Well-known beer maker San Tan Brewery is two successful years into spirit distilling.  (photo courtesy of the brand)

Fermenting malted barley mash yields beer; that’s also the base for distilling malt whiskey. So, it makes sense that the good folks at SanTan Brewery, one of America’s cutting-edge brewmeisters, would turn their eye toward whiskey. They started brewing beer, good beer, in 2008. Located in Chandler, AZ, they quickly became a fixture in the Phoenix metro brewery scene, and their restaurant, like their beers, are award-winning. Brewery owner Anthony Canecchia says that he always wanted to make spirits, but a backup on beer orders kept his team busy for a long time. Chalk up the delay to high-class problems!

Finally, in 2018, SanTan Spirits was born. Right out of the chute, Canecchia struck gold—double-gold, in fact, for both the standard American Single Malt expression and its cask strength version. Since then, SanTan’s been busy experimenting with casking, offering two unique ex-wine cask finishes—Mourvedre and a Grenache-Syrah-Tempranillo blend, both vinted in Arizona.

Each of these whiskeys exhibits SanTan’s core flavor and aroma profile, revealing subtle differences mainly in the aftertaste. However, Sacred Stave is anything but subtle. The clear, deep caramel color presages intense dark-spice aromas of clove, cardamom, and rosemary. Backed by notes of earthy wood tones and tobacco, the nose also exhibits hints of orchard fruits, vanilla, and toffee. On the tongue, youthful fire and intense nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove spices lead into a sense of browned-butter and oil. Mid-swallow reveals tawny leather and fruitcake notes with hints of malted-cereal sweetness. A warm, drying, but short finish reveals red wine cask notes of baked black cherries, with hints of fig, date, and walnut leading to slightly bitter oak tannins.

Adding water softens the initial heat, but diminishes the overall spice intensity in exchange for more noticeable malt, cinnamon, and sweetness. Both the Mourvedre and Syrah-casked whiskeys offer similar wine influences, with the Syrah edition exhibiting more dark fruit but less oak influence. The differences amplify with added water.

SanTan Distillery also produces bourbon, rye, and vodka, and if the reviews are any indicator, they’re equally superb. SanTan’s offerings are fairly easy to find in Arizona. Nationwide availability varies, so if you can’t find it locally, reach out to SanTan. They should be able to locate a retailer or ship to you directly. Whichever way you can, get some of this, a shining example of the new wave of American single malt.