6 spirits from Southern California for summer sipping

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Looking for something a bit stronger? So is the rest of America. Craft distilleries are growing like weeds across the country. It seems nowadays, we can try unique spirits from every city in the U.S. But how about giving your cocktail some California pride by trying liquor from your own backyard, either dreamed up here or actualy distilled in L.A.?

Loft and Bear Vodka Loft and Bear is distilled by Paul Ryan, one of the youngest commercial distillery owners in the country. His distillery, Young State America, is located in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, where ultra-premium vodka is made in small batches. “YSA” characterizes its vodka by its “rich, sweet aroma” and “silky-smooth mouth feel.” Vodka is often marked as flavorless, but Ryan and Young State America claim the use of soft winter wheat grains gives their vodka a distinct flavor that is understated, light and clean.

Mezcal El Silencio Fausto Zapata and Vicente Cisneros founded Mezcal El Silencio in order to showcase their love for the artisanal spirit of their native Mexico. The mezcal is handcrafted in small batches in Oaxaca with the traditional methods of the region. They use a blend of 100% wild agave plants that are 10 to 12 years old and double-distill the premium young mezcal to 40% alcohol-by-volume. They call their spirit complex and smokey with a body that is smooth and elegant.

Cutlers’ 33 Straight Bourbon Whiskey Distilled in Santa Barbara, Cutlers’ 33 is a limited release, small-batch whiskey that celebrates the end of American Prohibition in 1933. (Ian Cutler, the founder of Cutlers’ Artisan Distillery, is the great-grandson of a Prohibition-era bootlegger.) Cutlers’ Artisan Distillery combines barrels that are aged for 6 years in a private rick-house in the American heartland. Cutlers’ calls its 33 whiskey “incredibly smooth” with notes of honeycomb, vanilla, oak, caramel and barbecue smoke.


Selvarey Rum Selvarey Rum says it is trying to refine the image of rum around the world. Co-founded in Los Angeles by brothers Marc and Seth Gold, their brother-in-law Robert Herzig and singer-songwriter Bruno Mars, the company features two varieties of rum, Selvarey White and Selvarey Cacao, both crafted by master blender Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez in the jungles of Panama. The White is a blend of three- and five-year rums aged in bourbon casks, while the Cacao is a five-year rum infused with chocolate from Panama.

TRU Organic Gin Greenbar Craft Distillery is located in the heart of Los Angeles, where the owners craft TRU Organic Gin. Husband-and-wife team Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew believe organics hold the key to better-tasting spirits. Greenbar’s gin is created with 100% organic and all-natural ingredients, 14 individual botanicals, plus a 16th-century technique that pre-dates double-distillation and takes a full two months to make. TRU is amber in color, which is unconventional for most gin varieties. To top it off, the company uses lightweight bottles, 100% recycled labels and plants a tree for every bottle sold.

Silver Lightning Moonshine For a more “dangerous” drink, there’s Silver Lightning. This moonshine is crafted by Ascendant Spirits, located in Buellton outside of Santa Barbara. Ascendant’s liquors are distilled in small batches, and the distillery offers a tasting room that is open to the public. Each bottle uses 100% American yellow corn for the spirit and undergoes a filtration process that yields a crystal-clear product. Its flavor has been likened to kettle corn and cornbread from a skillet, with aromas of pepper and dried pear.