Best Distillery 2016 | Arizona Distilling Co. | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Evie Carpenter

Arizona Distilling Co. has come a long way in just a couple of short years of producing spirits that not only Arizonans could be proud of, but which can compete with most anyone on a national stage. Originally, the company was best know for its gin, which blends a handful of Arizona botanicals into an aromatic and flexible gin — recently, though, it's their Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey, made from locally grown durum wheat. Billed as "Arizona's first-ever grain-to-bottle whiskey," the spirit sets the pace for a company that's wants to be known for quality and community before anything else.

The distillation industry may be large, but in Phoenix, things are still pretty small. That means that when a new distiller opens up its doors, it can potentially make waves quickly — and that's exactly what CaskWerks did after setting up shop in Tempe. Owner Rick Burch and head distiller John Miller were hoping they had a recipe for success when they debuted the spirit they're now so well known for: their delicious, signature Apple Pie Liqueur. What they didn't have, yet, was a liaison to tap into the Valley's bartender community. Enter bartender extraordinaire and one the community's best-known ambassadors, Travis Nass, who joined the team to man the customer-facing side of the equation. Cheers to a bright future.

Though it hails from down south in Tucson, Hamilton Distillers has done a phenomenal job of getting their Whiskey Del Bac spirit placed onto shelves in Phoenix — after all, who wouldn't want to stock and pour one of the state's most intriguing alcoholic products? If you ask us, it's a game-changer; the distillery is taking organic local barley grown in the Tucson area and malting it with mesquite smoke made from wood collected in the surrounding desert — a process not unlike Scotch-making, which requires grain be malted by burning peat. Mesquite is an important part of our local terroir, and Hamilton's Whiskey Del Bac is an important part of appreciating that terroir. We can't wait for what they do next.

Served at the cozy bar inside of downtown Phoenix's Nobuo at Teeter House, every component of the Smokey Thompson — a textbook whiskey sour by build, something profound when you examine its pieces — says Arizona. There are local limes and yuzu orange citrus when they're in season at Bob McClendon's farm; honey made by desert-foraging bees; the whites of chicken eggs from Dave Jordan's Two Wash Ranch in Queen Creek; and last, but not least, Whiskey Del Bac, a scotch-like spirit made from Tucson-grown barley, malted with burning mesquite collected in the neighboring desert. Hey, this is no prickly pear margarita — and that's because it's much, much better.

Heather Hoch

There's nothing wrong with good, reliable beer that you can get just about anywhere in town — but there's something about that jog out to the distant, previously brewery-less town of Gilbert all just to wet your whistle with one of what, after a few years, has grown into a solid collection of Arizona Wilderness' very hyped small-batch brews. Their DC Mountain Double IPA is quickly gaining ground as one of America's most delicious IPAs. Loads of local produce and the occasional heritage grain prove Arizona Wilderness are progressive beer makers, with buying practices that invest heavily in the local economy — concepts that elude most other breweries, even at the small and local level.

Lauren Cusimano

Wren House could have been just like any other neighborhood bar in Phoenix — but it's special. Not only do they brew their own beer, they do it in a stylishly designed, repurposed house that dates back to 1922. That means some cool Phoenix history, and even cooler: cold craft beer. At this small scale, the brewery nimbly built a cast of dependable beers that run the gamut from Jomax Oatmeal Stout, brewed with coffee from the local Press Roasters, to the Hi Jolly American Wheat Ale, which folds chamomile and local desert honey into each batch. Finally, we've got a brewery and bar that reflects a new, tasteful, and modern vision for Phoenix.

If you took a year and dedicated it to tasting a different craft beer every day, you would still need an additional month and then some to sample all of the beers available at the Strong Beer Festival. In 2017, there will be 400 different craft beers for brewheads to taste at the festival that will take over Steele Indian School Park. Four Peaks, the Phoenix Ale Brewery, SanTan Brewing Company, Mother Road Brewing Company, and many more all participate to show that Arizona knows beer, knows how to make it well, and probably most importantly, knows how to drink it.

In a tight-knit space, Central Wine seemingly does it all — they have wine by the glass, in half-glass flights, and by the half-bottle (always a good variety, whether you want to, say, start with a skin-fermented chardonnay or end the evening with a nice Californian syrah); great local beers (i.e., Historic Brewing Company's Piehole Porter from Flagstaff — and beer flights, too, if you can't decide on just one at a time); and plenty of snacks. That means everything from burrata and balsamic on Noble Bread toast or a local Crow's Dairy cheese board, all the way down to a Patti Cakes fudge brownie. Wine has never been so much fun.

The French know their rosé. And though they swirl it in their glasses, sloshing with ice, they have never taken the drink to its logical American conclusion: Throw it in a can and add fizz. In terms of refreshment, nothing beats Dos Cabezas' canned Sparkling Pink Rosé. It exploded on the scene last year, and, due to its popularity, was scarce on the market. No other wine quite captured that same magic this year, which means that Dos Cabezas remains king of the summer. Challengers are accepted; we like our wine cooler, so long as it doesn't include wine coolers.

Be Coffee is tucked away in the monOrchid gallery and office space off Roosevelt Row. A good amount of be's coffee comes from Swillings Coffee, a Colombian roaster started by SeedSpot's C'pher Gresham — it's nice hot, but even better cold. There are many schools of thought as to what a good cold brew should be like, but these guys are keeping it classy, with a cup of java that is clean as a whistle, has great malty and chocolatey flavor, a smooth feel — and, very importantly, is plenty strong to begin with, seeing as how ice melts at rapid speeds here in the desert.

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