I do not generally devote an entire blog post to a single wine, or a single bottle of spirits (unless it’s just a quickie kind of review).
But this is different. Really different.
First, a preamble and a bit of a explanation for why I am so besotted with Greenbar’s Grand Poppy bitter liqueur (or “bitter brandy”). In my work as a nature photographer, my focus for the last year or so has been on my Land/Sea project. The “land” part of that is centered on California’s chaparral ecosystem. What is chaparral, exactly? The technical definition, courtesy of the California Chaparral Institute, is this:
Chaparral is a special plant community characterized by drought-hardy, woody shrubs, shaped by a Mediterranean-type climate (summer drought, winter rain)
It is, in fact, California’s most common ecosystem–and belongs almost entirely TO California. Chaparral stretches into southern Oregon and Baja California just a wee bit, but it’s almost solely a California landscape. It’s also California’s most unloved ecosystem–it’s tough and scrubby, too dense to even hike through in many areas, and very prone to fire (always a concern in our drought-plagued state). It’s strangely beautiful, with a muted rainbow of color, a host of edible and medicinal plants, and home to critical species of birds, reptiles, mammals and insects. I’ve been photographing this iconic California landscape for a while now, and continue to be amazed by its beauty and diversity.
So what does this have to do with a bottle of craft spirit? Greenbar has taken everything remarkable about chaparral that you can taste and smell, and they’ve bottled it. I’m already a fan of multi-sensory experiences; it’s why I end up photographing the wild areas surrounding every wine region I’ve ever visited. You can experience a place through every sense–and the idea that I can taste that chaparral ecosystem in this beautiful bitter brandy is pretty exciting to me.
Everything that I’ve captured with my camera, I can smell and taste in this spirit. I am instantly taken back to hours spent bushwhacking through sagebrush and manzanita–the aroma of sage and wild fennel and thistle and California bay leaf and on and on. Those things are literally in this bottle. And it’s delicious. As Greenbar describes it:
a California-inspired take on classic European aperitives. We made it by marrying the best of California’s bounty — citrus from our favorite Southern California farms, coastal herbs and berries we discovered on our hikes and one very bitter flower, the California poppy — to bring a new taste to cocktail lovers everywhere.
It’s not often (in fact, this may be a first) that I come across a spirit and find it significant beyond its own in-the-bottle merits. I think this is a significant spirit–it embodies the state it celebrates, and shows off some of the underrated beauty of the chaparral ecosystem. It’s nicely balanced between bitter and sweet, with a stunning range of herbs and other aromatics both on the nose and on the palate. It’s delicious on its own, and divine mixed into cocktails. You’ll find a recipe or three featuring this liqueur on the Greenbar website, and my personal preference for enjoying this remarkable spirit is to mix it with sparkling wine for a sort of champagne cocktail (three parts sparkling wine, one part Grand Poppy).
I would never have thought it possible to bottle the most representative and iconic landscape of California–but Greenbar has done just that. Highly recommend.