By Jake Emen
The Whiskey Del Bac lineup from Hamilton Distillers in Tucson, Arizona, is new and offers a family of single malts made in a more or less traditional Scotch fashion. The “more” refers to the authentic floor malting being utilized, while the “less” refers to the usage of mesquite smoking, rather than peat, giving these whiskeys an unmistakable southwestern flavor and attitude.
According to its bottle, “Del Bac is an ancient term meaning ‘from the place where the river reappears in the sand.’ Tucson’s Mission San Xavier del Bac was named for its proximity to the Santa Cruz River where ground water surfaced and gave the desert life.’
The whiskey is named for its local area, and it’s made using local resources. The mesquite tree is native to the Sonoran Desert, and as such was an obvious choice for the Tucson company. That’s particularly the case as Stephen Paul, the founder of Hamilton Distillers, is also the long-time owner of Arroyo Design, a woodworking shop which makes furniture from local mesquite wood.
Hamilton Distillers malts their barley over a mesquite fire to impart that complex, instantly recognizable smoky flavor that most Americans are used to finding in barbecue and jerky. They began by floor-malting in small 70 lbs batches, but have a new malting system which can produce 5,000 lbs batches that they’ll soon start using.
On the nose, Del Bac Clear — which is unfiltered and actually has a slight brown tinge — is all mesquite smoke. Like reaching into your favorite bag of jerky for snack, except backed by a stiff reminder of its alcoholic content, bottled at 45% ABV.
On the palate, it’s fairly smooth and sippable. The powerful mesquite takes much of the edge off the white dog. You’ll notice a grainy flavor, but again, the smoke pours through. It’s actually impressive just how much pure, unadulterated mesquite smoke reaches you at every stage of the tasting process.
This is worth trying for the unique and powerful mesquite alone. I’d imagine that Whiskey Del Bac Clear would make a great whiskey Bloody Mary, sometimes known as a Bloody Scotsman. It’s also prime to be utilized in any number of intriguing cocktails.
The Del Bac Clear Mesquite Whiskey is priced at $34.