“This is the spirit of the Southwest Highlands”, distillery owner Dana Kanzler proudly proclaims. We are on the downwind side of the smoke chamber, as gentle, aromatic smoke from local mesquite wafts upward to the overhead air vents. Dried mesquite-smoked barley is milled into grist, one of the first steps in the process of distilling Arizona High Spirits Single Malt Whisky here at the distillery in Flagstaff. Kanzler continues, “Our products are hand crafted every step of the way – like a cobbler makes shoes. We employ only three people.”
Note: Arizona High Spirits Distillery (AHS) is owned by Mogollon Brewing Company, founded by Dana Kanzler in 1996. The Mogollon portfolio of bottled and canned beers has been a perennial favorite in the Southwest for years.
The distillery’s business plan was written in 2003. Approval for Arizona’s only licensed distillery came in 2004 – an achievement similarly born from that Southwest Highlands spirit, as variances were proposed and granted, and local state legislators, along with the Federal Tax & Trade Bureau all gave their support.
Also in 2004, the 16.5-foot tall, custom-made Arnold Holstein copper still arrived in sections from Germany and was promptly put in quarantine at Los Angeles Customs for two months, until officials were comfortable it was not a weapon of mass destruction or some type of experimental rocket – this was post 9/11, and released it. Soon, the still was making the distillery’s first spirit, Prickly Pear Vodka, in the brand new, 4500 square foot building, designed specifically for distilling spirits and brewing beer.
“After quite a bit of experimentation, we got serious about single malt, and laid down our first new make spirit – six 50-gallon casks – in 2008” explains Distiller Steve Hendricks. In mid-2011, after the legal aging period was met, 500 gallons of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) whisky have been bottled and are in the hands of the distributor.” Kanzler adds, “After tasting it, and from all the totally positive feedback we’ve received from whisky reviewers, I wish we had made more”. Reserve stock is being held back for further aging and experimentation.
Tasting Notes: Arizona High Spirits Single Malt Whisky
Color: coppery gold
Aroma: fresh, grassy, lightly smoky, inviting
Taste: warming, mellow, round
Finish: medium – the return of a glowing ember
In addition to Mogollon beers, Prickly Pear Vodka, and Arizona High Spirits Single Malt Whisky, AHS produces Desert Dry Gin, Pieces of Eight Spiced Rum, Prickly Pear Liqueur and Chili Vodka.