Greenbar Distillery–Los Angeles’ oldest craft spirits producer (since prohibition)–and they’re organic, too!

You could (and should) be excited that LA has a well-established and (really) high quality craft spirits distillery.  You should be excited that it’s downtown in the always-lively Arts District (location, location, location!).  And you REALLY should be excited that this distillery is not just organic, they’re so focused on sustainability that you reduce your own carbon footprint with every 2 ounces of their spirits you consume.

green-bar-logoDid you ever think it could be so easy, so fun, so delicious to be kind to the environment?  Well, WELCOME TO GREENBAR.

I know.  I’m excited about it, too.

Tasting Room Manager Bennett Rea takes patrons through a tasting of Greenbar's craft spirits
Tasting Room Manager Bennett Rea takes guests through a tasting of Greenbar’s craft spirits

Greenbar had its genesis over 14 years ago when husband and wife team (at that time newly engaged) Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Matthew decided to try their hands at producing spirits.  The endeavor arose out of a desire to find something a bit more palatable to drink at traditional celebrations with Melkon’s large Armenian family (yes, there’s a love story in the mix, too).  The celebrations involved beautiful toasts with high-proof (and often harsh) fruit brandies and vodkas, which were just too much for Litty’s palate (Litty has a culinary background and her palate is more attuned to fine wines–a woman after my own heart, clearly).  She was eager to fully take part in these family gatherings, so they set out to create some spirits that would make it easier for her to join in.

The large tasting room at Greenbar, which is also available for private events, overlooks the distillery production area.
The large tasting room at Greenbar, which is also available for private events, overlooks the distillery production area.

Their dabbling proved successful and delicious, and after a couple years, they decided to officially go into business–their handmade spirits using fresh, real ingredients (a pear and lavender vodka, for example) had impressed friends and family with their quality and the couple were now trying to keep up with requests for their spirits.

The distillery tour starts right on the production floor, where all the magic happens.
The distillery tour starts right on the production floor, where all the magic happens.

As one of the first distilleries in California since prohibition, Melkon and Litty were trailblazers (because they had to be) in going through the somewhat arcane application process.  Though the state legislature is slowly catching up with modern spirit production and sales practices, the laws that governed licensing dated back over a century and weren’t really designed to deal with the sort of market we know today, and certainly never had craft producers in mind–and which also favored distributors more than it does small producers.

Once they’d worked their way through the state and county/city requirements, they were, indeed, in business.  They’ve grown significantly over the years, and in 2012 moved from their original location in Monrovia and into their current location, a 14,000 square foot converted warehouse in the Arts District.

The education you get on Greenbar's approach is somewhat hands-on; take time to check out the jars of herbs and other aromatics that go into their products.
The education you get on the tour on Greenbar’s approach to making spirits is somewhat hands-on; take time to check out the jars of herbs and other aromatics that go into their products.

This is where you need to go, because you need to taste these spirits.  You have the option of taking a tour with tasting, where you’ll be introduced to all aspects of spirit production at Greenbar, starting with an introduction right on the distillery floor.  You’ll conclude with a tasting upstairs in their beautiful tasting room that overlooks the production facility (you can rent this space for private functions, too).  The cost for a tour with tasting is $12, or $8 if you want to drop by for a tasting only–but I highly recommend the tour.  It’s fascinating to learn all about their approach to spirit making (and then taste those same spirits).

You'll find some original and even exotic offerings at Greenbar Distillery.
You’ll find some original and even exotic offerings at Greenbar Distillery.

There is one particular spirit, a bitter brandy, that I’m going to tell you all about in a day or two in its own post, because I find it simply astonishing.  How’s that for a tease?  But they do a seriously large lineup including vodkas (neutral and flavored), gin, tequilas (the only spirit not produced on site, as it’s a legit tequila–Melkon and Litty travel to Jalisco every year to oversee production), one of the most interesting (and tasty) whiskeys that will ever pass your lips, rums, brandies and liqueurs.  There is, literally, something for every taste in their lineup.  They even produce a line of five custom bitters, created by bartenders around the country (there’s a contest, it’s serious stuff).

If you're a whiskey aficionado, you'll love Greenbar's Slow Hand whiskeys.
If you’re a whiskey aficionado, you’ll love Greenbar’s Slow Hand whiskeys.

My hot take/review on the spirits?  It’s really hard to pick favorites out of all the excellent offerings at Greenbar.  If you like whiskey, you’ll love their cask strength Slow Hand (they produce a white whiskey–you HAVE to try that one–a six-wood malt whiskey, and the cask strength six-wood).  Their commitment to using only local organic ingredients, including the grains for the whiskey, is evident right on the palate.  The flavors are clean and up-front, with a lingering and complex finish.

Gin, Vodka, Tequila--you'll find something delicious here no matter what your palate prefers.
Gin, Vodka, Tequila–you’ll find something delicious here no matter what your palate prefers.

Their savory Tru “Garden” vodka is a must-try, and works beautifully in savory cocktails like a bloody mary, and the vanilla vodka–infused with real organic vanilla beans–isn’t even in the same universe with the more cloying mass-produced vanilla vodkas you’ve encountered elsewhere.

The Crusoe spiced rum?  Big winner.  If you think you don’t like spiced rum, you’re wrong (where this one is concerned).  Again, it’s a huge departure from the overly sweet, chemical-overtoned spiced rums you’ve had in the past.

This is not your frat brother’s spiced rum. Greenbar’s Crusoe spiced rum is something special.

The Fruitlab liqueurs are all tasty (I’m a bit fascinated by spirits like this in general, and Greenbar’s really impressed me).  They produce a liqueur you can only purchase at the distillery–their “California” liqueur called Grand Hops, which should appeal to any IPA drinker.  It’s both bitter and sweet, as you might expect with anything involving hops–but it’s also herbaceous and skunky (in the BEST way) and unlike anything you’ve tried before.

If you're a fan of cocktails, Greenbar's bitters need your immediate attention. My favorite is the fennel, which has a beautiful anisette note.
If you’re a fan of cocktails, Greenbar’s Bar Keep bitters need your immediate attention. My favorite is the fennel, which has a beautiful anisette note.

Throughout their entire lineup–from the white Slow Hand to the Bar Keep bitters–you can taste the quality.  You can taste the difference that the organic (and local!) ingredients make in the spirits.  And it all comes in lightweight (read: easier on the environment) glass bottles with beautifully designed labels made from recycled paper and eco-friendly inks–and a tree.  Greenbar plants a tree for every bottle they sell, which means they’ve planted around a half a million trees so far.

The distillery brochure you’ll pick up when you’re there for a tour and/or tasting includes many cocktail recipes featuring their spirits, so make sure you take one of those home (some of them are just fabulous recipes, and some are new and interesting takes on old standards).

And if you’re into making your own cocktails, Greenbar hosts cocktail classes most Friday nights where you can try your hand at some mixology with the Greenbar spirits lineup.

Until you’re able to make it in for a tour, you can find their spirits at most Los Angeles-area Whole Foods stores (there’s a product locator on their website, and you’ll also find the aforementioned cocktail recipes there, too).

Tours and tastings are every Saturday at 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m, 4:30 p.m., and 6 p.m..  Tastings are available Friday and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and the distillery store is open the above hours, plus Monday – Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Greenbar is located at 2459 E 8th St, Los Angeles, CA 90021, 213.375.3668.  You can book your tour (and cocktail classes!) online through their website; they do accommodate walk-ins for the tours, but reservations are strongly recommended.

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