I remember the day I realized small batch distilleries were a thing. Between lunch and yet another gift shop, my husband and I happened on Montanya Rum in Silverton, Colorado. It wasn’t much at the time, just an unimpressive bar and copper still, but we sampled rums, ordered a cocktail and bought a bottle to bring home. I was hooked on the experience.
Eagerly, I began to seek out distilleries in other communities. I sampled gin at a distillery in Santa Fe, vodka in Wisconsin and whiskey in Nashville. Some of the samples were amazing, others okay, but it really wasn’t about the contents of my glass. For me, it was about connecting with the local culture.
Which is why I was excited the first time I saw a bottle of Copper City Bourbon at a Scottsdale resort. Unlike the other occupants of the back bar, it was distinctly Phoenix, its name recalling the days when copper was king throughout much of the state.
Since then, small batch distilleries have popped up throughout Phoenix, and each time I see a new local vodka, gin, rum, bourbon or other spirit on a menu, I make a point to try it.
This is the distillery that started it all. Arizona Distilling Company became the first distillery since Prohibition to legally produce a spirit in the Phoenix area when it released Copper City Bourbon in 2013. Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey, the state’s first grain-to-bottle whiskey, soon followed.
Today, the distillery also makes Humphrey’s Arizona Malt Whiskey, Park Rye Whiskey, Mission Vodka, and Commerce Gin, which pays tribute to Arizona’s five C’s with five of its own: cardamom, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and citrus.
You can find the distillery’s spirits throughout Greater Phoenix, including Commerce Gin and Mission Vodka at the Italian restaurant Crudo, and Copper City Bourbon at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass.
While the Outrageous Homebrewer’s Social Outpost (O.H.S.O) remains dedicated to craft beer, the brewery expanded into spirits in 2016 with its Hashtag lineup of vodka, gin and rum, followed by its Arcadia collection of flavored vodkas. It recently added two more options: Notary Bourbon Whiskey (regular and cask strength) and the piney and peppery Thesis Hop Liqueur.
For a behind-the-scenes look at the distillery in Scottsdale, book a tour, which includes a tasting plus a bottle to take home. Or, you can sample O.H.S.O.’s spirited options at its breweries and local spots such as Doc’s Watering Hole at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa.
Co-founded by Rick Burch, bassist of Jimmy Eat World, CaskWerks Distilling Co. crafts a stellar gin and wheat whiskey but is best known for its not-too-sweet apple pie liquor, made from distillery partner John Miller’s family recipe.
Lon’s Last Drop Bar at The Hermosa Inn and Citizen Public House both mix drinks featuring CaskWerks’ Gin, and local restaurants often incorporate the apple pie liquor into cocktails, sauces and even ice cream at Sweet Republic.
Watch for special events and tastings, like the tapping of CaskWerks’ craft beer collaboration with Sierra Nevada Brewing, on CaskWerk's Facebook page.
Housed in a historic fire station in Old Town Peoria, Lucidi Distilling Co. produces Forcible Entry Vodka, Ventilate Vodka (distilled 12 times), Crooked Ladder Rum, Dispatch Gin, and up to 22 flavors of vodka and moonshine. It also bottles the Canadian-made Fire Station No. 1 Whiskey.
The easiest way to taste its offerings is on a tour, offered twice a day on Thursdays and Sundays, which includes a sample of three spirits and a cocktail. Or, simply drop by for a cocktail at the distillery’s tasting room, open seven days a week.
If you're on the opposite side of the metro area, check out The Local Chandler, where they use Dispatch Gin, Crooked Ladder Rum and Fire Station No. 1 Whiskey in their cocktails.
Produced “by hand” takes on a new meaning at Adventurous Stills, which uses all-copper stills hand-built by the three partners and mills its own natural grains. The lineup includes Papago Rum, Camelback Gin, Fossil Creek Whiskey, Mesquite-Smoked Fossil Creek Whiskey, Peralta Moonshine and Peralta Bourbon.
Adventurous Stills offers tours and tastings—not only of their own spirits but those from distilleries around the state—on the weekends. Their spirits are also available at several local restaurants such as Hula's Modern Tiki in Scottsdale and Glai Baan in Phoenix.
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Like O.H.S.O., SanTan Brewing Company recently launched its own line of spirits: a vodka, kaffir lime vodka and American single malt whiskey. Both vodkas are distilled 16 times, and both won bronze medals at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The whiskey, which is aged in Arizona red wine barrels, won a silver medal in the same competition.
SanTan Distilling’s spirits can be sipped on their own or mixed in cocktails at the brewery’s original Chandler or new Phoenix locations or purchased at Fry’s Food Stores throughout Arizona. Check the brewery’s online Beer Finder map for up-to-date information on other retail outlets and restaurants serving the award-winning spirits.
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Mike Mazzarotto considered opening a brewery but felt the market was saturated. So, instead, he partnered with fellow homebrewer John Racer to open one of Phoenix’s first post-Prohibition distilleries, Paradox Distillery. The grain-to-bottle Paradox produces a 100-percent wheat vodka, white rum and botanical-forward gin.
You can sample Paradox spirits at the distillery’s tasting room, open Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., or following the 45-minute distillery tours ($20), offered Sunday between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Old Town Scottsdale newcomer Blue Clover Distillery just tapped its first batch of vodka in January 2018, but Weston Holm, brother of mixed martial arts fighter Holly Holm, and his partners, Duane and Scott Koch, are already planning to add gin, rum and tequila to the lineup.
In the meantime, you can enjoy Blue Clover Vodka in mixed drinks at the distillery’s restaurant or infused with flavors like lime, blood orange and strawberry. While there, ask for a free tour to see the 100- and 30-gallon copper stills where the spirits are made.
You don’t need a tour to see how Black Mountain Tavern & Distillery produces its vodka and ages its whiskey; just look through the glass window behind the tavern’s bar. In addition to the its signature vodka, Black Mountain produces a prickly pear vodka made from prickly pear fruit harvested in Tucson and is working on a rum and moonshine.
To enjoy Black Mountain Vodka, order one of the tavern’s specialty drinks like the Vodka Press, a mix of vodka and Sprite, topped with a splash of club soda and twist of lime, or purchase a bottle to take home. You can also pick a bottle at Total Wine & More stores throughout the metro area.
Phoenix-based Sonoran Spirits keeps it simple with two offerings: AZ48 Resort Vodka and Cave Creek Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The vodka is made from corn and artisan spring water, so it is certified gluten free while the bourbon scores points for aging four years before making its way into the market.
Sonoran Spirits doesn’t have a tasting room or offer tours, but you can find AZ48 Resort Vodka and Cave Creek Straight Bourbon Whiskey at local AJ’s Fine Foods, select Bashas’ stores, Total Wine & More and BevMo.