Whiskey Review: Whiskey Del Bac Frontera

, | March 31, 2023

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

I imagine that, for many, “desert” conjures images of oppressive heat, windswept sand dunes, and maybe a rattlesnake winding through a lonely, sun-bleached cow skull. Growing up in the Southwest, I saw that a desert could be many things. They can be lively expanses of hardy greenery, striated formations of rich red soil, and verdant riverbanks fed by sub-tropical rains. There’s a great deal of variation in the competing extremes at play in desert climates. Where these intersect, microclimates form which offer unique possibilities.

Whiskey Del Bac invites you to “Sip Sonoran” on their homepage. The Sonoran Desert covers parts of Mexico, California, Colorado, and Arizona, hosting a variety of microclimates. Whiskey Del Bac is distilled and bottled in the Tucson, Arizona area, in the uplands of the Sonoran Desert. It’s a region of saguaro and thorny scrub, with long seasons of dry heat interrupted by a summer monsoon season and winter rainstorms. When the sun goes down, the desert night drops the temperature by almost 40 degrees.

As craft whiskey grows, we see distillation taking place in more climates. Given the impact that climate has on both distilling and aging, we expect new climate profiles to produce new variations on flavor. In the case of Whiskey Del Bac, their Sonoran climate provides high heat throughout the year, punctuated by two rainy seasons and cold nights. As the temperature and humidity shift, whiskey expands and contracts. Liquor penetrates the barrel and pulls back rapidly, and the whiskey effectively ages more quickly.

As such, Whiskey Del Bac can age their Classic single malt to maturity in about a year.

It’s a boon from a production standpoint, and it imparts a unique character to American single malt. It also means that when their Classic single malt goes through 13 months of secondary aging in Pedro Ximenez Sherry barrels, it has the potential to draw significant flavor in a short period. They paired this novel approach to climate aging with the well-known practice of sherry barrel aging to create their limited Frontera release. It offers the familiar, well-tested profile of a sherry finish with the distinct impact of the Sonoran uplands.

Whiskey Del Bac Frontera review

We review Whiskey Del Bac Frontera, influenced in aging by the Sonoran Desert climate and finished 13 months in Pedro Ximenez Sherry barrels. (image via Taylor Shiells/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: Whiskey Del Bac Frontera

Vital Stats: 48.5% ABV. Mash bill: 100% Malted Barley. 97 Proof. MSRP $90.

Appearance: Chestnut.

Nose: There’s a harshness to the nose, despite the average proof. Past the astringency of the burn, I can find stewed tea leaves and desert flowers. It’s smokey, with a leathery quality rather than the maritime smoke of peated whiskey.

Palate: Despite the nose, the whiskey is smooth on the tongue. There’s still a smokey, leathery quality, but it’s mellowed by the vinous taste of sherry. The sherry taste leans more toward wine than raisin. It blooms into notes of apricot, carried by an oily mouthfeel with hints of citrus. The finish has a slightly harsh bitterness to it, with the smoke taking on an almost tarry quality.

Whiskey Review: Whiskey Del Bac Frontera


I didn’t love this whiskey, but at the same time I strongly recommend it. It has a different quality, which I credit to the desert aging. There’s a certain immaturity to the taste, as though the faster aging has made its flavors more extreme against a less complex body. It’s not what I’m used to, but it has a distinctive and evocative character. It’s harsh, but in its harshness I’m reminded of a summer drive through the desert. Shrub and desert flowers are in the air, while the sun burns out the scents of asphalt and leather seats.

It’s a new style of whiskey for a new region, and I see it as a solid introduction into the Sonoran style. I didn’t love it, but I can see the weather and the mood where this would be exactly the whiskey I’d want.

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Taylor Shiells

Taylor is a writer, researcher, and whiskey enthusiast. He came to Portland in pursuit of higher education, and found himself staying to pursue the Pacific Northwest's wide range of olfactory offerings. He's a fan of craft beer, farm to table food, indie perfume, and, most of all, whiskey. While he...