The cavernous metal building next door to Flying Leap Vineyards on Elgin Road is still a work in progress, but Mark Beres imagines exactly how it will look in a few months.
The big shiny tanks will be visible when you enter the Flying Leap distillery, he said one day last week, pointing to the empty space at the far end of the 8,000-square-foot building that by November will be filled with barrels of vodka, grappa, unaged (clear) brandy and white lightning, an unaged clear whiskey.
The barrel room, big enough to store up to 3,000 barrels, will have brandies that will age two to 12 years in oak; the first will be released in 2018. Whiskey will be cask-aged a minimum four years, with the inaugural release in 2020.
The distillery also includes a hammer mill room, where they will grind the grains used to make the whiskey. Visitors will be able to tour the facility and learn how grapes are made into brandy and grains are mixed and blended to make the genesis of whiskey. Beres said it is all part of the wine country experience for his customers.
“People come up here to relax and enjoy themselves. We want to immerse them into the high-quality experience,” he said.
The distillery is the latest addition to Flying Leap, which Beres and his partners Marc Moeller and Thomas Kitchens launched in 2010 on a 60-acre vineyard in Willcox. They now have vineyards in Willcox and Elgin, where they operate their winery and run one of six tasting rooms, with other locations including Tucson and Tombstone. They plan to open a seventh tasting room this summer in Sedona.
Two years ago, Flying Leap acquired Arizona Rub, a barbecue company out of Phoenix that sells specialized rubs for beef, pork, chicken and fish at boutique shops statewide. They recently signed on with a major distributor to sell the rubs outside of Arizona.
And now spirits.
The distillery “is one of those things where we saw an opportunity. Once we saw an opportunity we seized on it,” said Beres, who noted that they already have planted 10 acres of Ugni Blanc grapes used to make brandy on their Willcox vineyards.
“We are a winery, and grape growing and wine is a core business for us,” Beres said. “The distillery is an extension of our wine business. ... We’re trying to bring a new segment of our business that’s seamlessly melded with our core business.”
Flying Leap will invest several million dollars into the distillery and adjoining 3,000-square-foot events center, which will include a catering kitchen, a large open space for corporate events or private parties, and a private bride’s room for weddings, he said.
The events center, like the distillery, is a work in progress, and Beres expects it could be early September before it is open. He already has started booking weddings for spring 2017 and holiday gatherings.
“We’re looking at doing everything from wine events to distillery events,” Beres said, looking at the view of the Chiricahua Mountains and Canelo Hills off in the distance. “Our best asset is our view.”
Flying Leap is one of 16 craft distillers in Arizona operating under a Class 18 license, and one of only two distilleries born of a winery, according to state liquor license documents. It is one of two distilleries in Elgin; the Elgin Distillery is a few doors down at 473 Elgin Road.