The Del Bac is Back

Tucson’s Hamilton Distillers move to a larger facility, win double gold for single-malt whiskey

Heather Hoch

Due to a distribution SNAFU, Whiskey Del Bac accidentally found its way onto a few liquor store shelves and sold out almost immediately, as it was previously only available to try in restaurants and bars due to its limited production.

Since then, the whiskey has become kind of elusive, but Stephen Paul and his crew have upgraded into a much larger distillery off Grant Road and Forbes Boulevard and are about to change that. The new facility, once fully operational, is estimated to produce 4,500 cases of Hamilton spirits every year, averaging about 90 cases per week with two distillers working five days per week.

The most unique of Hamilton's three whiskeys is easily the Dorado, which Paul says conveys his "love of place"—Tucson. In-house malted barley smoked with mesquite wood sets it apart from a peated whiskey, giving it some uniquely Sonoran flavor, but Paul says the whiskey is also fermented and distilled with "Tucson tap water" too.

As one of only six distilleries in the country that malt their own barley and then distill it into a Scotch-like whiskey, there's no doubt that Hamilton is doing something most aren't. Paul admits that it's easy to take the community's overwhelming support and assume that means success. However, he says the real test is going to be producing enough liquor so they can distribute to the rest of the state and then, eventually, the rest of the country.

It's not like all the love for Hamilton's spirits has come from Tucson, though. Paul says about a month ago, Jason Grossmiller of Arizona Distilling Company messaged him congratulations. He didn't know it at the time, but Whiskey Del Bac's unsmoked whiskey won double gold for best in show and whiskey at the Great American Distillers Festival. The unaged smoked variety also took silver for unaged whiskey and the mesquite-smoked whiskey took bronze in the American single malt category.

With all of those accolades, Paul says his focus is still on attention to detail, perfecting the process, and producing a quality scotch whiskey. He's also begun working with a farmer in Coolidge who will eventually be growing all of the barley that Hamilton will use for its distillates.

That attention to detail and sourcing, which he says was evident in his mesquite furniture company Arroyo Design, is key, but it also is where most, if not all, of his investors came from for the new digs. Although Arroyo isn't operational anymore, many of his old customers put money into Hamilton.

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, Hamilton Distillers did their first stripping run in their new copper still, a process Paul admits is "nerve wracking." However, it will be about six months until that whiskey is ready to sell as it ages in 15 gallon American oak barrels for most of that time.

"People often ask me how I have a five or five-and-a-half month aged scotch when it's commonly believed that a good scotch is always aged 12 years," he says. "All I can say is that they try it for themselves."

If you're looking to try it, in terms of flavor, the unaged Mesquite Clear is great for mezcal lovers, the unsmoked Classic is more for fans of a scotch like Macallan, and the Dorado mesquite smoked is ideal for Islay drinkers with its strong smoky flavor that errs more on the side of woody than Islay's typified earthiness. The vanilla and caramel nose of the Dorado is something you have to smell to believe.

You can buy bottles (for about $50) by going on one of the distillery's weekly public tours or you can head to Plaza Liquors, Rumrunner, Feast, Whole Foods, or AJ's Fine Foods. Tours are held at the distillery, located at 2106 N. Forbes Blvd., Suite #103, on Saturdays at 3 p.m. beginning January 2015. Visit for more information.

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