A Tempe startup makes a bid for your tequila dollar with its new line of Arizona agave spirits.
With its hot Sonoran climate and abundance of spiky succulent plants, Arizona would seem the ideal place to make tequila and its smokier, less fussy cousin, mezcal. Unfortunately, both are jealously guarded international trademarks that can apply only to spirits distilled in designated regions in Mexico. So Wild Hare Distillery co-owner Wendy Tilton came up with a workaround: make a pseudo-tequila in Tempe and call it “Arizona agave spirit.” All the buzz, none of the nasty cease-and-desist letters. Tilton told us how it went down.
Relocating to Arizona two years ago with business partner Jim Matz, Tilton resolved to break into the local spirits market with a product that reflected the state’s Southwestern character. Ergo: Arizona agave spirit. “Vodka would have been easier, but a lot more boring,” she says. “Besides, who cares about local vodka?”
Tilton is not a farmer. She’s a biochemist who caught the distilling bug making moonshine back in Pennsylvania. Thus, she had no intention of cultivating the Blue Weber agave plant from which tequila is derived. That job falls on a supplier in Jalisco who cooks and processes the plant, shipping the certified organic syrup to the Wild Hare warehouse and facility in Tempe.
Settling on the name DROVE as an umbrella label for the company’s agave spirits – Wild Hare also markets a whiskey – Tilton went to work beta-testing infusions. She makes nine different flavored styles, from the oaked, bourbon-like El Roble to the coffee-infused Café Negro (pictured), made with beans shipped to her from friends in Ethiopia.
Tilton takes an unpretentious approach to tastings at the walk-in Tempe facility, where she pours limited, socially distanced sips of the DROVE line. “I’m not big on telling people what flavors and esters they might or might not be tasting. It’s all valid.” Available at Total Wine and indie liquor stores, each DROVE release is 100 percent puro agave – the hallmark of a good you-know-what. “We provide cocktail recipes, but usually I just sip mine with a little ice,” Tilton says. “Like you would with a fine tequila.”
5869 S. Kyrene Rd., Tempe
Beer of the Month
Goldwater Brewing Co. Admiral McClelland’s High Seas
Double IPA/8.8% ABV
Celebrating five years of beermaking in the West’s Most Western Town, Goldwater brews itself a big ol’ figurative birthday cake in the guise of this zesty, high-gravity sipper. A West Coast-style IPA (read: more hops than the Savoy Ballroom), High Seas is the second edition of the family-owned brewery’s “all C” hops series, layering Calypso, Comet, Chinook and Citra hops within a faintly bready malt structure. A little dry, a little pineapple-y, a whole lot crushable. Just limit yourself to one or two – you know how zany these 5-year-old birthday parties can get. goldwaterbrewing.com