Fourth generation Rim Country native Hannah Lusk is on a happy little trek to bring her signature black cherry flavored whiskey to the world — at least this little corner of it.
But it turned out more like the Quest for the Golden Fleece — with bureaucrats playing the role of the dragon that never sleeps.
But now at the end of the epic journey, Lusk’s Hannah and Hooch whiskey joins a line up of local foodie selections available in Rim Country restaurants and other outlets. The selection includes Lyman Ranch beef, Bruzzi Vineyard wines and locally sourced dinners at Duza’s restaurant — with others already selling or launching soon. Each local food producer had their own dragons to slay, as they discovered how to produce and market locally sourced foods.
Lusk created her black cherry infused rye whiskey after spending years in the food and beverage world. She hopes her whiskey will bring a whole new taste experience to customers.
“I wanted people to try it who are not whiskey drinkers,” she said.
On April 10, Lusk will launch her whiskey at Backwoods Bar and Grill, 210 E. Highway 260.
“(The owner) will put my whiskey in the barbecue sauce and four drinks,” she said.
Next, she’ll be part of the soon-to-open Rim Country BBQ, 202 W. Main St.
“Robert Santoro’s barbecue is incredible,” she said.
On Father’s Day, June 20, Hannah and Hooch whiskey will host a golf tournament at The Rim Club.
But she doesn’t plan to go head-to-head with the big boys of whiskey.
“I never wanted to get into this to make a lot of money. I wanted to build a legacy and do it the right way,” she said.
Born and raised in Rim Country to the Haught/McNealy branch of pioneers, Lusk left for Phoenix after graduating high school. She returned in 2012 with no idea what to do.
“I was a single mom with two kids and decided to move back with family,” she said.
She settled on doing what her family did best — food.
“They were in the restaurant industry. My family owned the original Pinon Cafe,” said Lusk.
She started work at The Rim Club. Soon, she was the food and beverage manager, playing with mixed drinks for the clientele. There she fell in love with taste.
“I became a sommelier,” she said.
Blindfolded, she would have to identify the wine’s varietals, year and region.
“It comes back to your sensory memory,” she said.
Lusk explained, if you taste a green pepper in wine, it’s not because the wine is made out of green peppers, it’s “your sensory memory — what you remember eating and tasting,” said Lusk.
But she found herself drawn to whiskey.
“I love Manhattans,” she said.
The drink is blended with bitters, cherries and rye whiskey.
Lusk tried different brands of whiskey in her Manhattans and noticed something. Some whiskeys tasted better with the bitters and cherries. She ultimately settled on rye whiskey because of the way the rye taste blended with the other ingredients.
When a friend gave her an oak barrel, she made a batch of a cherry infused whiskey to go with her favorite drink.
On a lark, she put her homemade whiskey in blind taste tests against high-end whiskeys.
The results surprised her.
“They were choosing mine over the other whiskey,” said Lusk.
Soon, customers asked her to make a Manhattan mix using her homemade whiskey.
“I was selling batch cocktails (with) my whiskey,” she said. “People loved it ... I was having fun.”
Fun even determined the name of her company.
“Hooch is a homemade, bootleg whiskey,” said Lusk. but the name also has a nod to the movie, “Turner and Hooch,” starring Tom Hanks.
“The black cherries I use are Bordeaux black cherries and the dog in “Turner & Hooch” (my favorite movie) is a Douge de Bordeaux,” she said.
Her kids gave her the final push.
“I wanted to show them you can do anything (and) I wanted to be an inspiration,” she said.
But it’s been a road she “wouldn’t recommend anyone do.” Since starting her quest last year, Lusk has rented an office space, got three licenses through three levels of government and contracted with U.S.-based businesses to provide the brewing and bottling — all in the USA. She sells wholesale.
But dragons lurk in unexpected places.
Recently, a lawyer for Jack Daniel’s called after hearing she planned to drip wax over the cork in her bottle. But Maker’s Mark whiskey is already doing that, growled the lawyer. No drip, he said. “They have patented the wax drip.”
Getting all the federal government approvals for her labels involved a whole new family of dragons — including obtaining a level 1 fingerprint card.
“They look at your background. You can’t have any felonies or misdemeanors (to make and distribute alcohol),” she said, whole layers of regulations left over from the repeal of prohibition a century ago.
This spring, Lusk should receive her first batch of square-bottled black cherry flavored whiskey.
Currently, she will only distribute in Arizona. Customers can buy Hannah and Hooch at the Beverage House by mid-March or early April, depending on the weather and shipping.
But delays don’t concern her.
“My business plan is extremely conservative,” she said. “I plan on distributing 1,320 (bottles) every quarter,” she said.
Already, she has sold out her first batch.
Dragons be darned.
She’s bringing the fleece home.