First, let’s look at the build of Nobuo at Teeter House’s elevated take on a simple whiskey sour, called the Smokey Thompson. For starters, Mo Neuharth, who manages front-of-house and the bar at the restaurant, uses local mesquite honey and egg whites from Dave Johnson’s Two Wash Ranch.
Then there are yuzu orange and lime juices from local farmer Bob McClendon (though when they’re not in season in Arizona, the restaurant sources them from a Japanese distributor).
Finally, for the booze, there’s Whiskey Del Bac, a spirit made from organic barley grown at Tucson’s family-owned BKW Farms. The barley is malted by burning mesquite collected in the surrounding desert, creating a scotch-style spirit with Sonoran terroir.
Its significance is twofold. For one, organic Tucson barley has unique flavors and a sense of place, unlike the vast majority of whiskey and bourbons — even the best — which are created from commodity grains and corn. As such, the flavors of other whiskeys end up coming primarily from the barrels that they’re aged in (the type of wood, the char level of the barrel, and storage time, to name a few variables). Second, Tucson's Hamilton Distillers, which makes Whiskey Del Bac, is one of only in the country to use a local fuel source, similar to how Scottish distillers use local peat to malt, or dry, their sprouted grain. It's important for flavor, since many Scottish distillers would tell you scotch gets most of its flavor and aroma from the diverse makeups of peat around the island of Islay.
So, there you have the Smokey Thompson. It's named after Nathan Thompson, who used to run the bar program at Nobuo at Teeter House, but is now the distillery master at Hamilton Distillery. It was chef Nobou Fukuda who assigned Neuharth, his new bar manager, a project: to create a whiskey sour using the mesquite and barley-derived spirit.
“I remember visiting the distillery in Tucson, and in just the two hours I was there someone was dropping off a load of the local mesquite, and another man was picking up the used mash from the whiskey-making process to use as feed for his pigs,” Neuharth says.
“And then we started to get our pork belly from that pig farmer [E + R Pork]. Nathan connected Nobuo with him.”
So it's obvious that every aspect of the Smokey Thompson tells the story of Arizona. But what about something more traditionally "Arizonan," like the prickly pear margarita? Well, if they’re using local prickly pear nectar, sure, that’s a really good start. And, yes, tequila-centric drinks are thought to have strong tries to our state — at least, as far as locality is tied to local culture, due to an immense Mexican influence dating far before our statehood. But most tequilas actually come from around 1,000 miles away, and as far as drinks invented in Phoenix, there’s really only the Tequila Sunrise (tequila, soda, creme de cassis) from the 1930s, born at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed bar at the Arizona Biltmore. However, the modern iteration (tequila with layered grenadine and orange juice) is really an adapted version created in Sausalito, California.
Which leaves us with the Smokey Thompson, a cocktail that might just be as Arizonan as they get.