By Jake Emen
The three Del Bac American malts comprise the current line of Tuscon, Arizona’s Hamilton Distillers, and with two different Southwest-style mesquite-smoked malt whiskeys in that line, the Del Bac Classic Unsmoked is the most straightforward. That begs the question of whether the absence of that all-encompassing, powerful mesquite help the single malt it masks shine, or would it expose more flaws and kinks yet to be worked out?
Hamilton utilizes a traditional Scottish approach for their single malt, floor malting their barley. In place of peat-smoking, they burn mesquite wood, but in this instance they skipped the mesquite smoking phase. As with the Del Bac Dorado, one of Hamilton’s two mesquite-smoked whiskeys, the Del Bac Classic unsmoked is also aged in small 15-gallon barrels for roughly 5.5 to 6 months. Del Bac Classic is bottled at a lower proof than its mesquite-smoked brother, 84 (42% ABV) compared to 90.
On the nose, you’ll find a honey-agave sweetness, an appropriate descriptor given the whiskey’s geographic heritage. There’s also grain, and malt, along with notes of fruit such as apricot and golden raisins.
On the palate, this is a smooth-sipping, somewhat chewy whiskey without much burn. In the absence of mesquite, the oak is prominent. There’s also a faint hint of vanilla. Add an ice cube or two, and the sweetness morphs from that light honey and agave to a deep caramel and molasses. The body is lighter, and smoother, and for a whiskey which already didn’t pack much of a burn, this means it really gets quite light and easy to knock back.
In the future, Hamilton plans on increasing their production as well as the size of their barrels, the length of their aging, and their capacity for floor malting. That means there are plenty of changes and improvements are to be expected down the line, and this whiskey might not represent where the distillery will be in just a few years time. As it is, this is a very strong entrant, and while the mesquite smoke of the Dorado offers a special and memorable experience, I think I actually give a slight overall edge in terms of preference to the Classic unsmoked. You simply get more of the whiskey.
The Del Bac Classic is priced at $40 a bottle.