True, Tucson is rife with dimly lit taverns filled with grizzled faces and tight fists gripping bottles of cheap beer to avoid the summer sun and the rest of the real world. We also have a pride of upscale lounges and friendly neighborhood saloons to account for those who want a quality drink in a comfortable environment without the possibility of getting your teeth knocked out for looking at someone funny.
And then there is Series 19.
Owned and operated by Matthew Montgomery and Chris Dudding, who also run the Tucson distillery Three Wells, Series 19 is a unique opportunity for locals and visitors to taste Arizona spirits. That is all they serve. There is no beer here, no wine. What you get when you step inside is a glimpse at the talent of our great state's distilleries. To do that, they had to procure a fairly hard-to-obtain license.
"Officially the license is title series 19 D, the 'D' being for distillery," says Montgomery. "This is an offset from our actual distillery, so we had to obtain a title 4, which is set for wineries and spirit distilleries. Once we got that we knew that we wanted to be the one place in Tucson, if not Arizona, to solely feature Arizona craft spirits."
The interior is classic Old West saloon: all wood, tight bar space, plenty of seats and a rustic, well-worn patina, thanks to a steady parade of customers. Dudding and Montgomery—who wears a signature 10-gallon hat—know what they are doing, and they know what they wanted: a comfortable spot to relax and enjoy some of the best hooch our state has to offer.
"We actually like to consider Series 19 a bar," Dudding says. "Even though we are the first to have that particular license and the only location to just serve Arizona spirits."
And that's what Series 19 is: a bar. Yet on the other hand, it's not. It's more of a tasting room that will remind you of the basement hideout of your cool uncle who loves Louis L'Amour—the kind of secret hideout he invites you to escape to when Thanksgiving family drama hits its annual high. (Or maybe that was just me.) If you want just a tumbler of amazing straight booze, Series 19 is probably the best gamble in town. Of course, they serve their own line of spirits and, yes, they also proudly pour their Tucson neighbor Hamilton's Del Bac sweep of whiskey, but you will also discover hard-to-find spirits from Phoenix, Elgin, Flagstaff, Peoria, Tempe and even Kingman. If you need something a little less bracing and possibly sweeter, the bar is stocked with mixers, house-made bitters, and locally harvested fruit, herbs and spices. I recommend one of their signature mules, starting around $6. Not only are these drinks huge; they're absolutely refreshing, if not necessary, during these heat-baked months. They start with an Arizona ginger beer and infuse it with hand-squeezed lime juice and invite you to choose the booze you want to finish with. When temperatures drop to a more manageable level, give the coffee and cream cocktail ($8) a try because drinking locally produced coffee vodka mixed with fresh vanilla, cinnamon and whipping cream lifts a lot more than just your spirit.
"All the bottles you see here are for sale," Montgomery says. "And we are actually a bit cheaper than buying retail because the tax is already included. Plus, we are beginning to offer classes on how to make and distill your own spirits."
Sign up for one of those classes soon because the last course on making your own gin maxed out to capacity a lot quicker than they thought. Who knows? If you get good at distilling, and decide to start your own boozy business, perhaps Series 19 will make a spot for you on their mantle of award-winning Arizona whiskeys, gins and vodkas.
Tasty, freshly made nibbles such as hot wings and pork eggrolls can be delivered directly from Johnny Gibson's Market. So why are you still reading this? I'll see you at Series 19.