Swill: Del Bac Smoked Whiskey

del bac

Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt islay, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan banana moonshine. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.

I try to be pretty open minded about booze, and generally speaking I’ll try anything once — but over the years i’ve learned to steer clear of flavored whiskey. Regular ol’ bourbon is awesome by itself, and frilly additives typically make it worse, not better. Nine times out of ten, it’s horrible, but every so often I come across a rare exception that reminds me to keep an open mind

Del Bac Smoked whiskey is one such exception. Made by up-and-coming Tuscon-based outfit Hamilton Distillers, it’s probably the best thing to come out of the southwest since green chile sauce. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of their Dorado Mesquite Smoked Whiskey last weekend, and it blew me away.

The smoke flavor isn’t some sort of cheap gimmick or hastily-applied afterthought. Stephen and Amanda Paul (the duo behind the whole operation) don’t just squirt in some liquid smoke into the barrel before the whiskey gets bottled — they malt their barley over a mesquite fire to impart that complex, instantly recognizable flavor into it. The process is similar to how scotch is made — the only difference being that instead of smoking the malt with peat, Hamilton Distillers uses mesquite, giving the whiskey a unique southwestern kick.

On the palate, Dorado is dry, with tastes of mesquite jerky, chipotle, and ancho chile; with notes of black pepper, spice, and cereal grain mixed in. There’s a lurking hint of sweetness with vanilla and caramel underneath, and the finish leaves you notes of with cracked pepper. Add an ice cube or two to mellow it out, and hints of sweetness and creaminess emerges from  its depths, masking some of the deep smoke that abounds when you take it neat.

If you close your eyes and knew nothing of what was to come, your first impression of Whiskey Del Bac Dorado would likely be that it was indeed a Scotch. It is, after all, a smoked single malt. But as you dive in and find that deep mesquite, it’s clear that this whiskey calls the American Southwest home.