part.” With a math and science background, Streng found the meticulous methods of distilling very relatable and comprehensible. Streng says, “It tied into everything that I wanted to do and was able to contribute to the company. We wanted to have every hand in everything that we were doing.” They maintain the mission of “making something to be proud of that you can drink without having to push it away or hide it from anyone. It is something we can take a stand behind.” As The Independent Distillery distillations become more popular, the company has begun to see the same backing from their customers as they do from the dedicated staff. Streng says, “We have great bartenders and staff to showcase the craft itself.”
Streng believes in utilizing each staff member to the best of their ability. From an artistically designed chalkboard drink menu to the force of hands that built the bar, one can feel a strong sense of self-accomplishment thanks to the thorough contributions that each staff member had in getting the distillery up and running. “Independent” is a word that certainly speaks for itself, but for Streng, the name is about, “doing the things we want to do, the way we want to do them.” The staff worked together on the build-out, using their combined capabilities to build the place they now represent. Sure, they could have hired others to do it for them, but that’s not what they stand for. Streng sought after local, reclaimed products for the build-out and the distillers. The bar is made of wood from Mt. Lemmon and pieces of wood used for structuring were reclaimed from an old law firm in town.
Although they would like to make rum and whiskey for people to enjoy, they want it to be the best representation of what they are capable of and would rather have that process happen slowly, than for it to be rushed to completion simply to please a specific audience. Streng feels as though a slower expansion of products will give them more time to gain a mastery over their creations. “We are a really small group and there are only so many hours in the day,” says Streng. It is a laborious process that takes ample time and patience. They are looking to expand slowly but surly. Streng says, “I want us to remain in control of everything, and we don’t want to push it too quick to the point where it becomes unenjoyable.”
Streng showed me an experimental grapefruit vodka he has been working on. Though Streng felt that the flavor profile was nearly to his liking, he still notices that “there’s too much pith.” (Pith is the white pulpy layer of grapefruit separating the sweet fruit from the bitter peel.) He says, “the smell is there, the taste just doesn’t match.” This is why Streng enjoys being able to dabble with different adjuncts to bring the right flavor profile to this experimental distillation. “I was thinking oranges, because they will add more sweetness, but I just don’t want to add anything artificial,” Streng says. He is looking to partner with local fruit and vegetable growers in order to get the best local products to infuse into their products. This careful attention to detail shows how dedicated Streng and The Independent Distillery crew are to producing the highest quality spirits possible.
The Independent Distillery is a terrific example of a person’s ability to accomplish their goals through willpower and ingenuity. With a dedicated staff, devoted to achieving the same goal of creating something unique and high quality, one is able to capture a sense of what it means to be “independent.” Why travel down a path already known? Why not take the risk to shape your own path that could lead you to your true calling? In true Independent Distillery fashion, don’t fret the pursuit – embrace it.
The Independent Distillery
30 S Arizona Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85701