A few weeks ago, the guys behind Tempe's award-winning Arizona Distilling Co. drove out to the middle of the desert to stand in the field of grain pictured above. And while the hip-high stalks of wheat might not look like much, that wheat eventually will become Arizona's first grain-to-bottle whiskey made with white Sonoran wheat.
"What's growing out there right now will end up in that barrel," says distiller Matt Cummins excitedly.
In February 2014, the distillery released its Desert Durum Whiskey, touted as "the state's first grain-to-bottle whiskey."
But this time around, the distillers are taking it one step further, working directly with a farmer to plant the wheat crop, see it through harvest, and then turn it into something delicious. It's the equivalent of a chef not only shopping at a farmers market, but partnering with a farmer to grow crops specifically for use at a restaurant. By securing 15 acres specifically for distilling grains, Arizona Distilling Co. continues to push the boundaries of the grain-to-bottle movement.
An additional benefit for the distillers is that they'll have even more control over the quality of the final product -- though they're pretty optimistic that the unique flavor of the White Sonoran wheat will lend itself to making a great whiskey.
"It will probably be the most amazing whiskey you've ever tasted," says distiller Jason Grossmiller half-jokingly.
White Sonoran wheat, which has become increasingly available to consumers in recent years, thanks in part to Hayden Flour Mills, is one of the oldest wheat varieties in America. It's native to Arizona and the Southwest and is often used to make breads, cookies, and tortillas.
This crop, which was planted in January and will be harvested in late May, will produce only a small run of whiskey, Grossmiller says. And you'll have to wait, of course, for it to age. Grossmiller says they'll age this whiskey in small barrels, and may integrate it with another bourbon.
The good news is that the distillery plans on continuing to grow their own grains -- or at least, on continuing to directly outsource the job to people who actually know what they're doing on a farm. Within the next year, they hope to be producing all their spirits in this way.
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And they have quite a few projects in the works, including moving the distillery to a new location that will include a more traditional tasting room and a food and beverage outlet. They're also working on a vodka and a line of tequilas -- stay tuned for more on that down the line.
Arizona Distilling Co. is based in Tempe and comes from Rodney Hu (also of Yucca Tap Room), Jon Eagan, Jason Grossmiller, and Matt Cummins. The company released its first spirit, Copper City Bourbon in 2013, and has since added Desert Dry Gin and several other small batch whiskeys to the portfolio. For more information check the Arizona Distilling Co. website.