For quite a long time, New York was where the cocktail action was. Now, though, an ambitious breed of spirits and cocktail-centric entrepreneurs have chosen L.A. — whether by birth or choice — as their home base. Why hang your hat in Los Angeles? Louis Anderman of Miracle Mile Bitters sums it up well when he says, "Community. It's not just that we have fantastically talented and innovative bartenders working everywhere from local watering holes to four-star restaurants, but there's an incredible love for the craft and community, and a real effort to support one another, and on continuing education."
That sense of community allows everyone from hobbyists to winemakers to neophyte distillers to take the necessary risks with their businesses, made all the easier thanks to a welcoming and appreciative cocktail community. Here's a round-up of some of the city's best and brightest (in alphabetical order, no favorites here).
Louis Anderman, Miracle Miles Bitters
"Honestly, I never planned to start a business," says Louis Anderman, "I was just a booze nerd with a hobby." Many visits to the Barkeeper led to a friendship with owner Joe Keeper, who offered to sell Anderman's bitters in the shop.
As Anderman recalls, "After a few months selling just a couple of flavors at Barkeeper, it picked up a momentum where it was go pro, or go home. As I started to meet more and more bartenders, they would often say, "Oh, YOU'RE that guy", and Brady Weise from 1886 told me that I was becoming a 'mystery cult figure' among L.A. bartenders. When I became a part of the community, I loved how they would both support and inspire me."
Despite home base being Los Angeles, Anderman has seen his bitters cropping up all over the world. (Bartender and friend Paul Sanguinetti took several bottles to Bar Trench in Tokyo.) And he has become the go-to guy to make signature bitters for local bartenders, including Hello Cari bitters for Cari Hah and Ginger Twin bitters for redheaded bartending pals Kiowa Brian and Karen Grill.
Carter and Courtney Reum, VEEV Spirits
The Reums aren't locals, but L.A. is where they want to be. They chose L.A. as their home base because "it is a city that has launched a lot of great businesses and has national attention. We're able to do a lot of local activations, but produce a national reach." Beyond the pure business aspect, the Reums note that "we have access to fresh ingredients year round and there are so many great mixology accounts that really care about the cocktail and the ingredients that they use."
Mark Gold, Seth Gold, and Robert Herzig, Selvarey Rums
The Golds (local boys) and brother-in-law Herzig (originally from Canada) became mesmerized by the sugar cane spirit. "My brother Mark was teaching and writing in South America," says Seth Gold, "and he got distracted by rum. He brought back some rum to L.A. We started to get very interested in cocktails and spirits and we got the idea of making a rum."
While the rum itself is made in Panama by rum legend Don Pancho Fernandez, the business is firmly rooted in California, where all of them choose to live. They wanted to launch their brand here and work from here. And they are certainly aware of the power of the L.A. cocktail community. L.A. is very tequila and whiskey oriented, but the enthusiasm for other spirits grows each day. "Because of the cocktail movement, people are open to it. Clearly, bartenders are looking to embrace better products in general. In the more sophisticated places and the simpler places, we have had an overwhelmingly positive response."
Alex Russan, Alexander Jules Sherries
Alex Russan isn't a winemaker per se, but more of a negotiant, which means he sources the best grapes he can find, then blends them for his own bottlings. In this case, though, Russan is a sherry negotiant and that means his job is "finding excellent soleras [blends of various aged sherries] in great bodegas, tasting each barrel in the solera, often dozens, making my mark in chalk as I encounter barrels I feel have the most complexity, elegance and depth, and producing bottlings from blends of the barrels that I select in a given solera."
Russan was born and raised on the Westside, so leaving L.A. never crossed his mind. He loves this town and he sees an opportunity to get out the sherry message here because there are few sherry ambassadors in the city. While he started his business back in 2012, when sherry was just becoming a major player on the cocktail scene, he now finds that it is being wholly embraced as a cocktail ingredient.
"I believe what excites bartenders about sherry as a unique cocktail ingredient is something, of course, unique in the wines themselves — their saline and umami character — probably the two least common of the five tastes found in alcoholic beverages (sweet, acidic and bitter being the other three). Like a pinch of salt in cookie dough — these two flavors excite more areas on your tongue than would otherwise be excited, broadening and livening the drink and balancing acidity and sweetness."
Fausto Zapata, El Silencio Mezcal
Fausto Zapata, owner of El Silencio mezcal and a local resident, wanted Los Angeles to be the launching point for his brand. Zapata has always been a lover of mezcal. As he says, "Mezcal has always been my drink of choice. And from as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to launch my own label. It's very similar to the way someone has a deep passion to create a wine label. So personally, this was an opportunity to fulfill this vision. Why now? Because the moment is ripe to do so. It truly is the time for mezcal."
Zapata's mezcal blends three different agave species from the town of San Balthazar. It's double-distilled and shows hints of citrus and spice and a mezcal smokiness. As enthusiasm for mezcal has grown exponentially in L.A., Zapata has found bartender fans in locales across town.
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Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History." Her book "The 12 Bottle Bar," co-written with David Solmonson, was released on July 29. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.