Sue Ray Uncorked
Arizona Distilling Company
508 West 1st Street, Tempe, AZ85281, USA
We visited the Arizona Distilling Company on Thursday, July 23rd at 2pm. Upon entering the small hot warehouse at the back of the parking lot, we were greeted by a flurry of activity. Both stills were running and some people were bottling. We were directed to the bar area, in order to avoid our tripping over the various hoses and other obstacles lying about. I can only say thank goodness for the two huge fans blasting out cool air, as otherwise the temperature would have been unbearable.
We were joined on our tour by Sharon and Scott who live in Arizona. Gary conducted the tour and Jason Grossmiller led the tasting. Jason is one of the founders.
Gary told us that they had just lost the lease on their current building; the whole block has been bought by a property developer. They have however acquired a building further down the road and hope to be in there by November. The new site is 1.5 acres and they plan to build a bar and BBQ restaurant on site.
Gary explained that it was a very busy time for them right now, with both stills running pretty much 24/7. He said they have to keep an eye on the gauges to ensure they don’t become over-pressurised, but otherwise the stills pretty much run themselves. In the first still he showed us, they were making a brandy; it had a very grapey nose!
He said they used to heat the stills with electricity but as this became so expensive, they dug a natural gas line. They now have a 90,000 BTU boiler to power them.
The distilling process starts with a 2000lb bag of all natural grains which is crushed into fine flour. This is put into the tank, water and enzymes are added, and cooked for 8 hours.
The tank is cooled to 80F and yeast is added which feeds on the sugar for approx. 7 days creating a ‘beer’ of approx. 26 proof.
This is pumped into the still, stirred continuously and heated to 200F. Alcohol starts to vaporise, flows up the neck of the still and down through the condenser where it is turned back into liquid. The ideal running temperature is 172F.
The spirit produced is about 90 proof (45% abv).
For the second distillation, the spirit is put into a 100 gallon still where it condenses again, producing a spirit of 170 proof. This is called “moonshine”. Distilling continues, the heads are removed, the hearts collected, and when the tails come through, the still is shut off.
The hearts are re-distilled to barrel strength using reverse osmosis water. They are then put into barrel and aged for approx. 2 years. Some spirits are transferred to smaller barrels where they age for only 7-8 months. White American oak barrels are used; the smaller barrels give greater wood to liquid contact, so the spirit in those barrels ages more rapidly.
The temperature in the warehouse can sometimes reach 160F in summer which encourages the pores of the wood to open up and provide even more surface area to liquid. They can lose up to 50% in evaporation – known as “the angel’s share”.
Prior to bottling, spirits are diluted to bottle strength. The filler pumps the spirit through a filter into the bottles which automatically shuts off when the bottles are full. Corks are added by hand and the seals shrink wrapped in a machine which takes 2-3 seconds for each one. All bottles are hand labelled.
Bourbon is their most widely sold and produced spirit, closely followed by Gin.
Gary shared some key facts about Bourbon. Bourbon has to be made of 51% or more corn, aged in brand new white American oak casks and bottled at 125 proof. Barrels are only used once for Bourbon, and many are sold off. The “devil’s cut” is the liquid which is absorbed into and which remains in the wood after the barrel has been emptied. When other spirits are aged in these barrels, they absorb the flavours and characteristics from the barrel. Four Peaks Brewing Company age some of their beers in Bourbon barrels.
Their Gin meanwhile is one of the top 10 gins in the world right now, but unfortunately their products are only currently available in Arizona. In terms of botanicals, their Gin has 5 C’s – Cardamon, Coriander, Cumin, Cinnamon and Citrus. It also has Lavender, Lime Zest and of course Juniper.
To make Gin, botanicals are put inside what Gary referred to as “a giant tea bag” and placed on the plate inside the 2nd still. Vapours pass through the botanicals collecting flavours which pass into the final spirit. They clarify their Gins to avoid any risk of cloudiness.
Jason walked us through the tasting:
Copper City Moonshine is 80 proof (40% abv) and the base spirit for Bourbon. It is made from a mix of corn, rye and barley and is colourless. It had quite a sharp finish which we were told is intended to emulate its rawness.
Copper City Bourbon is 90 proof (45% abv) and was the first product they produced. Bourbon is barrel-aged for at least 2 years and this was named after the old Copper City brewery which closed down during Prohibition.
When Copper City Bourbon was first released, the bottles were sealed with copper coloured wax which dripped down the neck. This is a trademark of Maker’s Mark. Not surprisingly, some five months later, they found themselves in receipt of a “cease and desist order” similar to that which the old Copper City brewery had received from Anheiser Busch many years previous. They have since framed the order and it sits proudly above their bar!
Desert Dry Gin is 85 proof (42.5% abv) and contains 8 botanicals. It is very aromatic and their most awarded product. It won a double Gold medal in the San Francisco Spirits Competition (the largest spirits competition in the world).
Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey: The first spirit they have made from locally grown produce. Durum wheat is generally made into pasta and the Durum wheat for this whiskey was specially created for the hot Arizona climate. It is apparently shipped to Italy, made into pasta and shipped back again! This won a Silver medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition and was a very light, smooth wheat whiskey.
Humphrey’s Arizona Malt Whiskey: They teamed up with Four Peaks Brewing Company who made the mash for this product, which they then distilled into Whiskey. Humphrey’s Whiskey is named after the tallest peak in the state and is made from 80% barley and 20% rye. It won a Gold medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition and was a smooth light malt whiskey with a soft bite at the end.
Park Rye Whiskey: Arizona’s first Rye Whiskey and named after Arizona’s first brewery. It is made from 95% Rye and 5% Durum Wheat and won a Bronze medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. This had a much stronger flavour than the previous two, with an obvious rye bite and a very long finish.
The Arizona Distilling Company has only been in production for 3 years. They currently make 6 spirits, but will soon be adding add another 3. They plan to add Vodkas and Tequilas to the range. Jason told us he was planning to travel to Mexico later this year to make their first Tequila from 100% blue agave. He recommended Fortaleza Tequila as one of his favourites.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the distillery and would definitely recommend paying these guys a visit. They are extremely warm and welcoming and produce some excellent spirits. I can only wish them every success in their new home.
Copyright of suerayuncorked.com - July 2015