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Loews Grows

Introducing Arizona’s first resort-based indoor hydroponic lettuce garden!

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I sat down with Chef Ken Harvey of Loews Ventana Canyon whose nearly pathological commitment to the principle of sustainability is driving his latest project.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Of Booze, Bugs, and one Spirituous Storyteller

Alex Zepeda, one of HUB’s Storytellers-In-Chief

I cleared my calendar when I was invited to a private cocktail tasting at HUB for local food and beverage journalists.

But for me, this abrupt schedule sweep wasn’t just about my occupying a coveted seat at a hot downtown bar and restaurant to witness the revelation of a new cocktail menu. It was as much about my private audience with Alex Zepeda, HUB’s general manager, whose work behind the bar over the years has always been anchored by the concept of story. Since story makes us in the media smile, I eagerly accepted the invitation and soon found myself on a bar stool directly across from this spirituous celebrity.

That I was additionally honored to sit next to popular booze blogger “The Classy Alcoholic” is another story for another time!

And that’s when Alex Zepeda started talking about Mexican bug shells.

The East Ender

During the assembly of the East Ender, one of nine new creations on her libations list, she paused to tell the story of Granada-Vallet, a bitter liqueur with notes of pomegranate that gets its warm sunset color from a natural dye that comes from the shells of scale insects in Hidalgo, Mexico. A collective hush hovered over the bar top as we all reflected on the blessings of a beverage made possible by a bug’s unselfish sacrifice of its exoskeleton, as our host returned to the stirring in anticipation of her next story.

Along with the Granada-Vallet, the East Ender features a white whiskey, a wine-based apertif called Cappelletti, an Italian Amaretto, and a lemon peel garnish. Drawing inspiration from the classic Negroni, Zepeda calls this one, “a cocktail for the true cocktail drinker.” I guess this is why it ranked high atop my list of the nine.

Pieces of Eight

Zepeda then began to channel her inner Jack Sparrow as she started to build another new cocktail called Pieces of Eight.

As she was unsheathing the purple straw that would later be plunged deep into a tall glass, she told a story about the pirates of yore who regularly robbed individuals of their Spanish pesos. Those pesos could actually be broken into eight pieces, called reales, which was common currency back then. And now there’s a cocktail at HUB inspired by crime and currency.

This playful beverage features black barrel rum, Swedish Punsch, ruby port, cinnamon syrup, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and a grapefruit peel and parasol garnish.

Zepeda calls it a coincidence that her Pieces of Eight has eight building blocks. But I’m not so sure.  Without that parasol, it might have been called Pieces of Seven, which would rob her of the pirate story.

Here are the other new cocktails on HUB’s list:

Workhorse: vanilla-infused rye whiskey, demerara simple syrup, Workhorse Rye Salted Cacao Bitters, salt, and orange peel garnish.

Basil Buck: basil vodka, fresh lime, ginger syrup, soda water, and lime wheel garnish.

Sunspot: gin, apricot liqueur, orgeat, lemon juice, and lemon wheel garnish.

Sandia Fria: tequila, falernum, watermelon syrup, lime juice, hibiscus salt, and lime wheel garnish.

Stuck in my Cabana: tepache, raspberry eau de vie, coconut syrup, lemon, and garnish of raspberry, pineapple slice, and cinnamon lime.

Rodeo Queen: vodka, lemon juice, blueberry syrup, sparkling wine, and garnish of blueberries and thyme.

Santa Cruz Float: Amaro Lucano, Whiskey Del Bac, stout syrup, soda water, and salted caramel ice cream.

Work your way down the list and let me know your favorites. And please raise your glass to say cheers to Alex Zepeda…or yo-ho-ho if you’re drinking the Pieces of Eight.


Construction Cuisine

With menu items named Construction Burro and Train Wreck, you might think that the Ina Road location of Baja Cafe was doing some culinary coping with the two-year mess caused by the I-10 traffic interchange project.

Think again.

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I sat down with the owner who explained the origin of these popular dishes amidst his celebrating the end of the construction.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Agave Aqui!

One of my favorite local events that I emcee every year is an evening dedicated exclusively to a desert plant.

But this isn’t an ordinary plant. It’s a representative of the monocotyledon class that’s given rise to spirituous celebrations for generations. It’s the agave, and thanks to the hard-working jimadores who harvest these beauties under the hot Mexico sun for our enjoyment, you’ll experience sipping in surround sound at the annual Agave Fiesta on April 27 at Hotel Congress.

More than 30 agave spirits will be on hand at the fiesta, including tequila, mezcal, and bacanora.


