Surely there are galleries, studios and warehouses to be found in the Arts District, but these days it's the food and drinks — not necessarily the art — that's drawing crowds to the industrial neighborhood just west of the L.A. River. The area is full of great coffee, excellent bread, pasta, pizza, wine, cocktails and just about every Instagram-friendly food group you can name in between.
It's already become a hub for craft beer — there's Mumford Brewing, Boomtown and Arts District Brewing Co., each one newer than the next — and now it appears another boozy industry is taking hold: distilleries. Greenbar Collective has been open for several years at the southern tip of the Arts District, and in recent weeks it's been joined by the Spirit Guild, which offers some intoxicating competition.
The Spirit Guild's tasting room and distillery is located in the heart of the action, two doors down from Blue Bottle Coffee (R.I.P. Handsome Coffee Roasters), and it's now open Wednesday through Sunday for drop-in tastings of its two current offerings, Vapid Vodka and Astral Pacific Gin.
The modern space is beautiful, with large wooden double doors and two sets of stained glass windows, one on each side of the entrance. Multicolored light filters into the front room of the distillery, which is divided into a small-scale retail area on one side and a bar and tasting area on the other.
Stand under the open bow-truss ceiling and look back into the distillery proper, and you might just be offered a pour by Miller Duvall, the mastermind behind this uniquely Californian, family-owned operation. The Spirit Guild distills entirely from local clementines, and instead of wiping out all of that natural flavor, which is the goal of most vodka producers, head distiller Morgan Mclachlan lets the clementines speak (or rather, juice) for themselves. The effect is lovely, softening the taste of the vodka with a touch of citrus but no hint of anything artificial.
The choice to use clementines was a pointed one. Duvall comes from a family of farmers, and they grow a substantial amount of clementines on their land near Bakersfield. The gin, named Astral Pacific, comes from the same citrus-y clementine base but then receives the necessary jolt of botanicals: mostly juniper, as is the case with all gin.
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It's complemented by classic additions of coriander, angelica and citrus. But they also take inspiration from the region: The gin is derived from indigenous juniper from the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County, and the pink peppercorns are found in spades in Echo Park, where Duvall makes his home.
The spice is particularly noticeable on the palate, as bright in flavor as it is in color, adding a hit of sharp contrast to the citrus and herb notes. The gin is a worthy match for cocktails and also an interesting sip on its own, in a big glass with a big ice cube or in a tiny flute as a sample in the tasting room. In the future, Duvall says, he plans to play around with more local produce, to possibly experiment with some liqueurs and oak barrels.
But for now, sipping from a flute of locally inspired gin, with red and blue light streaming through the stained glass windows, the experience at the Spirit Guild comes pretty close to art — even if it's far from the sculptures and paintings that the Arts District brings to mind.
586 Mateo St., downtown; (213) 613-1498; thespiritguild.com. Wed.-Sun., noon-6 p.m.