Who knew LA could taste so good?
Local, Craft, Organic. Words heard often in and around LA. Everywhere you look you can purchase a variety local honey, craft beers and organic produce. It’s one of the best reasons to live in this city. And although craft breweries are widely known. I’ve never heard of, much less visited a craft distillery. Until Greenbar.
In trying to decide what to do for my husbands upcoming birthday I researched a ton of activities that I thought he might enjoy. While pursuing one of my favorite LA blogs, We 🙂 Like LA, I came across a post for Greenbar Distillery tours and cocktail classes. Both of us are alcohol aficionados (i.e. we like to drink, a lot) so I thought this would be a great idea. I signed us up for a Saturday afternoon tour. I didn’t really know what to expect, other than we would get to taste a selection of their products along with a little history lesson in distilling.
Tucked away in an industrial area of downtown. Greenbar Distillery is located in an unassuming brick building at the dead-end of E. 8th street, right near the 10 freeway. Upon entering you’re greeted warmly by the hosts. The bright lobby area showcases a large chalkboard on one side with a welcome message and a collection of smiling faces in Instagram square photos from previous visits. We check in with the hosts who hand us three wooden poker chips. We’re told to hang on to them until the end of the tour. While we wait for the tour to begin we browse the small gift shop. It features the spirits, cocktail accessories and some cute tees & hats with the Greenbar logo.
Our 2pm tour has about two dozen participants. We are lead through the back doors and enter the distillery floor. Immediately I’m taken aback by the humongous whiskey barrels. But more on that later. We make our way towards the back of the room and gather in front of even larger copper stills. Our tour guide begins with a brief history of how Greenbar came to be. We learned about the makers and how their home infusion experiments spawned the massive distillery we now stand in. It was a cool story. I won’t retell it here, because I really think you should go experience it for yourself. But if you’re curious, they have their Maker’s Story on the website.
Time to drink! The first spirit we get to taste is Fruitlab Ginger Liqueur. We’re told if you like the ginger at sushi, this is for you. So this is definitely for me. If they let me I would order a plate of ginger as an appetizer. Pickled or otherwise it’s one of my favorite flavors. Plus, I love a good moscow mule, so I was excited. Each of us get a small plastic shot glass filled with the amber liquid. I can smell the ginger before I even taste it. It tasted bright and had a spicy warm finish. Simply delicious.
Our tour guide walked us to the copper stills and explained in detail how they make the different spirits. Did you know that gin starts off as vodka? I didn’t and I’ve been drinking gin for years. It’s one of my favorite spirits. Vodka is my ultimate favorite, so I guess it all makes sense. Plus I’m a bit of a science geek. That show, “how it’s made,” was made for me. This was a live action version of that show but about alcohol. Even better! It also helps that our tour guides were engaging and funny. You can tell they really love their job.
Next we’re told how the infusions are made in the huge on site tanks. Their Tru Lemon Vodka has the zest of 2,000 organic lemons in each batch. The staff actually hand zests all those lemons. Which sounds ridiculous to me, but they feel it’s the best way to get it done right. Because organic lemons are all different shapes and sizes and a machine wouldn’t be able to do it the same way as human hands. Funny thing about their organic produce, the company didn’t start that way. They were using regular produce when they opened in 2004. In 2008 they made a batch that had a monumentally more pronounced flavor. So they called their supplier who confessed he sent them an organic shipment by mistake. Well hooray for happy accidents. Since then Greenbar has used only organic ingredients.
The next spirit we tried was Grand Poppy Amaro. Now, I’ve never really been a Negroni or Campari fan. It’s bitter on it’s own and many bars don’t get the balance right in cocktails. So I’m trying not to make a face while sipping from my tiny plastic cup. As far as Amaros go, it’s not bad. It starts off bitter but has a slightly sweet finish, then goes back to bitter. I’m sure in a well crafted cocktail it shines.