Yes, bacanora, an agave spirit that’s largely cultivated from wild agave in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Sonora, Mexico. I’m told that it’s still harvested in the wild and packed out on burros, and for many years was manually made in the back yards of Mexico using automobile radiators for filtering. Thankfully, technology has enabled advancements in bacanora production over the years, but the taste of the wild is still prominent in this rustic and delicious spirit.

In addition to these spirit samplings, attendees will also enjoy an agave cocktail showdown, agave presentations, live music, agave art and other goods inspired by the agave plant, and delicious food including mezcal yellow watermelon gazpacho, wild mushroom flautas, barbocoa and al pastor rolled tacos, and chicken mole tostadas.

Tickets for the Agave Fiesta can be purchased here, and while you’re at it, peruse the calendar of more than 20 associated agave experiences at the Agave Heritage Festival, including an Agave Heritage Dinner and an Ancient Agave Garden Tour.

Prepare your palate for the 2019 Agave Heritage Festival by watching this short video of last year’s festival.

Agave aqui!


A Party Fit for a King

King’s Day is coming up soon so dig into your wardrobe and pull out all of your orange!

Er, oranje.

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I caught up with a local chef whose plans for this national day of Dutch celebration call for some truly authentic dishes and drinks.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


Zin, Blues, BBQ…and Blue!

Meet James Blue.

He’s a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, and arguably one of the most entertaining and erudite figures on the wine scene today who can rock a fedora like nobody’s business.

He’s also a Southern Arizona-based account manager with Quail Distributing, a boutique distributor of fine wines and other spirituous beverages, and this position puts him in a place of prominence at wine events across town, including the upcoming Zin, Blues & BBQ event at the Hacienda del Sol.

James is in his element at these types of events because he’s not just pouring for the masses. It’s the fascinating stories that he tells about the hard-working families behind the wines that matter, the soil that’s specific to the regions and why we should care about it, the climate’s contribution to a grape’s ripening, and how these all collectively create memorable wine experiences. And when he’s talking Zins, believe me, you’re in for a treat.

James is one of a number of wine distributors who’ll be pouring at this event and I hold them all in high regard. They each bring a unique style and exhibit a true passion for their work and the brands they represent.

Collectively they’ll feature more than 35 distinct varieties of Zinfandel at the April 7 event, accompanied by pit-roasted suckling pig, pork ribs, beer-brined chicken, grilled salmon, and a seemingly endless spread of associated BBQ goodies from Hacienda del Sol’s Executive Chef Bruce Yim and his crew. Live music will also be served up by Hurricane Carla and the Bad News Blues Band.

This event will sell out, so hop on it now and get your tickets here.

Give me some big jammy Zins, smoked and succulent meats, and live blues and I’m in my happy place….as long as I can raise a glass or two with James Blue.


Like a Gentle Kiss from Kane Herself

When restaurateur Sally Kane speaks of the Coronet, her concept on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street, she calls it “one of the sweetest and most cared-for spots in Tucson.”

As I began to dig a little deeper she paused, noting with emotion that “it has my heart.”

In the days leading up to the restaurant’s fifth anniversary, Kane’s heart must be beating double-time with plans coming together for a special celebration that’s sure to make the Coronet the corazon capital of our community.

My first visit to the Coronet years ago was a moment of wonder as I mysteriously felt embraced by an Old World wisdom that seems to inhabit the space. I enjoyed a cocktail called The Rabbi Slept Late, an imaginative gin-anchored work that served as a lovely complement to a simple yet beautiful dish of warm olives with preserved lemon and garlic.

That moment was a heart moment for me. It’s almost as if these elements were intentionally synthesized to symbolize a gentle kiss from Kane herself.

In celebration of this sweetest of spots that has Kane’s heart, the Coronet will host its fifth anniversary event on April 13 from 5:00 – 10:00 pm.

The dinner special will feature an Eastern European summer staple called Bigos Stew, often called a Hunter’s Stew, with local pork from Forbes Meat Company, smashed purple potato, sour cream, garlic, and parsley.

The evening’s commemorative cocktail will be a boozy treat with gin, Swedish Punsch, orgeat, lime, and Champagne.

Add live music on the patio by Jimmy Carr and The Awkward Moments from 7:00 – 9:00 pm and you’ll surely hear many hearts beating as one.

Additional details can be found here.

Happy anniversary to the Coronet, with gratitude for how you’ve made us feel for the past five years.


Time for a GUT Check

Shouldn’t the food at a beer festival match the same level of imagination and artistry that’s prevalent among the brews?

In my Inside Tucson Business column this week, I caught up with the president of the Gastronomic Union of Tucson, endearingly referred to as GUT, to see how the menu is coming together for the Baja Beer Festival.

