We put Arizona in a bottle with our unique craft
Co-Founder and distiller Matt was driving home from work
one day when he saw all the wild prickly pear cactus fruit in
the desert ripe and ready for harvest. This made him think of
his wife, Ken’te, who enjoys eating the fruit picked fresh
off the cactus; Thorns and All! (That part is a joke folks).
Matt knew she didn’t enjoy his whiskeys, but he was thinking of his wife, his love for making craft spirits, and all of this naturally occurring desert fruit, and he thought to himself "I bet I could make a spirit out of that!" And that is the story of how Sonora was born. From love!
Enjoy the unique taste of the Sonoran desert with this fine, hand crafted spirit made from seasonally picked native prickly pear cactus fruit. The process starts by collecting the ripe fruits, an annual harvest season of about 6 weeks each year, from the desert surrounding Tucson, AZ. The fruit is ground to give yeast access to the yummy pulp inside, but before adding yeast, which eats sugar and makes ethanol, the fruit mash is pasteurized (Pasteurization is the use of heat to destroy bacteria and viruses that may be present). Since prickly pear fruit is not as economically harvested as say, apples, grapes, or grains; as it is hand picked walking around the desert, avoiding the pointy parts of cactus, snakes, gila monsters, scorpions, spiders, and other lovely creatures in the Sonoran desert, cane sugar is added for the yeast to eat, to the pasteurized fruit mash. The mash is cooled to pitching temperature, and yeast is added to begin fermentation. After fermentation is completed, large solids are strained off the mash, and the liquid wine is added to the still.
Two distillations are performed, the first "Stripping run" is to concentrate the alcohols, fruit esters and leave behind the small particles. The second "Spirit run" is where we perform the "Heads cuts", removing the volatiles that come off before alcohol, such as methanol and acetone... no one wants to drink that but it does make great solvent. The hearts are collected and saved for making the spirit. In the case of the aged products, the hearts are put under oak and aged, then cut to proof and chill filtered to remove fatty esters that came from the oak which form a precipitate if they are not removed. The unaged skips the oak process, and is cut to proof. The spirits are then bottled, sealed, labeled, and ready to serve.
Sonora Silver is un-aged, crisp, clear spirit with the unique flavor of the prickly pear fruit. Enjoy the aroma, try it as a straight shot or mix to create unique beverages with flavor like no other. Bottled at 80 proof (40%ABV) it can stand alone in a cocktail without the need for a Vodka back.
Sonora Copper is a more complex spirit, stave aged with charred american white oak adds in vanillas, caramels, over a base of prickly pear fruit. When we decided to age the Sonora, it was an experiment as it had never been done before. Rather than putting 30 gallons into a barrel, we chose to stave age, simulating the surface area to volume ratio of a barrel, but on a smaller scale to determine what the flavor would be like. Being a winner, we did not want to mess with the flavor profile and continue to stave age.
Sonora Gold, aged in a Char#3 American White Oak barrel from MN. Sonora Gold is aged at least a year. The first cask, a single barrel release was March 2017, producing only 108 bottles. More is currently aging. Often called "Prickly Pear Whiskey"; however it is not made from grain so it is not technically a whiskey but certain tastes like. In blind tasting has been guess to be a Rye whiskey; we've never done this before. In fact, as far as we know, no one in the world has done this before. Available exclusively at the distillery while supplies last.
Some people put a lot of acclaim to winning competitions and having spirits that get Medals. We think the best judge of what you like, is you. With that being said, here are the medals Sonora has won.
2016 Denver International Spirits Competition (March 11-13, 2016)
- Sonora Silver received a Bronze Medal in the "Other White Spirits" category - No other spirits in this category received a medal.
- Sonora Copper received a Bronze Medal in the "Other Miscellaneous Spirits" category - One other spirit received a medal in this category which was also a bronze medal.
As you can imagine, there is no standard spirits category that Sonora fits in, and we suspect the judges may not have ever had a prickly pear fruit before, so we think the best judge is you.
