Owners of the Greenbar Distillery, Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Matthew, would never have guessed they would one day own their own craft distillery. As Melkon put it, “it was a home hobby that sprung from a social faux pas.” See, Melkon’s side of the family gives toasts with high proof spirits but Litty was never a fan, calling it “jet fuel.” This inspired Melkon to start infusing vodka with fresh produce from the farmer’s market to make something Litty would enjoy drinking. After friends, family, and even complete strangers started to request special orders, they decided to take their in-house distilling to the next level.
Fast forward, and almost fifteen years later, the two opened up a craft distillery in downtown Los Angeles that hosts tours, tastings, and can also be booked on Peerspace for events of all kinds. We talked to the host, Bennett, about the origins of this unique space, the future of craft distilleries, and the joys (and challenges) that come with owning a distillery.
How are your spirits different than what’s already out there? Why did you decide to go organic?
We’re one of a few companies that uses real ingredients (i.e. stuff you can eat) to make spirits. We went organic because we get better flavor out of organic ingredients. The distillery was certified organic in 2008 and we haven’t looked back. Once we dug deeper into the environmental impact of that switch, we decided to use less glass for our bottles and turned to recycled paper for our labels. We also began planting one tree in the rainforest for every bottle sold. We’ve planted more than 600,000 trees with this behind-the-scenes effort. Flavor still drives all of the decision-making, but legacy and the idea to leave something behind for the next generation played a big role. We now make the largest portfolio of organic spirits in the world, right in the heart of downtown LA.
Can you describe the craft cocktail scene in Los Angeles?
We’re in a cocktail renaissance. It was only a matter of time before “farm-to-table” led to “farm-to-bottle.” Both professional bartenders and consumers now consider drinks the same way they do food: that there should be variety, customization and creativity. We’re in California where we’re surrounded by fresh ingredients all year round. It’s exciting to take home great ingredients and make something delicious.
Why did you decide to set up shop in the arts district in LA?
We were spotted by an aide from the former mayor’s team while pouring samples at Bottega Louie back in 2011. He thought we’d make a quirky addition to the Greentech Corridor. Once he convinced us that downtown was the place to be, we moved from Monrovia. Just by moving to our street, we’ve helped change the landscape. The tasting room and store were only added after AB 933 passed, allowing to offer paid tastings.
What’s been the biggest challenge owning this space?
Regulations! We wish we had the same freedoms as craft breweries and wineries.
What’s been the most rewarding part?
Sharing our space with others. We love showing people what we do at Greenbar. The new location has given us a great community. We’ve partnered with nonprofits, breweries, bakeries, restaurants, food trucks, artists and so many other wonderful organizations and individuals since moving here.
What’s your advice to other small business owners who want to open their own space?
Enjoy connecting with others. Sometimes, you may make a new friend.
Where do you see the future in craft distillery?
When we started, the term “craft distillery” didn’t even exist. But as people became more interested in what they were eating and drinking, craft came to mean something. We see it following the path of craft breweries and wineries. Once you take the blinders off, you can’t put them back on.
What have been some of your favorite Peerspace bookings so far?
Birthday parties and holiday parties have been our favorites occasions. It doesn’t matter if they’re booking a cocktail class, a tour or a happy hour, they’re delighted with the space and they fall in love with the spirits we serve.
Besides tours and tastings, what other events do you hold?
We have hands-on cocktail classes many Friday nights; infusion classes starting up again in 2017; launch parties for our new spirits and we’re about to start a new series called Bar Keep Tales. It’s a free storytelling show featuring six true stories from LA’s mixologists with crazy, funny, touching stories from behind the stick. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
I can’t leave the house without: A cup of Blue Bottle coffee, freshly made.
My favorite cocktail is: Ever?! Too tough. For this week, it’s something called a Hopped Daiquiri (features our CRUSOE Spiced Rum and GRAND HOPS Liqueur). Perfectly balanced drink and totally unique.
Which pairs best with: Mexican, Jamaican, or Fall dishes.
When I’m not working, you can find me: Out foraging for wild edibles in the mountains.
Life motto: “Too much good whiskey is barely enough.” — Stolen from Mark Twain