Up until 2012, you’d be hard pressed to find a bottle of L.A.-distilled liquor outside an antique bottle auction. This is because since Prohibition, there had been no homegrown distilleries in Los Angeles County. This all changed in 2012, when the folks at Greenbar Distillery cut through all the arcane and outdated red tape to set up their stills in Downtown L.A. Since then, craft distilleries have joined the ranks of brewpubs and micro-wineries as places to explore how some of our favorite drinks are made and to taste new concoctions straight from the source. The sheer variety of spirits coming from area distilleries could stock a home bar, and the distillers’ creativity make for great stories to sip over (responsibly).
One of the most anticipated events in the local liquor world was the late-2016 opening of the Lost Spirits Distillery in Downtown L.A.’s Arts District. This is a booze geek’s happy place, a self-proclaimed “Willie Wonka-esque” distillery experience designed to educate and entertain savvy drinkers and newbies alike. The distillers are like mad scientists, making fiery, funky rums and off-the-wall whiskies with technologies of their own invention. In March 2018, Drinks International named Lost Spirits the Best Distillery Tour in the World. Be prepared to taste some truly unique spirits. Part of the fun is the tour's surprise elements, so we won’t give away too much, except to say there is a boat ride, flat shoes are recommended and high heels are not allowed. Parking can be tricky at night, and tours are by reservation only, so make sure to plan ahead. Make online reservations at the Lost Spirits website - ages 21 and up only.
1235 E 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Also located in the Arts District, The Spirit Guild opened its tasting room in 2016 with a 1970s California vibe and a strong focus on the local. A $10 tour (tasting included) will take you from the stained-glass decorated entryway through the facility, where master distiller Morgan McLachlan oversees the complete production of their core line of gin and vodka, both made from a base of California tangerines. Eminently hospitable owner Miller Duvall offers two tours a day from Wednesday through Sunday. Admission earns you $5 off a bottle purchase, making this an easier-going, more affordable option in the DTLA distillery lineup.
586 Mateo St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Though it's not really a “new” operation, Greenbar Distillery still deserves mention for being the first distillery in Los Angeles County since the Repeal of Prohibition when they opened in 2012. Owners Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Matthew had to slog through a swamp of red tape left over from the Prohibition era to start distilling at their Downtown facility, but doing so paved the way for everyone that came after. This is a multifaceted operation, offering distillery tours, spirits tastings, and cocktail classes multiple times a week to show off the organic vodka, liqueur, tequila, rum, and bitters made there. Tastings are by appointment; you can sign up for tours and classes on their website. Pro-tip: the tasting room is open for walk-ins on Friday afternoons between 1pm and 6pm.
2459 E 8th St, Los Angeles 90021
This DTLA micro-distillery “partly distills,” blends, and bottles their Our/Vodka brand on site. The Our/Vodka label is part of a global brand that creates spirits in different cities around the world tailored to each location, using local ingredients and employing a local distiller. Vodka fans can check out the facility for tastings on weekdays from 1-5 p.m. and on the weekends by appointment. Look for the sleek, crown-top bottle in local bars and restaurants.
915 S Santa Fe Ave, Los Angeles 90021
Family-owned Stark Spirits is truly a micro-distillery, occupying less than 1,200 square feet in the Business Park of Pasadena (just around the corner from Rose Bowl Stadium). Founders Greg Stark and Karen Robinson-Stark make excellent use of their limited space, cranking out whiskey, rum, gin, orange brandy, and their own take on the Scandinavian caraway spirit, aquavit. If you love clear spirits but can’t stand the juniper notes in gin, you owe yourself a taste of that last one. This nano-operation is not yet open for public tours full-time, but visits are available by appointment. These are intimate affairs that include a tasting. Either way, look for Stark bottles on local bar shelves for something truly homegrown.
1260 Lincoln Ave #1100, Pasadena 91103
Another trailblazer, Blinking Owl is Orange County’s first craft distillery. Santa Ana residents Brian and Robin Christenson - self-described “locavores, grain nerds, and control freaks” - founded the operation in 2014 with a vision to make quality spirits with 100% California ingredients, using their award-winning Santa Ana water. As of February 2018, they succeeded in sourcing all of their grains from certified organic California farms to make Blinking Owl vodka, orange-flavored vodka, gin, whiskey, aquavit, and “barrel-vacationed” Old Tom Gin. Along with Stark Distillery, they make up Southern California’s contribution to a burgeoning wave of West Coast aquavit produced in the past few years. The tasting room is open Thursday-Sunday evenings, with $30 distillery tours offered that include a spirits flight and a cocktail. Reservations are strongly recommended, as is the Old Tom.
802 E Washington Ave, Santa Ana 92701
On the far, far Westside, Ventura Spirits has been making quality spirits with California ingredients since 2011, but their public tasting room opened up just within the past year. Located in the basement of an unassuming office park building off Highway 33, the “California Distilled” mural marks the entrance to the birthplace of Wilder gin (made with in-state botanicals), California vodka, barrel-aged strawberry brandy, and Opuntia - a unique spirit made from prickly pear. A $10 tasting gets each person a flight of spirits and some “mini-cocktails.” They are open to the public Friday-Sunday afternoons, and provide facility tours upon request. Pro tip: the distillery sits directly on the Ventura River Trail bike path, and makes a fantastic stop off during your Ojai day trip.
3891 N Ventura Ave, Ventura 93001
Located about an hour east of Downtown L.A., this Inland Empire whiskey haven was founded in late 2015 by Redlands native Jason Riley. Today, J. Riley Distillery produces blue corn bourbon, rye, and white whiskey, and hosts an ebullient crowd for cocktails and tastings Wednesday-Sunday evenings, with longer hours on the weekends. With names like 1775 Rye and the “American Spirit” Jeremiah Riley Bourbon, the vibe is patriotic, paying respect to America’s history in brown spirits as well as giving much love to locals, who enjoy the unpretentious atmosphere.
721 Nevada St #206B, Redlands 92373