We approach the huge whiskey barrels that I noticed as we first walked in. These 1,000 and 2,000 gallon casks are used to create Slow Hand Six Woods Whiskey which comes in two styles. Six woods, and six woods cask. Named because of the six different types of wood that are used in the fermenting process. The cask version features a concentrated flavor and is 115 proof! We learned about the fermenting process and the how to properly taste whiskey. You know how some wine tasters will bury their nose in a glass. Don’t do that with whiskey, you’ll burn the inside of your nose, literally. Instead we were taught to place the tiny plastic cup under our mouth and waft the scent towards our face. While sipping Six Woods you immediately get bold flavors hickory and butterscotch. Some even tasted notes of black tea.
With the educational part of our tour coming to an end. We were asked if we still had our wooden chips. Now is when we use them. On a table at the front of the room was every single spirit made at Greenbar Distillery. It’s an impressive lineup of gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, flavored liqueurs and amaros. Along with craft bitters which is a huge trend right now. The also featured all three versions of their IXA Tequila. Which is the only spirit not made on site, because to be called Tequila it has to be made in a designated area of Mexico. Our guide gave us a rundown of every spirit on display along with flavor profiles and how each is used in cocktails. Then we were invited up to try anything we want. Each taste costs one wooden chip.
I highly recommend attending with a spouse or friend that doesn’t mind sharing sips. This way you can taste more than just three. It’s not cheating, our guide suggested my husband and I share. First up I tasted their newest spirit, the City Bright Gin. Bright is the perfect name for this punchy Gin. They also distill an Amber Gin which I had never heard of before. It has a complex flavor that I find hard to explain. Part spice, part botanical. But not overly juniper. It’s more than that. Our guide told us it makes the best “Bee’s Knees” cocktail. Basic but delicious: Amber Gin, Honey and Lemon Juice. Shake it up and pour over ice. The Tru Garden Vodka has a bright herbal flavor with notes of celery seed and pink peppercorn. My first thought was, this needs to be in my next batch of Bloody Marys. It was hard to choose only a few tastes, I really liked everything I tried. Now, I love tequila. Let me rephrase that, I love GOOD tequila. So I went right for the IXA Anejo. It was smoky like a mescal but without the after burn. My husband boldly tried the 115 proof Six Woods Cask whiskey. I tried one tiny sip and my chest burned for a good five seconds afterwards. I think I’ll stick with the original. The last one I tasted was the Crusoe Spiced Rum. I’m normally not a big fan of rum. I find most of them all taste the same. But this one offered nice notes of vanilla and clove. Plus it helped kill the burn of that cask whiskey. With the tour coming to a close we had a few minutes to chat among ourselves and take photos of the distillery.
As we left the distillery floor and entered into the small gift shop, our guide told us that if you buy two bottles you get a special free gift. Two bottles, I’m having a hard time narrowing my choices down from four. But as it was my husbands birthday I let him choose.
Ultimately we decided on the Tru Garden Vodka and Amber Gin. The free gift was a professional bartender kit with a shaker, muddler, jigger and other accessories. You can pick up one of their recipe books for free which will help you craft signature Greenbar cocktails at home. We’ve recently made the Bees Knees and those are dangerously easy to drink. Our Sunday brunch Bloody Marys were definitely enhanced by the Tru Garden Vodka.
Greenbar also plants a tree for every bottle they sell. Currently they’ve planted over 600,000 trees. And their sustainability goes beyond that. They are committed to seeking out the lowest carbon impact for all their products. At the end of the day, enjoying a two ounce pour or any Greenbar spirit makes you carbon negative for a day. You’re basically saving the world just by drinking a cocktail. Learn all about their sustainability efforts.
Along with distillery tours, Greenbar hosts cocktail nights for members. Membership is free, but the courses each cost $40. The course lasts 90 minutes and you get to create two specialty cocktails. Next class is Wednesday Sept 13th. Click here to sign up. They also offer a variety of special events. Last month they hosted a birthday party for their new baby, Bright City Gin. Or you can rent out their skybar (which over looks the distillery floor) for private parties.
If you prefer to spend the night in, let their event planners hook you up with a specialized cocktail kit that you simply pick up and bring home. Your friends will be happy to play bartender all night long. This place is such a gem. I know when friends come in from out of town, I will totally bring them here to get a local taste of LA.
Purchase Greenbar Distillery Spirits in your own neighborhood. Find purveyors here.