Liquid Arizona: Suncliffe Gin

Craig OuthierMarch 3, 2023
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Arizona-based Suncliffe gin puts a little of the high country in every bottle.

Though responsible for countless ruined livers over the centuries, gin originated as a health tonic by virtue of the juniper berries that give the spirit its piney, herbal flavor. Some ancient cultures used juniper to mitigate pain and nausea. Others believed it increased stamina. Some even used it for birth control. Today, the plant’s true medicinal value is debated, but one fact about juniper is not: There’s a hell-ton of it in Northern Arizona. “In Sedona, three species of juniper grow together in harmony, and that’s what makes [sourcing there] special,” Thomas Giddings says, recalling the afternoon he and partner Ryan Lawrence conceived Suncliffe gin while visiting the latter’s parents in red rock country during pandemic lockdown in 2020. Partnering with their friend, Clare Byrne, a New Yorker with a marketing and branding background, the industrious couple started ginning up a business plan.

Giddings and Lawrence do all their own foraging. On a typical trip to Sedona, the Tucson-based spirit makers amass upwards of 200 pounds of one-seed, shaggy and alligator juniper berries. “One-seed and shaggy are very similar and very piney,” Lawrence says. “Alligator is a lot bigger and pinker, and sweeter.”

Next step: They take their juniper, along with ponderosa pine bark and manzanita from the Flagstaff area, and a bit of Western elderflower, to a distillery in Napa equipped with a futuristic vapor-infusion still. “Our botanicals never actually touch the liquid, which keeps down tannins and allows the nuances to come through,” Giddings says.

Under the Suncliffe partners’ supervision, the distiller unites the botanical mash with a non-GMO, domestic corn-based, neutral grain spirit sourced from a third party.

Photo courtesy Suncliffe
Photo courtesy Suncliffe

The end result: A classic dry gin done in uniquely Arizona fashion, illustrated by the trio’s self-designed label and branding. “We chose the base red color… to evoke the spirituality of Sedona and the feel of the Southwest in a modern and chic way,” Giddings says. Perfect for a martini or lightly sweetened Tom Collins.

Available at Total Wine, Topps, Trevor’s Liquor and fine spirits stores throughout the Valley.

Photo courtesy Arcadia Premium
Photo courtesy Arcadia Premium
Beer of the Month
Helton Brewing Co. Boysenberry Sour
Sour/Fruited Ale/6.7% ABV/10 IBU 

When American craft brewers first started embracing sour beers, they embraced them hard, churning out ultra-tart, acidic, mouth-puckering brews that likely alienated a large segment of sour-curious drinkers. Brewmasters have since eased off a bit. Balanced, low-pH sours are now fashionable – a fact that makes this mellow fruited ale from seminal Phoenix brewer Brian Helton the beer you want to be seen drinking this season. Dumping pound upon pound of Oregon boysenberries into his mash tun, Helton affects both a pleasant, ruby-ish color and a skosh of residual glucose to counter his souring bacteria. The end product is fruity, crisp and zippy – the perfect beer to match with your knit cardi this spring. Find it at Arcadia Premium and other fine beer stores.