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The Whiskey Del Bac Story

The Story of

Whiskey Del Bac

Like many great ideas, it came about while drinking Scotch...

It was one of those cool desert nights in 2006 where Elaine and Stephen Paul sat outside on their patio, barbecuing over a mesquite fire and enjoying a glass of Scotch. Elaine had an idea — “What if you made single malt whiskey with ‘mesquited’ malt instead of peated malt?”

Stephen couldn’t shake the concept. After all, he knew mesquite well. He and Elaine owned a furniture design company that specialized in mesquite. Well-known for the flavor it imparts to food that is cooked over it, mesquite is a beautifully grained wood native to the desert Southwest.

Stephen began learning everything he could about how the Scots make their whiskies. While learning how to floor-malt barley, he began with the recipe for Classic, modeled after the unpeated style of Speyside Scotches. If he could nail down a clean-finishing American Single Malt Whiskey that rivaled Scotland’s finest, then he could take the recipe and put a Southwest spin on it — which is how our mesquited (not peated) Dorado was born.

Where did the name come from?

Where did the name come from?

Stephen's Great Aunt, Nina Paul, working in the desert.

When daughter Amanda Paul (Stephen and Elaine’s daughter) got wind that her dad was making whiskey, she moved back home to Tucson from New York City in 2011 to make Whiskey Del Bac a business with Stephen. They founded Hamilton Distillers Group and launched the Whiskey Del Bac brand under it. Named after Tucson’s 17th century Spanish mission San Xavier del Bac, Whiskey Del Bac is a combination of English, Spanish and the native Tohono O’Odham tongue meaning “Whiskey of the Place Where the River Reappears in the Sand.” While it may be tempting to call it Del Bac Whiskey, it is Whiskey Del Bac.

Amanda helped get the licensing, build the Whiskey Del Bac brand, and together with Stephen they officially launched the whiskeys to a warm reception in the Old Pueblo. As a family, the Pauls set out to define what an American Single Malt Whiskey from the great American Southwest could be. The idea of terroir in whiskey has been much debated, but Whiskey Del Bac has established a flavor profile that is firmly rooted in the desert. Amanda and Stephen inherited a profound love for the desert, which began in their family over a century ago when Stephen’s great grandfather pioneered the date farming industry in Coachella, California. Stephen’s great aunt Nina was a role model for him in how to perceive and appreciate the desert.

The Paul family early in the area

Whiskey Del Bac Now

Whiskey Del Bac Now

Whiskey Del Bac has grown from two American Single Malts – Classic and Dorado – to multiple Distiller’s Cut releases, and has even launched annual limited releases like Frontera and Normandie in the Global Cask Collection in 2022. With Classic being named to the Top 100 Spirits List from Wine Enthusiast in 2021 and Whisky Advocate giving the Dorado a 90 rating in 2022, the flagship whiskeys have come a long way.The Whiskey Del Bac team has grown, with Amanda and Stephen still driving the ethos and values of the company. Elaine Paul is still out on some desert nights on the same back patio. Instead of wondering what mesquited American Single Malt would taste like — she’s enjoying it in her glass. 


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