Sonora Spirits Q&A
What is Sonora?
Sonora is a totally new spirit (approved in 2015), produced from over 51% prickly pear cactus fruit (Genus “Opuntia”) and the remainder of Cane Sugar by weight in the "mash" BEFORE fermentation; thus it is a Fruit Brandy / Rum hybrid; although no government agency (that we are aware of) recognizes "Hybrids". So the US Federal TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) recognizes Sonora as a “Distilled spirits specialty”, distilled spirits not defined under any other class. “Product definition is unique to composition of the distilled spirits product”. The COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) for Sonora Silver may be viewed online at: https://www.ttbonline.gov/colasonline/viewColaDetails.do?action=publicDisplaySearchBasic&ttbid=15189001000646
Is it whiskey (whisky)?
No, it is not a whiskey. Whisky’s are distilled spirits made from grains, such as corn, wheat, rye, etc. Within the “whiskey” category of spirits are several types. For example, all bourbons (over 50% corn) or whiskey but not all whiskeys are bourbon.
Is it Tequila?
No, for several reasons. First and foremost, Tequila is a product of Mexico. Tequila is produced from the weber blue agave, or species “Agave Tequilana”. While the Agave plant is a Succulent, it is not a Cactus; although botanists would consider all cacti as succulents. Furthermore, Sonora is made from the fruit, while Tequila is made from the piña (the base of the plant).
Is it Vodka?
No. Vodka is a neutral spirit distilled to over 190 proof. And then cut to bottling proof.
Is it Infused or flavored Vodka?
No. The prickly pear cactus fruit is fermented, then distilled, and the flavor comes through. It is not an added flavor.
Is it Rum?
No. Rum is made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice. Although Sonora produced by Three Wells Distilling Company uses some cane sugar in the fermentation, it is not a sugar byproduct, and the majority of the mash is the prickly pear cactus fruit, thus it is not a Rum.
Is it Brandy?
No, close but it is not. “Fruit-brandy” may technically be the closest classification of spirits. Brandy is spirits distilled from fruits (unlike whiskey made from grains) and within the “Brandy” category are several types, one of which is “fruit-brandy” to describe brandies made from fruits other than grape. However, brandy is defined as ‘having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to brandy’. Sonora certainly does not taste nor smell like brandy. Thus the US TTB recognized Sonora as a “Distilled Spirits Specialty” and not as Brandy.
Is it a Hybrid Spirit?
"Hybrid spirits", are not yet in the common vernacular; but we have to start somewhere so Yes. It is over 50% Fruit Brandy and made with cane so it is part Rum, making it a combination or hybrid I like to mash "Fruit Brandy" with "Rum" and call it a "Fruit Brum" or "Brum" for short; although someone did recommend making the order Rum, then Brandy to mash into the word “Randy” so take your pick, it is either Brum or Randy. At this time the US TTB recognizes Sonora as a “Distilled Spirits Specialty” and not a hybrid, nor Brum Randy.
Is it Moonshine?
Absolutely not! “Moonshine” is not a legal classification of spirits, any alcohol that is legally sold cannot be accurately called "moonshine" by nature of the term. Moonshine is defined as spirits made without following the laws or paying taxes. Three Wells Distilling Company follows all US Federal Laws and operates under DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) # DSP-AZ-20007, as well as AZ state laws under Title 4 Series 18 license# 18103003.
Moonshine, not in a legal definition but in other common vernacular, may refer to a clear spirit and made by any ingredients that produce spirits. Thus some consumer may consider Sonora Silver as a prickly pear fruit moonshine, although legally it is not.
Is it a Specialty Spirit (DISTILLED SPIRITS SPECIALTY)?
YES! The TTB recognizes Sonora as a “Distilled spirits specialty”, distilled spirits not defined under any other class. “Product definition is unique to composition and production of the distilled spirits product”.
If you would like to know more, read Chapter 4 of the BAM (Beverage Alcohol Manual)
Have questions? Ask Chris by emailing email@example.com