Thumb Butte Distillery400 N Washington Ave. Prescott, AZ. thumbbuttedistillery.com The first taste is always the most important. From Thumb Butte Distillery, it’s perfection. From the sharp, bright and refreshing Gurley Street Gin to the deep, supple roughness of Rodeo Rye. Since its has already started to collect awards from the Los Angeles International Spirit Competition, it might be time to see what’s in the neighborhood. With Father’s Day this Sunday, there’s no better place for a last-minute surprise.
Thumb Butte Distillery, according to co-founder Dana Murdock, was conceived four years ago because a group of friends noticed growing craft distilleries. It didn’t take long for them to realize that Arizona, with only 2 at the time, was ready for a third, and where better than Whiskey Row's hometown. This is Prescott’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. They distill and bottle spirits as locally sourced as possible to produce an artful contribution to Arizona history. In addition to the distillery, Thumb Butte sports a rustic tasting room where you can taste spirits and one-of-a kind cocktails with house-made bitters and syrups. The drinks are treats in themselves. A bourbon aged tonic is available that I wasn’t living without, and more are coming. On your way, be sure to pick up a bottle so you can get into the spirit.
Their craft started out with gin and vodka, then moved on to whiskey and rum. Between them, Dana Murdock and James Bacigalupi combine artisan baking, carpentry, and everything in between. Their technical precision and love of spirits shows in each bottle. If you don’t do anything else this weekend, transfer some cash and see what we’ve been waiting for.
If you want more than just a bottle when you get there, don’t worry. You can still find a sampling of 7 spirits for the price of a cocktail or just 3 for $2. Worth every penny, and the Manhattan made with the is worth a lot more. Be sure you try the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition medal winning Rodeo Rye Whiskey and Western Sage Gin, before trying Gold Medal winner Grain Whiskey Special Release (if there's any left). The deep rye, aged in American oak, evokes the mystique and tradition of the World’s Oldest Rodeo. But it’s more than that. Each sip was too good to waste, and transformed my medium rare steak into ambrosia. This whiskey was contrasted against all American whiskey and fought its way up to a bronze medal. The Western Sage Gin, named for the “herb of the West”, is perfect in cocktails or neat. The sage is “picked by friends” of Dana, and the wild juniper is found locally. Other spices are collected as close to home as possible. In the 15 months since its first imbibing, this spirit won a silver medal in LA. After one sip, I couldn't imagine what first place was like. After trying their gold medal Grain Whiskey, I didn't have to. Only available at the tasting room on Washington Street, the limited batch (100 bottles left, if you're lucky) Grain Whiskey Special Release #2 won Gold for Best Blended and Gold for 2-5 Years Aged Category. With two medals draped on the bottle's squat but elegant shoulders, this Arizona whiskey beat out all other craft distilleries at the American Distilling Insitute tasting earlier this year.
For Dana and Jim, Prescott is the secret ingredient. Here they craft a private label for the Palace Saloon (my choice for an Old Fashioned), and on Whiskey Row these spirits are found at the Birdcage and Matt’s Saloon, in addition to 200 establishments over the state. They get sage and juniper berries locally, while grains stretch from Arizona to England. But they're not done yet. They’re even looking into having a local brewery make good use of their bourbon barrels, while they partner with local wineries to help with distilling projects in producing organic wine. They wanted a small part in helping our economy by providing jobs and industry and when the work is done, they help with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Zoo fundraisers, the Arizona Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Prescott Crush. For them, our community is home. One word more. Father’s Day isn’t just a time for warm fuzzies (though the whiskey helps with that, too). They taught us what being a true man is really about: virtue, honesty, humility, and the wisdom of laughing at yourself before laughing at others. They told us by their actions that men think women are ladies no matter what and that a helping hand goes a long way. So instead of just cake and candles, show him that he’s always worth the time to share a glass with. Treat your Dad to a bottle and a tour this weekend, because nothing pairs better with good whiskey than good company.
Remember that any week you can get into the TBD spirit. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, stop by Thumb Butte between 12 and 6 p.m. (they close at 4 on Sunday), where they will serve you. My advice: try sampling the spirits, and a cocktail to go with it. They blend a classic approach with in-house ingredients and careful combinations. If a Manhattan or Old Fashioned isn't your game, I might suggest a Roughrider. A favorite of mine, with spiced apple cider, Rodeo Rye, pear bitters and a tangerine finish give it depth and sparkle. Every day you can have a distillery tour and rest in the tasting room. If you’re bringing a large group or event, call ahead for ideal service or use their new online schedule, which I found very convenient. And events keep coming. Local artists, musical and otherwise, are happy to make regular visits to a new place that's sure to become an old favorite.
Most importantly, keep up to date. Thumb Butte has its own website, a Facebook group, a Twitter account at tbdistillery, and Instagram. That way, you’ll never miss the live entertainment and special events on Friday nights or when they've put the finishing touches on a new spirit.
* My thanks to Dana Murdock.