Check out my story here and let me know your thoughts!


For Serious Sippers, Snackers & Smokers

I take my whiskey seriously, and whenever I come across an opportunity to share my passion with those who also celebrate the wisdom of what’s been called “the water of life,” I clear my calendar in anticipation of the kind of sipping and storytelling that memories are made of.

Memories will be in the making this Saturday when a portfolio of exquisite bourbons (and a bonus rye) take flight at Casino Del Sol as part of their last-Saturday-of-the-month series of “Whisky SOLcial” pairings.

Casino Del Sol’s executive chef Ryan Clark gave me the initial tip on this flight tasting, and when a three-time Iron Chef of Tucson pairs select bites with whiskeys of this magnitude, you know that it will be done deliciously, intentionally, respectfully, and gracefully, like the very life that Ryan chooses to live out every day.

And finally, for cigar enthusiasts like myself, the taste bud trifecta is complete with a thoughtful selection of premium cigars from which to choose that will round out this monumental tasting, at a venue that warmly embraces the spirit of the cigar and those who embody it.

On March 30, from 4:00 – 6:00 pm, at Casino Del Sol’s Prema Lounge, you can choose a Regular Flight or Premium Flight, and enjoy corresponding chef-driven bites and a premium cigar that will join these whiskeys in activating parts of your palate that you never knew existed.

The menu follows, but secure your tickets now, right here, while they’re still available!



$50 for whiskey flight, food & cigar

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Cut (paired with a spice ash-rubbed scallop with a truffle demi)

Knob Creek Single Barrel (paired with honey comb and blue cheese espuma)

Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Rye (paired with cocoa-rubbed prime rib with confit baby potato)

Buffalo Trace Single Barrel Select (paired with a bacon fritter and cherry compote)


PREMIUM FLIGHT, with same food pairings

$100 for whiskey flight, food & cigar

Old Rip Van Winkle (10 year)

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve (15 year)

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve (20 year)

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve (23 year)



Davidoff Winston Churchill – Late Hour Toro

Arturo Fuente – Reserva Don Carlos

Camacho – American Barrel Aged Toro

My Father, Garcia & Garcia – Le Bijou 1922


A Passport for Craft Spirit Enthusiasts

For many years dating back to the early 1990s, I was a registered lobbyist in Washington, D.C. My office
was steps away from the U.S. Capitol and, in full disclosure, I can tell you that every lobbyist stereotype applied,
from smoke-filled rooms to multiple martini lunches.


But what happens when the issues for which you’re pursuing legislative relief mirror the spirituous tools
of the trade themselves?

Fast forward to 2019 and meet Deborah Patt, co-owner of Desert Diamond Distillery in Kingman and a
member of the Arizona Craft Distillers Guild.

Patt understands the critical need for the Guild’s voice at the Legislature to represent the state’s craft distilling industry, and she’s developed a program with her statewide colleagues that seeks to accomplish three things – raise money for the Guild’s important work, drive business to its member distilleries, and expose consumer palates across Arizona to the volume and variety of spirits being distilled here.

They’re calling the program a “Moonshine Map and Spirit Trail, A Passport to Arizona Spirits,” and it has all the makings for one heck of a series of road trips.

For $10, you can get a passport featuring a dedicated page for each participating distillery. Bring the passport to a distillery and get that respective page stamped with no purchase necessary. When you collect all of the stamps, just send in the completed passport and you’ll receive a special gift, ranging from company merchandise to spa packages to hotel stays.

To make it even more irresistible, when you bring your passport to a participating distillery, you’ll also get 10 percent off bottle purchases.

Distilleries that are currently participating in the passport program are Hamilton Distillers (Tucson),
Thunder Canyon Brewstillery (Tucson), Elgin Distillery (Elgin), Adventurous Stills (Tempe), CaskWerks Distilling (Tempe), San Tan Brewing and Distilling (Chandler), OHSO Brewery and Distillery (Scottsdale), Cellar 433 (Jerome), Grand Canyon Brewing and Distilling (Williams), and Desert Diamond Distillery (Kingman).

Additional distilleries are expected to hop on the map next year, but the 10 charter participants are all you need now to get your road trips underway.

You can purchase your passport at participating distilleries or online right here.

So what’s Patt been enjoying these days from her own personal portfolio?

“Our Barrel Reserve, a rum that’s been aged for three years that works well in a cocktail, like an Old Fashioned, as well as neat, all by itself,” she said. “And honestly, and I know it sounds odd, but I love it with root beer.”

I love this lady, and I’ll be hitting the road to Kingman shortly… passport in hand!