SOUTHERN ARIZONA Mesquite Smoked Whiskey, Tin Cup and Venom in Denim
About Tubac, Arizona
Tubac is one of the hippest, artiest towns in Arizona and Tucson one of the most fun and affordable.
Tubac is one of the hippest, artiest towns in Arizona and Tucson one of the most fun and affordable. That’s reason enough to head to the southern part of the state but of course there’s much more. From Agave Fests, to mesquite smoked whiskey and a film star golf course, here’s what to expect.
The Grand Canyon State might be best known for that iconic landmark in the north (nearly five million people visit it every year) but as Canadian tourists discover the south, many are buying winter homes there or at least making multiple return visits. The area is friendly, affordable and fun.
Tubac was the first European settlement in Arizona in 1752. Miles from the ordinary with no shopping malls, traffic lights or even traffic, today it’s known for art and history. Celebrating Culture and Heritage from November to December encompasses art festivals, concerts, historical re-enactments and Luminaria Nights throughout those months. Art Worth Seeing, anchored by the 58th Annual Festival of Arts runs from January to February and includes a ground breaking art exhibit “The Tucson Seven”.
Conde Nast Traveler named Tubac one of 14 must see, up-and-coming destinations in the world.
The place to stay while in the area is the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa, a 500 acres luxurious destination resort on the historic 1789 Otero Ranch. The haciendas are large, with sunken living rooms, fireplaces and patios. And at an elevation of 3,200 feet, the area is significantly cooler than Phoenix or Tucson.
The 27 hole championship course is a must for golf and Kevin Costner movie fans. In the 1995 movie Tin Cup, hole no. 4 on the Ranchero Nine is where Costner took 12 shots to clear the water. Hole number 3 is where he deliberately broke all his clubs but the seven iron. (Plaques on the course mark the spots.)
Tin Cup is one of many films and TV series shot in the Santa Cruz Valley. The Tubac Historical Society maintains a list of hundreds of them from Bonanza (1959) and Duel in the Sun (1946) to Three Amigos (1986) and Spin (2003).
The resort’s Stable Ranch Grille is a great spot for steak, prime rib and the like. Those who want top notch cocktails and Mexican style cuisine should take a five minute drive into town to dine at Elvira’s.
In Tucson, population about a million, and just 97km from the Mexican border, American and Mexican cultures seamlessly combine. It boasts plenty of roadside Mexican joints to fill up on burritos, flautas, enchiladas, tacos and tostados for under ten bucks. More upscale eats is found at Agustín Kitchen under three time Tucson Iron Chef Ryan Clark, located in the Mercado San Agustín, Tucson’s only public marketplace which features a weekly farmers market. On the menu are wagyu beef tartare, spicy jalapeño calamari, local goat cheese brulée, Mexican “cocktail” oysters, organic corn pot pie and other modern southwest dishes.
Tucson’s annual Agave Fest in May features tastings of over 40 agave-derived spirits including tequilas and mezcals, sotols and more, samples of signature agave cocktails from Tucson's best bartenders, authentic street tacos, mariachis and live music. Viva La Local in both fall and spring brings together over 25 top Tucson restaurants, breweries and wineries for a one day public festival.
In Downtown Tucson, the best place for drinks is the Tough Luck Club, a speakeasy hidden below Reilly’s pub. The cocktails are different, elaborate and delicious. Venom in Denim is hopped vodka, bittered vermouth and whiskey Del Bac. The Golden Cadillac White Wine Margarita Spritzer is a concoction that defies the mind but charms the palate.
Whiskey Del Bac is distilled locally by a former furniture maker, Stephen Hamilton Paul. In 2006 while drinking scotch and barbequing over mesquite scraps from his long-time custom furniture company (Arroyo Design), he thought “Why can’t we malt barley over a mesquite fire instead of a peat fire as they do in Scotland?”
He took distilling courses and hired an expert consultant and the rest is history. Hamilton Distilleries in Tucson hand crafts their double distilled whiskey in copper pot stills using their own house-malted barley. They make a caramel-toffee like unsmoked version but it’s the mesquite smoked, both the Dorado (golden hued) and Clear versions that I found really exciting. It’s worth driving to Tucson just to load up (so far only distributed in Arizona).
Tucson also has 11 micro-breweries for those who like a lager to quench their thirst. Dragoon Brewery is a popular one that had 11 brews on tap when I visited. I’m a fan of highly hopped beers so my faves were the Florecita IPA, Unihopper (a single hop variety pale ale) and Flashdance (a bright, crisp hoppy lager). The brewery doesn’t serve food but does encourage their visitors to bring their own or buy off the food truck that stops by.
The perimeter of Tucson has the fancy resorts such as The Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa, the Miraval Resort and Spa and Loews Ventana Canyon. However the downtown core is where fun awaits with its19th century architecture and pueblo style buildings tucked in among the high rises, eclectic eateries, speakeasies and funky mix of Hispanic and college town.