Distillery Watch

A First Taste of Sun Liquor Gin

The distillery’s signature spirit—Hedge Trimmer—is just about to be bottled.

September 27, 2011

The Hedge Trimmer bottle, designed by Michael Klebeck.

Last Friday, I had the chance to do something I’ve been waiting a long time to do: I got to try the Sun Liquor gin.

When the Pike Street distillery and bar opened in February, bar manager Erik Chapman was still working on the recipe for the brand’s flagship spirit, an American gin called Hedge Trimmer.

To label Chapman a perfectionist is to understate the situation. For a year he’s been working all day in the distillery trying to perfect the recipe, then spending his nights managing both Sun Liquor bars (the original is on Summit). "My dog doesn’t know me any more," says Chapman, laughing.

Finally, however, he is almost ready to bottle the gin, a blend of 10 botanicals—including juniper from Eastern Europe, fresh orange, coriander, and one top-secret ingredient about which Chapman was particularly excited—that’s made with 100 percent organic wheat. The grains come from Eastern Washington, though Sun Liquor is not subject to the pesky 51-percent-of-product-must-come-from-in-state law; Chapman says the operation traded in its craft license for a regular one, paying more in fees in order to free itself up from such regulations.


Chapman and his boss Michael Klebeck, who designed the bottle, planned to have one final confab before settling on the exact formula. The alcohol will wind up between 42 and 44 percent, and there was conversation over whether or not to include marshmallow root among the botanicals.

To arrive at the near-complete product, Chapman experimented with just about everything you might put in gin including blueberries, which he said left the gin oily. The experiments that proved successful but too far-out for a signature product may wind up in limited-release and seasonal gins.

The major concern with the Hedge Trimmer, though, was that it be balanced. Chapman tested prototypes in cocktail upon cocktail to create a spirit that was versatile. The results (I tried two variations on the almost-complete recipe) had a nice floral nose and were round-bodied and easy-going on the palate. If you eschew super junipery gins you’ll be happy, the juniper was suprisingly subtle in the samples I tried.

Hedge Trimmer will retail for $29.95. It will be available in Washington and Oregon and at Cask in San Francisco. How everything will work inside the Pike Street distillery and bar is still something of a mystery. Sun Liquor is itself a prototype for Washington—the first real distillery/bar hybrid. And the Liquor Control Board will have to figure out just what it can and can’t do on the premises. For instance, the way the law reads now if you went into Sun Liquor during the day and tried samples of gin, it would be illegal for the bar to serve you a cocktail later that night. That’s sort of ridiculous though. So we’ll see.

Chapman says he plans to begin bottling the first week in October.

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