Whiskey Del Bac has always been one of our favorite American single malt distilleries, and we think they’re a true trailblazer in multiple dimensions. So it was only natural that they are one of the first partners for our new Single Distillery Series. In fact, two of our first three Single Distillery Series whiskies come from Whiskey Del Bac, and the two are quite different from each other! Both releases are mesquite-smoked whiskies, and both aim to show off a different side of what makes Whiskey Del Bac special: Desert Dessert shows off how sophisticated a smoked whiskey can be. Mega Mesquite pushes the boundaries of mesquite smoke, exploring what it looks like to make a very smoky whiskey amping up smoke levels well above what the distillery normally releases. Together, they are the perfect way for a whiskey lover to start exploring the world of mesquite smoke.
But let’s back up a step and talk about what exactly mesquite-smoked whiskey is.
Mesquite-Smoked Single Malt: The Southwest’s Answer To Peated Scotch
Smoky whiskies have been a part of the whiskey world from the very beginning. They’re a key part of the history and origins of Scotch, and an important aspect of many Scotch whiskies to this day. The full history of peated Scotch is outside the scope of this blog post, but head here to learn more!
Regardless, peated whiskies are an important part of the single malt landscape around the world. But peat isn’t the only way to smoke whiskey. And that’s where Whiskey Del Bac comes in.
Based in Tucson, Arizona, Whiskey Del Bac is one of the original pioneers in the creation of a genuinely new style of whiskey: mesquite-smoked single malts. At Lost Lantern, we see these “mesquited” single malts as a distinctly Southwestern answer to the long global tradition of peated whiskies. The process for making mesquite-smoked, or “mesquited,” whiskies, is actually very similar to making peated whiskies: the heat from burning mesquite wood is used to malt barley, and the smoke from the burning mesquite imbues the barley with unique smoky flavors.
Whiskey Del Bac isn’t the only place to make mesquited whiskies–Santa Fe Spirits, another Lost Lantern partner, also makes mesquite-smoked American single malts–but it takes the most hands-on approach. Whiskey Del Bac malts its mesquite-smoked barley in-house by filling a cast-iron smoker outside the distillery with locally gathered mesquite wood, setting a blaze, and letting the smoke from the system heat and malt barley in its in-house malting drum.
Mesquite vs. Peat
Both mesquite and peat bring smoke to whiskies, but beyond that, they have quite different flavor profiles. Peat smoke is famous for its iodiney, briny, herbal, and sometimes vegetal notes.
Mesquite tends to bring much warmer, brighter flavors: notes of citrus, roasted fruits, and yes, some hints of barbecue spices. We love both, and we’ve found that both existing lovers of smoked whiskies and fans of bourbon or other unsmoked American whiskies often gravitate toward mesquite-smoked whiskies once they’ve tried them.
Overall, the combination of unique flavor, small-batch production, and critical acclaim make Whiskey Del Bac one of the most exciting American single malt whiskies on the market, and a natural partner for our Single Distillery Series.
Desert Dessert: The Sophistication Of Mesquite Smoke
The first of our two Single Distillery Series whiskies is Desert Dessert. It’s a mesquite-smoked single malt, and a portion of it was finished in Sauternes and Pineau des Charentes casks. Both types of finishes tend to add a very complex and elegant sweetness to whiskey. And that’s just what we wanted. Some people tend to think of smoky single malts as one-note, or unidirectional: there’s just smoke, and that’s it. We disagree. We think that smoked single malts can be among the most elegant spirits.
And we certainly think that’s the case with Desert Dessert. The rich warmth of the mesquite smoke mingles with the golden fruit sweetness of the finishes to create a deep and unctuous whole. Desert Dessert has great depth and complexity, equal to some of the best peated single malts that are out there. The mesquite smoke is an important part of its overall flavor, but by no means the only one. The smoke, the barley, the oak, the finishes: There’s truly a lot going on.
Mega Mesquite: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
On the other hand, our other Whiskey Del Bac Single Distillery Series release, Mega Mesquite, is all about the smoke.
Whiskey Del Bac Dorado, the company’s mesquite-smoked flagship, is actually a blend of two different mashbills: mature whiskey made from 60% unsmoked malted barley and 40% mesquite-smoked malted barley is blended with mature whiskey made from unsmoked malted barley. This helps balance out the smoke and create a balanced, well-rounded flavor profile. We’re huge fans. But we were also curious what would happen if you left out that second component, the unsmoked single malt. And that’s exactly what Mega Mesquite is. It’s a blend of three single malt casks, all made from that 60% unsmoked malted barley and 40% mesquite-smoked malted barley recipe. That means it’s smokier even than Dorado, and in fact it’s one of the smokiest releases to come from Whiskey Del Bac.
This release is the beginning of an exploration of what it looks like to push mesquite smoke even further, to amplify the smoke, to create something like an American smokebomb of a whiskey. It still has real complexity to it, of course; it’s not just smoke, but smoke is definitely in the lead. It’s the primary player, whereas in Desert Dessert it’s one equal aspect among several. We like to think that this will be the smoke-lover’s dream!
You may be wondering what would happen if Whiskey Del Bac made a whiskey from a mashbill that had an even higher ratio of mesquited barley… say, 60% instead of 40%. In fact, we’re wondering that too! We do not think Mega Mesquite is the smokiest mesquite whiskey that will ever exist, and we see lots of room to work with the Whiskey Del Bac team to explore this area further in the future. But for now, Mega Mesquite is on the edge of the new frontier of smoke, and we can’t wait to see what people think.