Like a captain on a booze-fueled ship, Dana Kanzler braved uncharted waters and opened the first legal distillery in Arizona. Dana’s voyage started in 2003 when he decided to take on the establishment and have new laws drawn up which would accommodate the first legal distillery in the state. After jumping through many hoops, he received the blessing from everyone concerned and ordered a custom German still in 2005. Arizona High Spirits Distillery was born, but was not his first born. Dana first opened Mogollon Brewing Company in 1997. Both companies are based out of Flagstaff, Arizona in a brand new 4,500 sq ft building designed and built specifically for brewing beer and distilling spirits.
I’ll let Dana tell you the rest…
CD: First, tell us a little about your past work or experiences in the alcohol industry?
DK: I had been an avid home brewer and home distiller since the mid 80’s. After graduating college I did not want to put on a suit and tie. I thought I would follow my dream of starting a new brewery. I trained at Avery Brewing in Boulder, CO because at the time Avery was producing world class beer in Colorado. As you already know, we opened Mogollon Brewing Co. in 1997, in downtown Flagstaff. The brand was very well received and grew by leaps and bounds overnight.
DK: After several years of brewing beer, the only excitement came from brewing specialties and seasonals. We were looking for something new and exciting. If handcrafted beer could be exponentially better than commercial domestics, could we produce liquor by hand in small batches to the same end? I knew my way around a still and thought distilling on a commercial scale would be a blast.
CD: How many different types of spirits do you produce?
DK: We currently produce Prickly Pear Flavored Vodka* (far and away the best seller), American Vodka, Prickly Pear Liqueur, Pieces of Eight Spiced Rum, Chili Flavored Vodka and Desert Dry Gin. We have a limited supply of Mesquite Smoked Single Malt Whisky, three years old, scheduled to be released this summer. Whisky critics have given it great reviews. I only wish we would have made more.
CD: Which is your favorite and do you make a particular drink with it?
DK: I am a sucker for great gin. I try to have at least one Desert Dry Gin and tonic every evening.
CD: How many bottles are produced monthly and annually?
DK: Production fluctuates seasonally. On average we produce around one thousand bottles per month.
CD: AHS products are currently only available in Arizona. Do you have plans to expand to other states in the near future?
DK: We are set to distribute our products in Texas this summer and are negotiating with a distributor in California for shipments this fall. And we are also looking at other states such as Nevada.
CD: Where can I find your spirits?
DK: The spirits can be found at Basha’s around the valley as well as select Safeway, Albertsons and Fry’s stores. BevMo and Total Wine are a sure bet. Many restaurants around the valley and most of the high end resorts around the state do very well with it. Tourists love the Prickly Pear. If your readers have difficulty finding it they can request their store manager to stock it, or call Hensley & Co., our distributor in Phoenix, for locations.
CD: What is the average cost of these spirits?
DK: The vodka and gin retail between $25 and $30/750ml. Rum, a little less.
CD: Is AHS participating in any festivals this year?
DK: Most beer festival coordinators prefer beer exclusively. There are two who welcome spirits, the Great Tucson Beer Festival and the Made in the Shade Festival in Flagstaff. Our hope is that someday there will be enough players and enough interest in hand made spirits to justify a liquor festival.
CD: Anything else new and exciting for the future of AHS?
DK: We are awaiting federal label approval for new bottle packaging. The new look is very chic and cotemporary. All of our brands will enjoy the facelift.
Of course I couldn’t interview Dana and not ask about Mogollon Brewing Company. MBC is named after the Mogollon Plateau which sits at 7,000 feet above sea level and the artwork on their labels are inspired by Northern Arizona wildlife.
All of Mogollon’s brews are made with pure mountain water but that’s where their similarities end. Below is a description of each of their mouthwatering offerings:
Wapiti Amber Ale
This is our flagship ale and is pronounced wop-eh-tee. The label for this beer is adorned with the majestic Wapiti (aka elk). Wapiti are abundant in northern Arizona. They are large and beautiful creatures, which is why we chose this animal to represent this beer. Wapiti Amber Ale is hand crafted with mountain pure water, two row malted barley, yeast and Yakima Valley hops. Our brewers use traditional methods to create this full-bodied amber ale with a distinct hoppy aroma. Wapiti Amber Ale should be enjoyed cool, not cold, to best experience the complex character and flowery aroma. Serve at 43-47 deg F.
