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Nicodemus Probably Liked Rum

Making whiskey seems like a noble job.  For a drink to be used in times of celebration, loneliness  grieving, sexual desire and complete and utter political frustration.  Hunter Thompson says that all the pigs should have to go and live on Vesco Island.  It would be so overrun with porcine species by now that we could raise money with big game hunts sponsored by multinational oil and construction companies.

nixon and rebozoSo we make the spirits and try not to let the pigs ruin our days. We celebrate what is left to celebrate and let go of what might have been.  We celebrate these shorter and shorter Indian Summer Days, the sweet tasting dried grains, the smell of yeast multiplying and the pleasure of walking and talking with the handful of friends that really matter.

I am melancholy today, missing old family, political rants fueled by sweet cocktails, Richard Nixon and Bebe Rebozo.

We are committed to making the best spirits that we possibly can to provide the perfect drink for the best times of life. Make yourself a drink and toast to the pigs on Vesco Island and to D.B. Cooper, wherever he is.

Let it Snow

It feels like it might snow today.  The big storm that is sweeping across the country from NW to SE is giving us a slight lashing with its tail.  Here at Thumb Butte we are practicing proofing whiskey to the correct point on the scale.  Not as simple as it sounds.  You have to use two long tables provided by the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.  We are up to our elbows in decimal places.

We are ordering barrels that are charred to our specifications and placing our bottle orders.  Our web site is like a newborn baby and as we add content we hope it will be taking its first steps soon.  We are also sourcing our specialty corn for next year.  We are working with several individuals on the Navajo Nation to get corn directly from the farmer to use in our whiskey.  Not only will this corn come form Arizona but it will be linked genetically to the first corn that came North in little seed pots from Central and South America.  This is tough corn to have survived this climate for millennia.  We will be making whiskey for individuals who are also from tough stock or at least aspire to the image of the tough westerner.

Apparently Rye is the toughest of the grains that we will be grinding and it is the whiskey that has the longest Western heritage.  That seems appropriate.  When we make the Rye we will be listening to Tom Waits gettin behind the mule and getting the job done.

I’m reading a book called “The Saloon on the Rocky Mountain Mining Frontier”  by Elliott West.  These guys in the photos were tough enough for our rye and anybody else’s for that matter.  The saloon owners were 98.7% male with a median age of 34.2 years.  The saloon owners were single by a 12% margin.  These numbers are based upon available census data collected in 1870 and 1880.


Thinking about Thanksgiving, this present day one and the one we learned about in grade school.  I am wondering about the pilgrims and their feast with the foods they grew, the game they hunted and preserved and the fish they caught.  Since Johnny Appleseed hadn’t arrived on the scene they probably weren’t drinking hard cider.  Our friends at Superstition Meadery probably would guess that the pilgrims drank mead but I think the smart money is on rum. 

A dram of rum to wash down some dry cornbread and tough wild turkey might be just the ticket.

Rum was the drink of choice for the crew of the Mayflower and for the crews of many of the ships that sailed the Atlantic and the Pacific.  In order to get from the East to the Pacific these hardy souls had to sail around Cape Horn, perhaps through the Straights of Magellan (everyone’s favorite explorer).  We can assume that before heading south from the Caribbean to the nasty weather surrounding the Falklands that they stocked up on Rum. Rum from Cuba, from Jamaica, from Barbados and from Venezuela all loaded aboard in barrels. Hunter Thompson could never have written the Rum Diaries without the Puerto Rican rum he imbibed.

This rum, the barrels that weren’t consumed by the sailors, ended up at California’s Barbary Coast – San Francisco.  I am going to be busy for the next few days tracing the route of this rum from San Francisco to the thirsty citizens of the Arizona Territory.  I think I will be hot on the heels of Kit Carson and John C. Fremont as they trekked Southeast crossing the mighty Colorado somewhere around Needles and then continuing East towards the saloons on Whiskey Row. 


Our intent here at Thumb Butte Distillery is to stay connected to our place on this watery planet.  We want to do this botanically, historically, geographically, musically and in our choice of the products we produce.

These days of late Indian Summer are spent collecting wild Juniper Berries, harvesting sage and lemon Thyme.  All the trees are decked out in their festive fall garb.  It must be their favorite time of year.  Here at the distillery we like fall.  We listen to a little Gurf Morlix just to bring things down a notch and sip a little whiskey in the short Southwest gloaming.

Sweaters, scarves, gloves and socks – the accessories of cooler weather; our bear is even sporting a scarf.  We left the bear on Sunday and went up to the Spirit Room in Jerome. (one of our friends was recently 86ed from the Spirit Room for lewd dancing)  Once you have been to the Spirit Room you will have a hard time imagining what you would have to do to be kicked out.

