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Arizona bourbon makers pour heart into process

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona is home to a thriving beer- making industry and winemaking is on the rise but now a Tempe company is trying to lead a bourbon boom in the state.

Arizona Distilling Company is pumping out Copper City Bourbon. What separates Copper City from the big bourbon makers? For starters, it is uniquely Arizona.

“Hands on, handcrafted, small batches. Artisan feel and definitely smoother,” said Matt Cummins, one of four partners in the venture. And while many people associate bourbon with Kentucky or Tennessee, bourbon plays a big part of the state’s Wild West history.

That’s why the label’s design has a decidedly Old West feel, said Jason Grossmiller, another of the partners.

“We thought about this long and hard. We want to be Arizona. We wanted that classic look,” Grossmiller said.

Rodney Hu, another partner said of bourbon’s history, “It was one of the only liquors on the shelves when you’re talking about the saloons. It would be beer and bourbon, not vodka or gin. We’ve been approached to take Copper City bourbon to other states but we want to make sure we can handle in-state first. The feedback we’re getting from customers and the bars has been really good.”

Arizona Distilling may be the first to produce bourbon in the Valley, it almost certainly won’t be the last: in-state liquor production is expected to grow quickly.

Jon Eagan with the distillery said it’s a natural progression.

“We saw that opportunity. The beer-making process is more labor intensive and the microbrew segment is about 10 percent of the overall market. Microdistilling is a very, very small segment of the market but it’s on a similar growth trajectory that microbrewing has experienced over the past two decades.”