Even 70 years after the end of Prohibition, the path for L. A. distillers remained relatively untrodden. Greenbar Distillery, started in 2004, played a big part in changing all that; led by husband and wife co-founders Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew, the now multi-faceted operation pioneered the local craft spirit scene and paved the way for others. Their simple goal, all along, was to put a great cocktail in your hands. They do. Their City Bright Gin was in my glass all last week.
Khosrovian was born in Armenia and immigrated to Rhode Island. Mathew was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Jamaica and then the United States. They met at the University of Southern California on the first day of journalism school, married in 2002, and kicked off Greenbar two years later. One of the things they shared was an appreciation of varied cultures, food, and drink. Litty’s not a beginner in the kitchen or with ingredients; she had bowed out of a marketing career to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and wrote about travel and cuisine.
She was a beer drinker. He liked daiquiris. So when it came to drinks, neither had anything to prove; there was no line of beverage heritage to constrain them. “We were very free to try things,” Mathew says. What had begun as a home hobby, starting with spirit infusions to enhance family toasts, briskly evolved into a business. When a local supplier started providing organic ingredients, they noticed improved taste—just when there was a real rise in customers seeking that quality in their consumption. Greenbar adopted a fully organic approach in 2008, a move that is a big part of the brand’s identity. They have an active sustainability program hinged on using organics, lowering packaging waste, and planting a tree for every bottle sold. The result, according to Greenbar’s website, is that one cocktail a day will make you carbon negative.
Their early offerings showcased bold flavors. Wheat, Vanilla, and Lemon vodkas were quickly followed by Amber Gin, distilled just once to keep its color and flavor. “Some of the things we make are odd,” Mathew says, but to her that fits with their West Coast location. “There’s a free vibe here for different things. People are more forgiving.”
City Bright is Greenbar’s “new” gin, a tribute to an L.A. food culture that serve up tastes from Asia, the Middle East, and Mexico. “The flavor profile is about the people in L.A.,” Mathew says. More than two dozen ingredients are listed on the label. A chili taste pops forward and is balanced by mint and herbs. There is a warm peppery finish. Citrus and juniper berries keep the overall profile clearly in the gin category.
City Bright mingles easily with just about any food, mix, or garnish, and that really is the point. Alongside the ingredients, every Greenbar label offers a recipe that’s a hint to what Litty and Melkon are up to. She says “we make tools for bartenders,” pro and home alike. She urged me to combine citruses for garnish—a great call. At her suggestion I used lime, grapefruit, and orange, flavors that follow what Mathew describes as a simple cocktail pattern: 2 ounces of liquor, an ounce of something sweet and another of something sour. “We formulate,” she says, “for ease of use.”