Independent Distillery Arrives in Pre-Prohibition Style

September 10, 2015


Independent offers classic cocktails in a casual yet classy setting.

by Mariana Colín

One of Downtown’s most anticipated new businesses will open in style on Saturday night. Independent Distillery has been quietly under construction in the shared courtyard behind Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market for the better part of a year, and on the 12th it will celebrate its grand opening with a party in the style of the era that inspired it.

Independent promises to take Tucson’s already enthusiastic beer and liquor culture up a notch in several ways, not the least of which is through exclusively offering pre-prohibition era cocktails. Through bringing back these forgotten classics from the turn of the century, Independent plans to both excite and educate the taste buds of thirsty Tucsonans.

The distillery's menu offers locally sourced drinks from America's past.

The distillery’s menu offers locally sourced drinks from America’s past.

“We’re bringing back traditional spirits that are over 100 years old,” says co-owner Don Northrup, who came up with the idea for a locally-sourced distillery years ago with his wife Toby Hall and friend Trevor Streng, who are also co-owners.

Their approach is to avoid the common, mass-produced liquors you see in most bars in favor of the drinks America was raised on. Because of that, you aren’t likely to find many brands you recognize here.

“We want to bring small craft distilleries and old brands to the forefront,” says Don. Such spirits will not be limited to the building, however. The distillery also plans to sell its classic brands online so you can be properly spifflicated at home or abroad (plus giving you the opportunity to try and bring back some awesome early 20th century slang).

Patrons enjoy the libations of old at Independent.

Patrons enjoy the libations of old at Independent.

Though fun, classy references to America’s drinking past are everywhere in the décor of the building and the design of Independent’s merchandise and advertising, its focus on tradition and history isn’t simply a stylistic choice. Their methods also hearken back to a simpler, more community-based production of drink. Don, Trevor, and Toby’s mission is to make everything in Independent locally sourced.

“We go to the farmer’s market twice a week to buy our ingredients,” says Don.

Their “field to glass” philosophy is just part of how Independent aims to give back to the local economy.

“People tend to think of alcohol as a vice,” says Don, “so the question is how do we emotionally counteract that?”

Signs of Independent's arrival are scattered around Downtown, as in this window display at Hydra.

Signs of Independent’s arrival are scattered around Downtown, as in this window display at Hydra.

The answer, he says, is to give back as much to the community as you can. On Saturday they’ll begin living this attitude in earnest: all of the proceeds from the grand opening will go to the Arizona Children’s Association. Additionally, Independent plans to donate a portion of all its liquor proceeds online and in-store to charity, for example, a house-made rum that will help fund the protection of endangered hawksbill sea turtles.

When asked, Don and Trevor are tantalizingly vague about what exactly the grand opening party will entail. Circus acts and other period types of entertainment are mentioned, but details are so secret that Don himself is in the dark about what will happen. What we do know is how partygoers can help set the mood.

The theme is prohibition masquerade, so show up in your 1910’s and 20’s best and bring a mask (Independent will have some for sale if you forget). Then, partake in the fine spirits of your great-grandparents and see what your modern liquor is missing. But don’t forget the warning on the front page of Distillery’s website: “Please remember to imbibe wisely.”