Arizona Craft Spirits
Just as our state’s early settlers forged dusty trails and built booming towns sprouting from the wide-open expanses of desert; there’s always been a creative, pioneering spirit here in Arizona. Take, for instance, the rise and popularity of small-scale distilleries around the state. With the demand for craft beers on the rise over the years, and the now-flourishing Arizona wine industry, it seems fitting that boutique spirits are catching the next big wave. Until less than 10 years ago, liquor hadn’t been legal to distill in Arizona since before prohibition. However since then, small-batch, artisanal distilleries right here in Arizona have been creating some stellar products and winning national and international awards. Here, we highlight just a few:
With a purposeful nod to Arizona’s roots and history, this Tempe-based micro-distillery creates a variety of spirits all inspired by the 48th state. They source their spirits’ botanicals from local suppliers, and each of their products has been proudly named in honor of Arizona.
Their highly awarded Commerce Gin’s flavor notes are modeled with a tribute to Arizona’s “five Cs” (remember those from Social Studies class?) with their own five Cs: cardamom, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and citrus. Supplemented with apple, lavender and juniper botanicals all sourced from Cottonwood, this gin is an excellent showcase of Arizona flavor. Smooth enough to be consumed “neat,” this sip-worthy drink is an impressive winner of a double gold medal from the very prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
The distillery’s Desert Durum Whiskey, Arizona’s first-ever grain-to-bottle whiskey is made with wheat that only grows exclusively in Arizona and southern California. This whiskey, also a winner of a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and with a rating of an 89.5 in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, maintains a unique balance of sweet and spicy with notes of pecan pie, mission figs, and peppercorn.
Their top seller and most awarded spirit by far, is their Mission Vodka. Co-Owner Jason Grossmiller describes it as, “Flawlessly distilled in traditional pot stills, this 100% corn-based vodka delivers clean, crisp flavor with a pop of sweetness. Inspired by the 18th century Spanish missions in the Sonoran Desert, this supreme quality vodka was created to bring people together.”
Not only can these boutique spirits be found in numerous restaurants, bars and retail outlets across the state, the distillery also offers public tours and tastings.
Launched from the legacy of the first legal distillery in the state (which has since closed), this Flagstaff operation focuses on premium, small-batch artisanal spirits with an Arizona flair. Named for the real life Wild West railroad town of Canyon Diablo located between Flagstaff and Winslow, which was once described as “The toughest hellhole in the West,” this distillery aspires to put a little spirit of Arizona into every bottle.
While their signature spirit, a mesquite-smoked whiskey patiently ages in barrels, their other offerings are available throughout the state. Their Sonoran Rose is a truly unique prickly-pear flavored vodka in which the sweetness of the cactus fruit infuses a delicate and ambrosial flavor to the liquor. For those searching for a little heat with their vodka, their Two Ghosts chili-pepper flavored vodka is sure to fit the bill. Infused with Bhut Jolokia chili peppers, one of the world’s hottest, Randy Ahern, Co-Owner at Canyon Diablo, touts Two Ghosts to be “as fiery as the Old West and as perilous as this frontier territory once was.”
Their American dry gin, Desert Rain, is hand-crafted using select traditional botanicals indigenous to the Southwest. Just in the past two years, Desert Rain has garnered a silver medal at both the San Francisco and New York International Spirits Competitions.
What started as a single restaurant in Arcadia, the “Outrageous Homebrewer’s Social Outpost” has evolved into a very popular, multi-location brewery and distillery. The North Scottsdale location is ground-zero for spirit making, as the entire distilling operation operates under roof. Greg Arias, Co-Head Distiller with a master’s degree in chemical engineering, employs his expertise and refined palate in creating a multitude of artisan-crafted libations – many which have won prominent awards. OHSO’s distilled spirits are created with the philosophy to allow fresh, natural ingredients to flavor the spirits; and with a compliment of the perfect sugar/acid ratio to maintain layers of flavoring and textured flavor profiles. “Rule number one,” says Arias, “don’t try to outdo nature.”
OHSO’s flagship spirit, winning the most awards and highly critically acclaimed, is their Hashtag Gin. This friendly, non-traditional gin is crafted from five botanicals: coriander, cinnamon, juniper, orange and lemon peel. Its citrus nose with a spice background and juniper finish has won the hearts of many – even non-gin drinkers. A silver-medal winner at the Berlin International Spirits Competition, and a bronze-medal winner from the American Distilling Institute, this popular offering continues to gain a following.
The Arcadia Vodka collection is a compilation of premium flavored vodkas. OHSO’s top-seller of all their spirits continues to be the zesty Grapefruit Vodka. Distilled with real grapefruit peel, its piercing, tart flavor is complimented with the perfect level of sweet notes making it a huge fan favorite! Rounding out the Arcadia collection are horseradish, jalapeno, cucumber, lemon, orange, rosemary and coffee flavors. Another example of the hallmark of this distiller’s local-first standard, the coffee vodka is created with locally sourced beans from the iconic Espresso Italia in Tempe.
Perhaps the most exciting venture from OHSO is their newer Cellerman Series of spirits aged in barrels. The Formula IV gin, for instance, captures its unique flavor profile from time well-spent in a barrel that had been home to a robust cabernet sauvignon. It’s just this type of vision and inventiveness that proves just how pioneering we Arizona folk continue to be!
While these beverage makers aren’t Arizona distillers, we thought you might enjoy these lux libations with an Arizona connection!
Coco21: A brilliant brainchild of local entrepreneur Brian Kaplan, Coco21 beverages are made with pure coconut water and premium vodka. These delicious ready-to-drink cocktails are low calorie, gluten-free and are sure to taste just like a tropical vacation. Flavors include Original, Pineapple, Cocorita and Guava. DrinkCoco21.com
Iconic Cocktail Co.: These hand-crafted mixers are freshly made in small batches with natural ingredients and a minimum of sugar. With flavors such as Lime Leaf Tonic, Spiced Honey or Watermelon Rose Tonic, these Arizona-made mixers are designed to be the start of any great beverage. IconicCocktail.com
Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine Tequila: Arizona-based recording artists Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers are known for music infused with southwestern culture, so it seemed fitting for this Arizona company to develop a line of tequilas. Made in Jalisco, Mexico, the 100% Blue Agave Tequila continues to dominate shelf space at restaurants and retailers across the state. MexicanMoonshine.com