Whiskey Review: Whiskey Del Bac Ode To Islay

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.

Whiskey Del Bac is a father-daughter effort out of Tucson, Arizona, that specializes in offering American Single Malt whiskey with ‘mesquited’ malt as opposed to the peated malt. Founder Stephen Paul started by studying how classic Scotch whisky is made, then focused on Speyside Scotch, which is an unpeated style. In 2006 Stephen and his daughter Amanda founded Hamilton Distillers Group, launching the Whiskey Del Bac brand under the name in 2011.

Whiskey Del Bac is named after Tuscon’s 17th Century Spanish mission San Xavier del Bac, and the name combines English, Spanish, and the Tohono O’Odham tongue meaning “Whiskey of the Place Where the River Reappears in the Sand.” There is a kind of poetic beauty in the name’s origin that carries well into the whiskey’s flavor profile and presentation. It’s classic but modern, unique but familiar, and I’m happy to say that the annual limited release Whiskey Del Bac Ode To Islay is one of the best whiskeys I’ve ever tasted.

Ode To Islay is the third release in the Whiskey Del Bac Global Cask Collection and is barley smoked with Velvet Mesquite from Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. The “mesquited-not-peated” process utilized by Whiskey Del Bac heats the nearly sprouted barley with mesquite wood fire in order to stop germination. The whiskey is a mix of three different 100% malted barley mash bills were all aged first in new American White Oak toasted and charred quarter casks. They were finished in ex-bourbon, tequila, and recycled Whiskey Del Bac Dorado barrels.

The Winter Release of Ode To Islay won several awards, including a Gold Medal at the New York International Spirits Competition, no doubt due to the care and consideration put into the blending of this truly original spirit. The whiskey is heavily smoked, but not overwhelmingly so, and there is a great character added by the substitution of mesquite and, perhaps, a bit of influence from the tequila barrel finish.

Whiskey Del Bac Ode To Islay review

Whiskey Del Bac Ode To Islay (image via Jerry J Sampson/The Whiskey Wash)

Tasting Notes: Whiskey Del Bac Ode To Islay 

Vital Stats: 110 Proof (55% ABV). Blend of three 100% malted barley mash bills. Barley smoked with Velvet Mesquite. Twice distilled in copper pot still. Limited release of 900 bottles.

Appearance: Full bodies, long legs, rich amber color.

Nose: The mesquite is instantly recognizable, along with leather, spicy meaty notes, with sweet cereal elements that reminded me of Raisin Bran.

Palate: The whiskey has the mouthfeel of a classic Scotch, but the treatment of the “mesquite-not-peated” is appreciated by this taster. There’s a grainy sweetness, like sweet bread with some nutty, savory notes. I tasted the whiskey neat, and enjoyed elements of apple and cinnamon, and the whiskey has a long and elegant finish.

Whiskey Review: Whiskey Del Bac Ode To Islay


I appreciate the different viewpoint of Whiskey Del Bac Ode To Islay. I can acknowledge the reverence to peated Scotch while appreciating the desire to carve a path for themselves in the American Single Malt community. I believe the best way to innovate and create is to borrow from the past while creating something wholly forward-thinking, and I believe that with this expression, Whiskey Del Bac shows great promise as a long-lasting brand.

My biggest lament is that I’ll soon be finished with the bottle and will likely not find another anytime soon.

User Review
5 (4 votes)


Jerry Jenae Sampson

Jerry Sampson is a freelance writer, editor and screenwriter. Her creative work is ever improved by her love of whiskey and craft cocktails. She enjoys taking cool fall days to explore the great distilleries around Portland to get a closer look at the inner workings of her favorite spirits.