A brand new business and a recent expansion will make it easier to acquire locally produced spirits in 2015.
In August, Hamilton Distillers, Tucson’s first craft distillery and purveyor of its own brand of mesquite-smoked whiskey, moved its operations from a small out-building behind a furniture business on North Fourth Avenue to an 8,000-square-foot facility off of West Grant Road.
Owner Stephen Paul projects its new 500-gallon system, when fully operational, will produce 4,500 cases, about 54,000 bottles, annually.
Meanwhile, a second distillery, dubbed The Independent Distillery, is set to open in the heart of downtown.
Right now, the space, at 30 S. Arizona Ave. between East Broadway and East Congress, is an empty shell of exposed brick, newly poured concrete, and wooden trusses made of Douglas fir brought down from the White Mountains more than a century ago.
Owners Trevor Streng, Donald Northrup and Toby Hall, Northrup’s wife, hope to launch by late March, producing and serving small batches of craft vodka, gin and other spirits in their custom-designed tasting room.
The Independent joins only a handful of distilleries operating within the state, including Hamilton, the Thumb Butte Distillery in Prescott, the Arizona Distilling Company in Tempe and the Desert Diamond Distillery in Kingman.
“There is opportunity here,” said Northrup, 43. “To have a space here, in a historic building, where we can educate the public on what spirits are supposed to taste like is a good thing.”
Northrup and Streng both come from food service backgrounds.
Before taking on The Independent full time, Streng was a high school math teacher at The Academy of Tucson, while moonlighting as a bartender.
Northrup has spent his entire professional career in restaurants.
He said the idea for a distillery first came to him after a back injury and subsequent surgery forced him to take time off from his managerial position at the Sam Fox restaurant North in 2006.
“While I was recovering, I started thinking about what I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t want to open a restaurant. Everybody does that. I enjoyed the history of spirits. Where gin came from. What makes bourbon, bourbon. I started to formulate a plan.”
When The Independent is complete, the space that houses the distillery will be divided into two halves. The south end will be used for producing product on a 500-gallon still and a 200-gallon still, currently en route from Europe.
The north half will serve as a tasting room, which will feature a full bar of Independent originals, handpicked liquors and local beers on tap.
Northrup estimates the distillery will create about 20 jobs.
“We hope to slowly introduce our spirits into the tasting room,” Streng, 33, said. “We want people to know that the main spirit in the cocktail they are drinking is produced 20 feet away.”
Paul’s decision to open Hamilton Distillers emerged from evening conversations with his wife, Elaine Paul, about creating a Scotch-style whiskey, malting barley over a mesquite fire instead of peat.
The Pauls started getting serious about the proposition in 2011. More than $100,000 was invested to set up the business behind Arroyo Design, the now-closed furniture company the couple had owned since 1986.
Another $900,000 was raised through private investors to relocate Hamilton to its new home at 2106 N. Forbes Road, west of Interstate 10.
Hamilton Distillers began producing whiskey in 2013, filling 46 barrels by the time it moved last August.
Its three brands of whiskey, working under the Whiskey Del Bac moniker, have received national recognition.
All three took home medals at the Great American Distillers Festival, held last October in Portland, Oregon.
Its Whiskey Del Bac Classic unsmoked whiskey took the gold in the single-malt category and its Dorado aged smoked brand took bronze. The mesquite-smoked Whiskey Del Bac Clear won silver in the unaged whiskey category.
Whiskey Del Bac can be found in restaurants and stores around town, including at Feast, The RumRunner, Whole Foods, Plaza Liquors and AJ’s Fine Foods.
Paul said the next goal is to distribute statewide.
“We hope to branch out to neighboring states, as well,” he added.
Northrup said statewide distribution is also in the cards for Independent Distillery, but it is part of a bigger, 10-year plan.
They hope to one day move primary production into a larger, warehouse facility, but have no plans of leaving downtown.
“We will never leave this place,” he said. “This will always be where we create our small batches, our heritage center. When people come to Tucson and want to go to The Independent, they will come here.”