Jason Grossmiller Co-Owner, Distiller Arizona Distilling Company azdistilling.com
Arizona Distilling Company seems to be making a habit of blazing trails for the state's fledgling micro-distilling scene. When it released Copper City Bourbon last June, it was the first legally distilled spirit made in the state since Prohibition. And with its Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey just last month, Arizona Distilling put forth the state's first ever grain-to-bottle spirit.
The microdistillery comes courtesy of co-owners Rodney Hu, Jon Eagan, and Jason Grossmiller, who founded the company together in 2012. Grossmiller is the company's distiller, which means he's the one in charge of all the science that goes into every bottle of the company's bourbon, gin, and whiskey. And if you ever get a chance to see the operation, you'll realize just how big a task that is. Just about every aspect from distilling to bottling is done by hand inside a warehouse in Tempe.
Grossmiller got into the distilling business after leaving his career as a blackjack dealer.
"I was the cooler," Grossmiller says, referring to the dealer who comes to a table when guests are winning a little too much. "So needless to say, I wanted to do something else."
He and Hu considered opening a brewery but realized they didn't want to compete with local behemoths like Four Peaks. So instead Grossmiller bought a "hillbilly still," put it in his backyard, and started making his own agave spirit. He'd later go north to work with Dry Fly Distlling in Spokane, Washington, during the distillery's first whiskey release before cashing out his 401(k) and going all in on Arizona Distilling Company.
But unlike Washington, a state that's home to dozens of micro-distilleries, Arizona has only three microdistilleries. As microbrewing did not so long ago, micro-distilling and craft spirit are taking hold across the country -- except, you might say, here.
See also: State Senate Passes Liquor Omnibus Bill
That's in part because there are no state laws regarding small-batch distillers like Arizona Distilling Company right now. And though that might change soon thanks to a new bill, those in the industry -- including Grossmiller -- don't like the way things are poised to proceed.
SB 1397, an omnibus bill currently awaiting action by the House Rules committee, would make a number of changes to the state liquor laws including adjusting the laws regarding beer growlers and creating a new Craft Distiller License. The problem is the bill caps craft distillers at producing no more than 2,378 gallons of distilled spirits a year -- which isn't nearly enough, Grossmiller says.
"It's frustrating. It's a shame," he says. "It's pretty much insulting."
Such a small amount of production would effectively prevent Arizona craft distillers from being able to distribute out of state, Grossmiller says. And though distillers who exceed the proposed cap would be able to apply for an In-State Producers License (the license Arizona Distilling Co. has now), that license only allows producers to sell through Arizona licensed wholesalers.
There are ways to compensate -- for example, by also obtaining a second liquor license, which does allow some retail sales -- but mostly, it's just a shame the new law will do little to help fortify and encourage small-batch distillers the way it will wineries and craft brewers.
For now, Grossmiller says, he's staying focused on the distillery's new projects, of which there are many. They're getting ready to release a new whiskey made in conjunction with Four Peaks brewery. The soon-to-be released Humphrey's Whiskey is made from a Four Peaks beer mash comprising 80 percent barley and 20 percent rye.
There's also an agave spirit to look forward to, as well as a rye whiskey.
One thing most people don't know about me: I played an Iraqi refugee in the movie Three Kings when it was filmed in Casa Grande.
My personal mantra: Ignore negativity.
One thing I want people to know about Arizona Distilling Company: That we are a small local company that is dedicated to teaching the history of Arizona through our spirits made from locally sourced ingredients.
The biggest misconception about the distilling industry: That each individual spirit is made from an individual company. Ninety-five percent of all spirits are made from five major companies.
One distiller that I admire: Don Poffenroth of Dry Fly Distillery in Spokane, Washington. He's one of the pioneers in the micro-distilling industry and is willing to teach and help anyone who wants to learn.
The hardest part being a small-batch distiller in Arizona: Trying to stay relevant and becoming the first choice when someone sits down at a bar or restaurant.
One change I would like to see in the industry: Convince the state that having a cap in production for small-craft distilleries is a bad thing and will restrict our ability to create jobs.
Three things to look for in a good whiskey: Nose: If it smells good, chances are it will taste good. Taste: Drink a good whiskey slowly and deliberately. Try to pick out as many different flavors as you can. Preference: Drink what you think is good. Do not let anyone else tell you what is the best.
What makes AZDC gin different from other gins: The gin is something I wanted to create for people who were on the fence about gin. Our gin is lighter on the juniper flavor, which allows all the other botanicals to shine through. I wanted to have a gin that had a little less "piney" flavor to it, which tends to scare people away from other typical gins.
One movie everyone should see: Blood Into Wine. It's not a story about spirits, but it is a story about Eric Glomski, who is an inspiration and a pioneer in the winemaking industry in Arizona.
One book every brewer/distiller should read: The Art of Distilling by Bill Owens. It's a detailed look into micro-distilling and different techniques on how to distill most popular spirits.
My advice for home brewers: I'm not sure this question really pertains to me as it would a brewer. I would just advise them to keep their passion up by trying to make beer from as many different things as possible. The local micro-brewing movement has exploded over the past five years and some the beers they are making are unbelievable.
The best advice for someone who wants to get into distilling: Read, read, read, and try to find any distilleries that provide any hands-on distilling courses. We will be one of those in the future.
Favorite place to eat and what I like to order: Mastro's City Hall. The bone-in filet with crab legs.
I wish Phoenix had more: Recognition as a great city.
I wish Phoenix had fewer: 115-plus degree days in the summer.
One national/international restaurant/bar I want go to this year: Spiaggia in Chicago.
Favorite cocktail and where to get it: Raising Arizona at Crudo.
Favorite spirit other than my own: Fortaleza Tequila.
What's in store for AZDC?: Our collaboration with Four Peaks, which will be called Humphrey's, should be out in the next two months. Our rye whiskey should not be far behind, and an agave spirit will be after that.
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