If you have never bathed your taste buds in the heaven that is lovingly crafted artisanal alcohol, then you simply have not lived. Whether you call it boutique, small-batch, or handcrafted, it all translates into complex, interesting, high-quality spirits that are the foundation of the cocktail culture that exists today. Here is a list of places where craft liquor lovers and mixologists go to find bottles of their old and new favorites.
Vendome Spirits & Wine
10600 Riverside Dr
North Hollywood, CA 91602
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you get in, you’ll find decent prices, an unstuffy, casual shopping atmosphere and delicious boutique spirits that you won’t find in average variety liquor stores. If you’re completely clueless about craft spirits, don’t fret, because this is the kind of place where the staff knows their stuff and are available to help you make the right choice. In addition to this location, there are two other independently-run locations in Studio City and Beverly Hills.
Try out Art in the Age “Root” Organic Liqueur. It’s a re-creation of an herbal remedy previously known as Root Tea back in the 1700’s. The liqueur is filled with lovely ingredients like sarsaparilla, sassafras, birch bark and other wild herbs and roots. Its complexity is only rivaled by its alcoholic potency (measured at a smooth yet hefty 40 percent).
1400 Vine St
Hollywood, CA 90028
Since 1970, K&L has been dedicated to providing the finest spirits, so be sure to take advantage of this expertise and try out the interesting top picks they have on offer. With the artisanal selections found at K&L and all the locations listed here, there’s no reason not to seek out and enjoy the unique finds that abound. “It’s a great time to be a maker and lover of craft spirits,” said Melkon Khosrovian, co-founder and spiritsmaker of Greenbar, LA’s first distillery since Prohibition.
Pick up a bottle of GRAND POPPY organic aperitive. As a California-inspired take on classic European aperitives, it’s one of the first New World amaros. It’s made by marrying the best of California’s bounty: citrus from their favorite Southern California farms, coastal herbs, berries discovered on their hikes and one very bitter flower, the California poppy. This beautiful culmination brings a new taste to cocktail lovers everywhere. The result is bittersweet with intense flavors of flowers, roots, herbs and citrus.
4935 McConnell Ave, Ste 21
Los Angeles, CA 90066
This is where you die and go to adult beverage heaven. It’s literally a warehouse stacked with a large selection of liquor from around the world. Customer service exceeds expectations here, with friendly staff members who walk the aisles offering their knowledgeable help.
Don’t miss Tapatio Tequila Blanco, a vibrant spirit with spicy agave flavors and a clean finish. It’s a brand that Pablo Moix of Old Lightning put on the shelves of select LA bars long before it reached the US market. Carlos Camarena and his family carry on 75 years of the Tequila Tapatio brand. They distill 100 percent estate-grown blue agaves are chosen and harvested only when fully ripe. Tapatio sets the bar for the old authentic flavor that is disappearing in modern tequilas.
3910 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Bar Keeper stocks a collection reflecting the ongoing evolution of the cocktail scene. They specialize in unique distilled spirits including difficult-to-find whiskeys, amari, liqueurs and modifiers. “The inventory is an ongoing collaboration between our personal palate, our customers and favorite mixologists,” says Bar Keeper. The amount of bitters they stock is a pretty neat feat (more than 150 of them). Thought of as “spices for cocktails,” bitters enhance and bring out a flavor in spirits. There is also a fantastic selection of glass and barware to browse, with vintage finds being of particular interest.
Chareau Aloe Liqueur is a fantastic new brand recently discovered at the 3rd Annual LA Food & Wine Festival. The first batch was bottled in April of this year. Says LA based founder Kurt Charron, “Until now it has only been available at select bars and restaurants, but we just bottled our second batch last week, and Bar Keeper in Silverlake is the first place where it will go on sale to the public.”
Chareau is an all-natural aloe liqueur craft distilled in small batches using fresh ingredients from a local farm, a recipe that is four years in the making. Charron hand-selects the ingredients from local farmers that he knows by name, and even drives many of the ingredients from the farm to the distillery (in the San Francisco Bay Area) himself. This delicate liqueur is refreshing and aromatic with notes of cucumber, melon, and mint. It can be served as a chilled aperitif, or mixed in a well-crafted cocktail.
2395 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039
The staff here wants to really get to know their customers so they can help them try new things and develop their own personal tastes. Silverlake Wine is known for having a great eye and palate for bringing in international varieties, with aperitifs and amaros a favorite find by some of LA’s top mixologists.
According to George Cossette, co-owner of Silverlake Wine, “Our spirits program is very much in line with our wine and beer selection process. Everything is tasted before it is approved, with the exception of some very limited and expensive rarities. The goal is to find the highest quality, artisanal products, with an eye toward value and authenticity. We skip the stuff you can get at the grocery store and try to keep a small, focused selection. There is always someone available, who can go through the process of finding the right pick for each customer. No snobbery or condescension here, just our best effort.”
Cossette recommends Domaine Labet Marcs du Jura 2002. Marc is essentially a brandy distilled from the skins and seeds that are left over after wine is made. The Italians call it Grappa but it is the same process. Marc is nearly impossible to find in the US. The Lebet Marcs du Jura is made in microscopic quantities and sells for the ridiculously low price of $45. It is brandy but carries the “rancio” or Sherry-like flavors that the wines of the Jura exhibit. This is not for everyone, but for someone who enjoys Jura wines, or is a seeker of arcane spirits, this will be an exciting find.
Cap N’ Cork
1674 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Talmadge Lowe, founder of Pharmacie (a full-service craft cocktail catering company), knows a thing or two about the fine art of crafting the perfect libation. He specializes in hand-crafted cocktails that are all his own original creations. Pharmacie’s stylish staff of experts utilizes specialty, house-made syrups, tinctures and shrubs as well as fresh squeezed juice and garnishes. Then, of course, there is the important task of selecting the appropriate spirit to bring it all together.
When it comes to an “insane beer and whiskey selection” he heads to Cap N’ Cork. Lowe says, “Their local and international beer selection is just awe-inspiring. And their whiskeys run from the recognizable stuff to completely off-the-radar bourbons, ryes and scotches.” He recommends a 25-year-old Rye Whiskey by Hirsch. It’s produced using column stills and aged in oak casks. The result is an intense, richly complex and aromatic whiskey.
Wally Wine & Spirits
2107 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Fan favorites have flocked to this green awning-lined institution since 1968 for their hard-to-find wines and spirits. Their expertise and selection keep people coming back for more.
Here, you can experience Om, the world’s first organic bottled cocktail. Organic vodka is already included inside its beautiful glass housing, so it can be enjoyed straight out of the bottle and poured over ice. The other ingredients include natural extracts and flavors, organic agave nectar and colors from fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s the perfect choice for immediate gratification, no cocktail-shaking skills required. Mixologists like to take this concoction to the next level by incorporating it into a cocktail recipe of their making.
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Joy Bitonio has the phrase “Joie de Vivre” tattooed on her shoulder, a reminder to enjoy life every single day. She has a voracious appetite for fun, adventure, food, good cocktails and works out like a madwoman to keep it all together. Check out her other articles on CBS L.A. She also covers fitness on Examiner. Follow her on Twitter.