By Jake Emen
In keeping with being from the Southwest, Whiskey Del Bac from Hamilton Distillers is all about the mesquite. They use mesquite wood to smoke their floor-malted barley rather than peat, making a Southwestern single malt with a Scottish heritage. Of the three varieties in its lineup, Whiskey Del Bac Dorado is the aged, mesquite-smoked version, making it the true core of their offerings.
Whiskey Del Bac Dorado is aged in 15-gallon barrels obtained from The Barrel Mill in Minnesota.* Hamilton will be continuing to use those, but will eventually move up to 30-gallon barrels, and then standard, full-sized 53-gallon barrels. It’s one of many upgrades they’re intending, in addition to the usage of a system which will allow them to malt 5,000 pound batches as opposed to tiny 70 pound batches.
Owner and distiller Stephen Paul jokes that he chose the 15-gallon barrels because, “I’m old and in a hurry.” He wants to figure out the process and make good whiskey as quickly as he can, while understanding that down the line, when its feasible, larger barrels and more substantial aging will likely improve the outcome. Currently, they age the whiskey in those small barrels for roughly five and a half to six months.
In the glass, Whiskey Del Bac Dorado, bottled at 90 proof (45% ABV), is a copper brown color. On the nose, you’ll notice much more depth than was apparent in the Clear, unaged variety, which blasted you with all smoke. The wood gives it more character, and balances out the mesquite smoke, transforming it into more of a chipotle pepper smokiness.
On the palate, the whiskey is dry, with tastes of mesquite jerky, and chipotle and ancho chile. You’ll find notes of black pepper, spice, and cereal grain. There’s a lurking hint of sweetness with vanilla and caramel. The finish is warm, and lasting, it lingers and tingles, and leaves you notes of with cracked pepper.
Add an ice cube, and Whiskey Del Bac Dorado becomes more mellowed. A sweetness and creaminess emerges from its depths, masking some of the deep smoke omnipresent when tasting neat.
If you close your eyes and knew nothing of what was to come, your first impression of Whiskey Del Bac Dorado would likely be that it was indeed a Scotch. It is, after all, a smoked single malt. But as you dive in and find that deep mesquite, it’s clear that this whiskey calls the American Southwest home. Certainly less refined than say, Corsair Triple Smoke, but if you want powerful, hearty, American mesquite smoke, this is for you, and with improvements and upgrades to come in the future, it’s definitely one to watch.
Del Bac Dorado is priced at $46.
*Editor’s Note: Minnesota oak has a tighter grain due to its shorter growing season, and whiskey aged in it has already gained a reputation in craft circles thanks to FEW Spirits.