According to the 2010 census, the City of Los Angeles is the country's second most populated city, with almost 3.8 million residents. Yet LA only has one operating craft distillery and a second in the works. Interestingly, both are in the same neighborhood. Situated between downtown and the west bank of the LA River, the Arts District is an up-and-coming industrial area known for a growing number of bars, restaurants, shops, and of course, art. Yet what LA's craft distillers lack in numbers is made up in their passion and commitment to making great spirits using organic or local produce.
Greenbar Distillery was founded in 2004 by husband-and-wife team Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew in Monrovia, California. Today they are making a staggering range of spirits, liqueurs and bitters from their distillery on East 8th Street. Since 2008, they have made a commitment to fund the planting of one tree for each bottle of spirits they sell and to only use organic ingredients. They found organic produce to have the two fold benefit of being more flavorful in their spirits, and organic farming has a lighter impact on the environment.
I had a chance to visit Greenbar during one of their distillery tours, which is by far one of the best tours and tastings I've experienced so far. The tour began with a reception in their tasting room with a simple spread of fruit, cheese, crackers. They were also pouring a cocktail that featured their Grand Poppy Aperitive, the newest addition to their line up. The tour included an extensive description of their production process, from fermentation, distillation, infusion, and bottling. During the tour Litty handed out small samples of their fermenting molasses wash which was a nice point of comparison to their finished rum. The samples were pungent, and tasted like molasses you would put on pancakes but with a slight dry finish from the alcohol.
Melkon and Litty describe the process of infusing their spirits and liqueurs. Photo courtesy of Greenbar.
After the tour we returned to their tasting room where they poured samples of all their products. Melkon and Litty continued to answer questions, chatted with people about ideas for cocktails and they described how their gin and Grand Poppy were inspired from their walks in Griffith Park. The wall behind the bar of their tasting room bares the company slogan “Organic Tastes Better.” At first glance it is easy to take a cynical view of their green initiatives as merely good marketing and PR; talking with Melkon and Litty it became clear that their commitments are an extension of a personal ethic of responsible business practices, as well as an understanding that more flavorful ingredients help them make tastier spirits.
1 oz TRU organic garden vodka
1 oz Grand Poppy Aperitive
1 oz freshly squeezed local lemons
1 oz simple syrup
2-3 slices fresh local cucumbers
Muddle cucumbers, add rest and shake with ice
Strain into martini glass and garnish with a cucumber ribbon
In Spring 2014, Greenbar partnered with the California Artisanal Distillers Guild, LA Magazine, KCRW, Artisanal LA, LA Revitalization Corporation, Food Forward and the Craft & Folk Art Museum to sponsor a competition to create a signature cocktail to represent Los Angeles like the Manhattan represents New York City, the Sazerac New Orleans and the Sidecar Paris. After hundreds of entries the list cocktails was whittled down to three finalist. The Griffith, made with Greenbar's TRU organic garden vodka and their Grand Poppy organic bitter liqueur won the day to become LA's signature cocktail.
The Spirit Guild
LA's second, soon to be distillery, The Spirit Guild, is under construction and has plans for interesting and unique products. Miller Duvall, co-founder of the Spirit Guild, sat down with me to talk about some of the plans for his distillery.
He told me that the he found their location with the help Tyler Stonebreaker, a real estate broker recommended to them by the LA county economic development agency. And while they had looked at a number of other locations around the city, they liked the community of businesses around them such as Angel City Brewery and a coffee roaster. Walking in from Mateo Street, you enter what will become their tasting room, which will have a view into their distillery. Their location has a nice open floor plan and sky lights that naturally illuminate the space.
Miller comes from a California farming family and has been inspired to make a variety of spirits from the wide bounty of Central and Southern California produce. Clementines, honey, and wine grapes are just a few of the ingredients he talked about using for his spirits. Because of his family background, he has relationships with farmers which gives him access to some of the best quality fruit the region has to offer. While Miller is well aware that fermenting and distilling all of his spirits from whole fruits and grains will be more work, he believes that the quality of the distillates will be well worth the effort.
In the meantime, I and the rest of LA will have to wait patiently for them to open.