Recently, I attended the Scottsdale Winterfest Beer Festival and wow, was there a lot of burgeoning micro-breweries vying for the attention of the thirsty mob. However, beer was not the only beverage to be had at the event. One particular company that caught my attention was High Spirits Distillery, Arizona’s first legal distillery, located in the highly elevated city of Flagstaff, AZ. High Spirits has been producing high quality vodka for the last six years and now they have decided to venture into my favorite market, the Whisky market. According to High Spirits, their single malt Mesquite Smoked Whisky is “handcrafted in small batches at 7000’ elevation. We use only the finest two-row barley malt and smoke it gently over locally harvested mesquite. The all malt foundation comes together with a very subtle mesquite flavor to create this richly textured, well balanced specialty.” One thing is for sure, they have definitely done their due diligence in terms of finding high quality ingredients such as using two-row barley (when only the central part of the barley is fertile) which is cultivated in Wisconsin. The advantage of using two-row barley is that it has less protein resulting in a more fermentable sugar. Locally grown mesquite wood is then used to cold smoke the barley in order to infuse the whisky with its namesake flavor.
As soon as I opened the bottle I was instantly greeted with a sweet almost perfume scent with notes of cinnamon layered under a mellow smokiness. At first taste the profile is a combination of sweet and smoky. The oak notes follow and eventually lose out to the smoked mesquite flavor. Then something unfortunate happens, the finish begins to become increasingly bitter and a raw alcohol taste develops. I tried several more times and regrettably the results were the same. This is most likely due to the abbreviated maturation period of about three years. The flavors were on point and the balance is nice but about three more years in the barrel would make a world of difference. Their idea is creative and different and frankly sometimes that’s enough to succeed where others fail. If given time though I think their whisky’s taste might just catch-up to their whisky’s uniqueness.
All in all, High Spirits Distillery has a lot of the pieces of the puzzle as far as whisky production goes and they are clearly passionate and inventive with their products. Given a longer maturation period, their Mesquite Smoked Whiskey could be a real contender in both local and distant markets for those willing to try something a bit different. After all, who doesn’t want to try an innovative booze that’s different?!