We danced to the terrific musical interpretations of Lory McDonald and her Deluxe Combo. We were entertaining an old friend from California who seemed to really enjoy his hiatus in the Central Highlands.  As we cruised down Mingus Mountain heading west, at the end of the day, listening to Lucinda Williams it seemed like the best of times.

If you have ever wondered where all the old hippies, druggies, misanthropes and the occasional misogynists have gone; you may want to journey to the Spirit Room in Jerome for a shot of Russian Standard Vodka and some Little Feat and Wilson Pickett.

Gin, juice and Lou Reed

Lou Reed performing at the Hop Farm Music Festival on Saturday the 2nd of July 2011Mixed up bundles of herbs of Sunday.  Lots of sage, fennel, juniper, star anise, lemon peel and coriander.  Wrapped each bundle in cheesecloth and gave them each a brief incantation to the gods of Gin.  The first bundle was infused into a neutral spirit and we got lots of citrus and star anise.  The second bundle was heavy on sage and juniper, a little less citrus, pinch of coriander and no anise.  This bundle was infused into an unaged rye spirit.  We got juniper and sage and just enough citrus.  It was an interesting experiment and I learned a lot about how the individual herbs and spices respond to the infusion process.  So now there is lots of work to do – as usual.

Son of a bitch, Lou Reed died.
I think it was the NYT writer that said that his music made you want to shoot heroin but made you happy at the same time.  A rare combination sorely lacking in this post-tolerant world.

We are working on labels, bottles and corks.  We are expecting our federal license within a couple of weeks and that will be really be exciting. Our labels will be really high class and our stories on the back will entice you with western stories, myths and lore.  When I was a little girl the square boxes of Shredded Wheat came with a card of Indian Lore between each layer of big shredded pillows.
That was where I learned about covering your tracks and how to make a travois to carry an injured compadre.  These are important skills for the average 8 year old.  This was a couple of years after Charles Manson and I were locked in the cells of the Beaver City jail, but that’s a story for another day.

Looking for Old Barrels

Well, back from California searching for old port barrels.  These barrels are used for aging certain whiskeys; as the old port imparts certain flavors that we are hoping are desirable. We have read the this is positive and we hope to prove that true.

We saw the beginning of the construction of California’s high speed train.  Here in Arizona we hear jokes constantly about the terror of living in California.  Gay marriage aside, California has a 3.5% economic growth rate statewide and unemployment is at it’s lowest rate since 2008.  An unrelated bonus is that Redwood trees are growing at record rates in this climate changing world.

Here at the distillery we are awaiting, as you are and don’t know it, the arrival of the bear.  We are also whacking weeds, assessing our amperage, considering a pomegranate infused vodka and discussing the route of John C. Fremont and Kit Carson through Prescott.

If you don’t know much about Kit Carson we highly recommend the book pictured at right.

These two guys traveled more than more than citizens today.  They traveled all over the West from Sonoma where Fremont ended any lingering Spanish claims to Carson floating into the Great Salt Lake down the Bear River.

We feel that we are not just on a business venture but on a real adventure to recreate some of the whiskeys and rums of the early West for use in your most modern cocktails.

Barrels of whiskey barrels of monkeys, Bikers, Babes and Barger

Sonny Barger on motorCycle

So, today calculating how many American Oak barrels will be required each month to house the amount of new whiskey produced.  Algebra algebra.  We were told in the 8th grade that we would need this skill but did we believe it ….NO.

Last Sunday we were invited to the 75th Birthday Party of Sonny Barger of the Oakland Hell’s Angels fame. We were also going to see Jim’s old friend Phil Cross and wife Meg who have just had a book published.  The book is called “Gypsy Joker to a Hell’s Angel”.  We drove down to New River Arizona to the Roadrunner Bar/Grill and bull arena.  After buying two copies of the book Meg assured us that all appropriate names had been changed to protect the guilty.  The book is a high class publication with lots of photos from the past including snake handling and Altamont.

It was a great party, hundreds of bikers wearing their colors, band, beer and a sort of musical chairs game with fighting bulls for prospects.  The day was beautiful, truly Indian summer.  Wish we had some of our product ready for taste tests.  They would have loved our Rodeo Rye and our Gurley Street Gin.

I had picked out the shirt I wanted to were to this party – very appropriate – and taken it to the dry cleaner earlier in the week.  I went to pick it up on Saturday and the cleaner was closed.  Who ever heard of a cleaner closed on Saturday.  I had to wear my second choice shirt.  The only downer of the day.

Starting Up

JuniperBerriesGreat idea that I had………..start a distillery.

I think that I had been listening to Cat Power sing Moonshiner – the Bob Dylan song – over and over. So, here we are six months later spending money like it’s going out of style. Buying barrels, stills, bottles, corks, designing labels, reading books and books and books.

What herbs to use in the Gin. Bubble bubble toil and trouble – is it sage and fennel with Juniper or maybe lemon thyme?

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