National Peanut Butter Day is Thursday, Jan. 24, but don’t expect me to spend my time with just any old iteration of this classic sandwich.
My peanut butter pursuits this year will focus on the unusual, and that means whiskey and salsa.
Whiskey classicists may argue that peanut butter and whiskey don’t belong in the same conversation, and that was my initial reaction—until I sat down with barman and restaurateur Ronnie Spece.
“Generally speaking, my emotional reaction to flavored whiskies is to run the other way, but one exception is when you find one that’s built on craft and not gimmick,” said Spece, owner of Batch Café and Bar, 118 E. Congress St.
Spece’s example is Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, a new release from a California distillery that he recently discovered over the course of a bachelor party weekend in San Diego. Spece perked up when he heard about it, as a longtime Reese’s loyalist, and made sure that Batch was one of the first Tucson bars and restaurants to carry it not long after he took his first sip.
“If you like peanut butter, you’ll be sold,” he said. “The nose is definitely peanut butter, with some sweetness and nuttiness that makes it come off more like a liqueur than a whiskey.”
But whiskey it is, and Spece was quick to give it a coveted spot on his menu that boasts more than 250 whiskies.
He serves the Skrewball neat and in cocktails, with fans ranging from “college students to gray-haired tourists.” But he said one of the most popular orders is a shot, served alongside a pint of Wet Snout Peanut Butter Stout from Tempe’s Sleepy Dog Brewing and a chocolate-peanut butter donut.
That’s what I call peanut butter-palooza!
Meanwhile, down on Fourth Avenue, one of Southern Arizona’s salsa sophisticates is playing with peanut butter in ways that honor her Mexican heritage.
“People have this notion that salsa is tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, and chiles, and we make our salsas to go there and beyond,” said Maria Mazon, owner of Boca Tacos y Tequila, 533 N. Fourth Ave.
Her peanut butter salsa includes oil, vinegar, goat cheese, fresh habanero peppers, and, of course, peanut butter. It’s blended in a way to yield a smooth and creamy texture which is designed to adhere to her freshly-fried chips.
She describes the flavor in stages, noting that the first impression is the richness of the goat cheese, followed by the roastiness of the peanut butter, and finishing with the heat behind those habaneros. First timers take note. This heat has a tendency to linger.
In addition to its role as a chip accompaniment, this salsa also acts like a sauce, and Mazon recommends it on dishes from grilled steak to pasta.
“Peanuts are actually part of the origin of Mexican cuisine, and this peanut butter salsa is one of the ways to show our customers something new, something fresh, every time; this is heartful Mexico,” she concluded.
Mazon has more than 2,000 salsas in her repertoire and she features seven to ten different varieties every day. There’s no telling if her peanut butter version will be in the rotation on your next visit, but my guess is, if she’s in the house and the ingredients are on hand, you’ll be golden.
Happy National Peanut Butter Day. Please celebrate unusually and responsibly.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also a regular contributor to “Tales of the Keg” on ESPN Tucson, KFFN 1490 AM & 104.9 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.