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FOOD + DRINK

GreenBar Collective

We tour the LA distillery home to the world's largest collection of organic spirits

by Julie Wolfson
on 24 September 2012
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Cocktail enthusiasts gave a collective cheer when word got out that GreenBar Collective—the LA-based brand known for its collection of top-notch organic licquors and sustainably-crafted spirits—was moving into bigger digs. With more space to accommodate its growing menu of infused vodkas, complex gins and spiced rums (the only exception being the IXÁ tequila, which is not made in-house, but in Tequila, Mexico, in order to be considered a "true" tequila), GreenBar is expanding its collection and, in the process, introducing more customers to the virtues of organic libation.

Owners Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew weren't always concerned with organic ingredients. In 2004, the duo began producing homemade spirits using local produce. When their drinks started winning awards, they did some research. Soon, they discovered that many of the farmers they shopped with had transitioned from conventional to organic farming practices, which yielded more flavorful produce—and, in turn, more flavorful booze.

Today, the company works exclusively with organic ingredients for a simple reason: "They taste better,"explains Khosrovian, who recently took us on a tour of the new-and-improved GreenBar Collective Distillery in downtown LA. "They have higher levels of aroma and flavor because that is their natural defense against bugs eating them," he said. "As a result, since our produce tastes better, we can make better tasting spirits with them."

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The new distillery features a custom-designed still made by Kentucky company Vendome Copper, America’s oldest operating still-maker. "We now make the largest quantity of actual infused spirits," says Khosrovian. "We take real things you eat and derive flavor from them through maceration. That's what most of our tanks are for. We steep tons of things—from fresh produce like citrus, to dried things like herbs and spices, over a matter of weeks or months as a way of connecting real ingredients and real, deep flavor."

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GreenBar's ever expanding spirits menu—they currently have 15 and are working toward another five new varieties—currently includes TRU vodkas made with American-grown wheat, purified water and hand-processed ingredients like whole bourbon vanilla beans and hand-zested organic lemons. Rums are made from organic molasses and sugarcane through a micro-oxygenation technique borrowed from winemakers. For the spiced rum, allspice, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and vanilla are hand-crushed and mixed with California orange peel. Hibiscus, orange, and jasmine "FruitLab" liqueurs are crafted from whole fruits, flowers and cane sugar. Khosrovian is particularly eager to launch a new Slow Hand whiskey, which will be available later this year.

When it comes to the environmental considerations of their cocktails, Khosrovian points out a fairly significant claim that drinking two ounces of a GreenBar spirit can make someone carbon-negative for the day. "We cut out as much waste as we could," Khosrovian explains. "Our bottle is lightweight. We use no plastic. The carbon footprint of our bottles is two kilos. Each tree we plant absorbs 790 kilos of CO2, which makes our spirits the most carbon negative product in the world."

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Furthering their eco-friendly credentials, Khosrovian and Mathew have implemented the One Bottle One Tree program, which plants a tree for every bottle sold—all of which are packaged in environmentally-friendly materials. Proceeds go to benefit Sustainable Harvest International, which provides coffee and cacao farmers in South America with shade trees for their crops. So far, the program has planted a whopping 189,000 trees.

In addition to its carbon-negative libations and tree-planting initiative, GreenBar works with real bartenders on BarKeep, its collection of sustainably made bitters. "Every year or two, we ask bartenders to send us their best examples of bar-made bitters," Khosrovian says. "We put them through a double-blind test to see how they actually work in cocktails, so that they don't disappear in the drink. Then we invite a bunch of their peers, who are also bartenders, to help pick the winner."

To learn more about the distillery's spirits, visit the GreenBar Collective website.

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