Booze | October 12, 2021 5:30 am

Put Down the Peated Scotch and Pick Up a Smoky American Whiskey

How Whiskey Del Bac and other domestic distillers bring the fire

Smoky American whiskeys are a trend; pictured here, a glass of whiskey by a campfre
Your whiskey could use a little campfire
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Enjoy a peated whisky?

Maybe you should try a “mesquited” American single malt. The very real process is employed by Whiskey Del Bac out of Tucson, AZ, led by the father-daughter team of Stephen and Amanda Paul. The distillery was actually born out of a previous venture — custom furniture company.

“Mesquite wood generates a lot of waste,” says Stephen Paul. “So I’d use the scraps to barbecue with — I always told my wife that was our profits going up in smoke. One night, we were drinking Scotch on the patio and barbecuing, and she turned to me and said, why couldn’t you dry malt over a mesquite fire instead of peat fire?”

And so, Whiskey Del Bac was born. As the elder Paul explains, it’s simply a single malt whiskey that utilizes a unique component from the place he comes from and cares deeply about. “With just a few exceptions, we’re following the Scottish model of whisky making,” he explains, while noting the distillery not only malts its own barley, but also mashes, ferments, distills, barrels and bottles under one roof.

A bottle of Whiskey Del Bac sitting on mesquite wood
The smoke from Whiskey Del Bac comes from a “mesquited” process
Whiskey Del Bac

Some of those exceptions simply have to do with barrel size (they’re using small-format 15-gallon barrels) and Arizona’s rather extreme climate, which speeds up the maturation process considerably — some of the whiskeys released by Whiskey Del Bac have aged as little as 11 to15 months. “If we age any longer, it goes downhill and gets over-oaked,” Amanda admits (they’re using new oak, not previously used barrels). 

But it’s the mesquite that really adds a unique flavor. It’s basically a barbecue in your mouth. “It’s a very evocative aroma for people from here,” says Stephen. Their Dorado release, while light on the nose, is creamy, smoky, sweet and even juicy — it’s sort of like dessert campfire. (The brand also releases a non-mesquite whiskey that’s won awards, as well as expressions that have spent additional time maturing in secondary casks.)

And it’s also a nice and unique entry in a growing field of American whiskies that offer a little smoke. Below, a few other campfire releases that offer up flavors that sometimes evoke a peaty Scotch, and other times, like Whiskey Del Bac, that smolders with a flavor and style that’s uniquely American.

Peg Leg Porker bourbon
Peg Leg Porker bourbon
Alyssa Jiosa Cox

Peg Leg Porker

Nashville’s Carey Bringle is the first Pitmaster in the U.S. to start his own bourbon brand — ergo, his sourced Tennessee whiskey is filtered (after aging) through hickory charcoal burned in the same smoker where he cooks. This is a very approachable, Dickel-like whiskey that actually doesn’t have a lot of smoke (let’s call it smoke-adjacent), but would pair really nicely with BBQ.

Westland Distillery Peat Week 7th Edition bottles
Westland Distillery Peat Week 7th Edition bottles
Westland Distillery

Westland Distillery Peat Week

Now in its seventh year, this acclaimed Seattle distillery serves up an annual “tribute to all things smoky” with limited-edition releases that utilize Baird’s Heavily Peated Malt as a starting point. Of the two releases in 2021, Escaped! Cask #6732 spends some time in ex-rum casks. “Heavily peated” is right — the smoke is fierce — but there are real pineapple and caramel notes here that make this quite a sweet endeavor.

High West Campfire
High West Campfire
High West

High West Campfire

You’ll recognize the source of smoke here, because it hails from Scotland. This Utah distillery’s blend of peated Scotch, bourbon and rye makes for a nice mix of floral, fruity, sweet and smoky. Pair this annual release with s’mores around … well, a campfire. Some of the profits here are earmarked for Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Hudson Whiskey Backroom Deal
Hudson Whiskey Backroom Deal
Hudson Whiskey

Hudson Whiskey Backroom Deal

This New York distillery sends its ex-bourbon barrels across the Atlantic to age peated whiskey. Those barrels are then sent back and filled up with the Hudson’s straight rye (95% rye, 5% malted barley). The smoke here is modest, but add in that rye kick and you’ve got a strong and spicy sipper.

Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey
Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey
Santa Fe Spirits

Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey

Their Santa Fe Spirits release is similar to Whiskey Del Bac in that it emulates many of the processes of a Scotch, but also utilized mesquite instead of peat. Fruity and white chocolate notes mix with the smokiness.

Corsair Triple Smoke
Corsair Triple Smoke
Corsair

Corsair Triple Smoke

This Nashville distillery uses three individually smoked malts (cherrywood from Wisconsin, beechwood from Germany and peat from Scotland) to craft an American single malt that’s sweet, smokey and imbued with notes of cherry.