Superstition Pale Ale
If you are searching for a light, refreshing pale ale, your search is over! Superstition Pale Ale is named after the Superstition Mountains which are just east of Phoenix. This American pale ale is brewed using mountain pure water, select domestic grain, yeast and hops from the Pacific Northwest. Superstition is copper in color with a clean, malty fullness and finishes with pronounced hop bitterness. Perfect for enjoying on a warm Arizona day.
A truly delicious beer, Heffevenom is a medium bodied, lightly hopped wheat beer brewed in the true Bavarian tradition. Our brewers combine mountain pure water, select wheat and domestic malted grain, hops and yeast to create a highly refreshing ale with a pronounced banana and clove bouquet. Perfect with a slice of lemon as garnish.
Horny Toad IPA
If you like big, bold, pronounced hop character, then this beer is for you. One taste and you’ll find yourself right smack in the middle of Hop Head Heaven! But this beer has more to offer than just hops. We use tons of the finest malted barley available to balance out this beer. The result of our efforts is a beer with a magnitude of hop aroma and bite, yet perfectly balanced with a clean, crisp malty flavor. WARNING: This beer is not intended for the masses that prefer a mild domestic beer. It’s big, bold characteristics and 7.1% A.B.V. are not intended for the weak.
Apache Trout Stout
From Arizona’s high country comes Apache Trout Stout, a robust, full bodied, top fermented ale. Our brewers use mountain pure water, select roasted barley, hops and yeast to create this traditional style. Savor the balanced, roasted malt flavor and the lingering sweetness that makes this dry stout a cool weather treat.
And now back to Dana…
CD: How many barrels of beer did Mogollon brew in 2010 and what do you forecast for 2011?
DK: 1,226 barrels in 2010. Not enough! We are on track to double that number in 2011. Hensley and Co. as our primary distributor has really supported the brand. Mogollon beer was a major player in Arizona in the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s. Mogollon, by focusing on spirits, lost much of the beer market share. With the recent surge in interest for craft beer, we have geared up and are getting seriously back into the game.
CD: What is your number one selling beer?
DK: Horny Toad IPA.
CD: What is your favorite Mogollon beer?
DK: Currently, our only brand offered in cans is Wapiti Amber Ale. We are planning to package Superstition Pale Ale as soon as we make room for a truckload of aluminum cans.
CD: Are you participating in any other festivals this year?
CD: Why did you decide to close down your pub/restaurant?
DK: That was never the business anyone involved wanted to pursue. We are focused on making the absolute finest products we can. That is a full time job. So is operating a bar. Something had to give. In 2008, a group of our own pub employees approached us with an offer to purchase the retail end of the business. Freedom at last! The production side of the business is much more gratifying, I don’t miss the other one bit.
CD: Any other additional information/interesting stories you would like to share about yourself, AHS, or Mogollon?
DK: We are having too much fun in this business. With regard to spirit production, everyday is a learning experience. There are no trade magazines, no real sources for information. The resources I use were written before the turn of the last century. We need to build the segment. What the segment needs is more small distilleries. If anyone out there has been kicking around the idea of becoming their own master distiller, I would be glad to help. At least advise folks what not to do.
*Arizona High Spirits’ number one selling product, their Prickly Pear Flavored Vodka, is believed to be the only prickly pear cactus flavored vodka in the world. This vodka starts with an aesthetically pleasing pink tint and finishes slightly sweet and surprisingly smooth. AHS’s Prickly Pear Flavored Vodka might be unrivaled, but it’s not purely from a lack of competitors. Also, be on the lookout for their Mesquite Smoked Single Malt Whisky coming this summer. Remember, Dana only wishes that they would have produced more, so grab some if you can!
Your drink investigator,