Thanks to my friend and colleague Kate Hahn, a few months ago Maria and I got an early look at the brand new tasting room at Greenbar, a downtown distillery that specializes in organic, handcrafted spirits. Greenbar was Los Angeles' first distillery in 95 years when it first opened its doors in 2011.
But it was only recently that Greenbar figured out how to legally open a tasting room. The tastes are small (by law, disilleries can only serve up to six 1/4 oz. servings per person per day), and bottles cannot be purchased on site. (Greenbar works around that by selling special tasting room bottles made with different ingredients.)
Husband-and-wife Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew first opened Greenbar on a lark, but it has grown into a major operation, with stores such as Whole Foods stocking their wares.
"They learned their successes also hinged on some silent partners — the farmers who grew their ingredients. Several had moved to organic farming, resulting in more aromatic, flavorful produce...which led to more flavorful, aromatic spirits," Greenbar says on its site.
Greenbar's organic ethos extends to being environmentally friendly, using lightweight bottles and 100% recycled labels. The company also plants a tree for every bottle sold.
We were big fans of the Grand Poppy, an unusual bitter and sweet concoction made of herbs, roots and plants from Griffith Park.
Here's a video from LA Weekly on a tour of the facility and tasting room:
The LA Weekly piece gives a backstory to how Melkon and Litty got into the spirits business:
When Khosrovian and Mathew first began selling their artisanal sipping vodkas out of a Monrovia office park in 2004, Greenbar was (perhaps more appropriately) called Modern Spirits. The original line was an outgrowth of Mathew's dislike of her husband's Armenian-family hooch.
At Khosrovian family gatherings, glasses of fruit brandies, vodka or mulberry wine would get passed around for toasting, and Mathew — who is of Indian descent but was born in Ethiopia and partially raised in Jamaica before moving to the Inland Empire — cringed at the thought of drinking it straight.
By watching how Mathew cooked at home (she is a Cordon Bleu–trained chef and food writer), Khosrovian began infusing store-bought vodka with layers of ingredients they bought on their weekly trips to the Hollywood Farmers Market, creating flavors such as pear-lavender-vanilla and kumquat-blackberry. He slapped a nice label on it so his family would think he brought something fancy to drink. When Khosrovian's cousins started taking bottles home from the family dinners and their cousin's friends began calling asking how to get more, the couple knew they were onto something.
Some pics of our Greenbar tour: