Whiskey distillery brews plan to lease old high school

old Tombstone High School is still gated off to the public. April 28, 2015. Tombstone, Arizona. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson
old Tombstone High School is still gated off to the public. April 28, 2015. Tombstone, Arizona. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

“Whiskey is more historic then the building,” said Billy Combs, bartender at Doc Holliday’s Saloon on the historic district of Tombstone. “Might as well put two historic things together.”

Steve Murray and Gary Evans, owners of the Arizona Craft Beverage Inc., also known as the Tombstone Distillery want to do just that. They have moved along in the process of completing the $60,000-a-year lease on the old Tombstone High School. 

“Right now we are waiting the approval of the attorney after the next Unified School District board meeting,” said Murray. “As of right now the lease is not finalized and the first step to getting there has been taken.”

For the process to complete, the attorney and school board must agree on the lease to Murray and Evans and explore any changes that will be made.

The old Tombstone High School was built in 1922 and was occupied until 2007 when the new Yellow Jackets home was built on the opposite side of town.

Since 2007 the old Tombstone High School has been on the real estate market and has had prospective buyers but no one has followed through.

“Lets bring more life into this town,” said Kyle Bengel, owner of Silver Strike Winery in Tombstone. 

Tombstone and Southeast Arizona has rapidly participated in the winery, distillery and brewery escapade. 

Murray called the Arizona Craft Beverage Inc. the umbrella for Tombstone Distillery. “We have branched out into multiple types of liquor we are just waiting for our labels to be approved by the feds,” said Murray. 

Arizona Craft Beverage Inc. label with the Tombstone Distillery bottle label displayed on the window of the Tombstone Wine Works building. April 28, 2015, Tombstone, Arizona. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

The types of liquor they have available at the Tombstone Wine Works tasting room are bourbon, four different rums and brandy that are available for taste and for sale. Also moonshine, which is not for sale but can be tasted. 

“Building a successful business in Tombstone is difficult,” said Bengel. “But with the audience that is attracted by liquor and wine it will help bring life back into the community and the money will follow.”

With the current Tombstone High School Yellow Jackets still in need of a baseball field and tennis courts, Murray and Evans have agreed to allow the high school to use the ball field from February to May. The company will then use the field for whiskey, wine and beer festivals. 

Tombstone Wine Works and Distillery is the original whiskey distillery for Murray and Evans. The location is small and with the new building their profit can increase tenfolds.. Photograph by Alexandra Adamson

Although they have not officially leased the historic building it is in an ongoing process between the Tombstone Unified School District’s attorneys Anne Carl, who will then announce whether there is an agreement.

Arizona Craft Beverage Inc. plans to keep the historic high school’s exterior the same. Instead their focus on the interior will begin with classrooms becoming tasting rooms. The gymnasium being used for hopping barley and two labs will be transformed into distilleries. 

Many of the citizens of Tombstone seem to be happy at the process of Arizona Craft Beverage Inc. occupying the building. “I only had a problem with an empty historic building rotting,” said Bengel. 

As of right now Murray has no idea of the time frame that the process will be completed by.

“I haven’t heard anything yet from the lawyers but hopefully in a year from now it will all be approved and everyone will be happy,” said Murray. 


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