LA Bar Boasts Serving Only California Spirits

fromKQED

Foodies are obsessed with all things local and artisanal. But as the trend works through its inevitable life cycle, a bar manager in a hip East Los Angeles neighborhood is touting a cocktail program based entirely on California-produced spirits.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And this next story is for those who may be searching for a drink. You've heard of the local food movement where people try to buy food from close to home. You've heard of the micro brewing movement where people turn away from Bud Light, say, in favor of beer brands made in small batches. The local booze movement may marry the two. At least one restaurant in Los Angeles boasts a bar stocked with liquor produced entirely in California.

Rachel Myrow of member station KQED dropped by the bar - purely for reporting purposes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND CONVERSATIONS)

RACHEL MYROW, BYLINE: Nearly all the food at Mohawk Bend, a gastro-pub in L.A., comes from California; all the 72 beers on tap do and the wines, and the spirits. Bartender Erika England spends a lot of time answering the same questions over and over again.

ERIKA ENGLAND: People come in. They want, you know, Stoli, they want Kettle One or Jack Daniels. So we have to kind of explain to them that here's our program, here's why we do it. And also, here's something that you might like from California instead.

MYROW: There are close to 90 different local spirits to choose from. But classic cocktails often require non-local ingredients. Keith Taylor developed the bar program for Mohawk Bend. I asked him how he would approximate a Negroni, an aperitif made with gin, sweet vermouth and bitters – specifically Campari.

KEITH TAYLOR: Obviously, we can't have Campari. It's from Italy. But what we do have is a Hibiscus Liqueur made by Modern Spirits. So we'll tell them that we're going to do - we call it a California Negroni. You know, it's the same-same but different.

MYROW: Out on the patio, Holly Vesecky sips a Thai Town Mule. It's a Mohawk Bend take on the Moscow Mule, made with Hangar One Vodka from Alameda, homemade ginger beer, lemongrass and fresh kaffir lime juice.

HOLLY VESECKY: I'm really suspicious because often these things don't taste that great, and this is divine.

MYROW: Just a decade ago, it would not have been possible for a bar to boast that all its spirits came from California. Now there are 40 distilleries in the state, a number that leads the nation, according to the American Distilling Institute. And yet, the bar program at Mohawk Bend appears to be one of a kind.

DAVE DRISCOLL: I've been to other bars where they'll have nights like that. Maybe like - or like a weekend or a happy hour.

MYROW: Dave Driscoll is a spirits buyer for K&L, an alcohol retailer based in Northern California. Driscoll says it's increasingly feasible to sell only California spirits, but he doubts there's much demand for it.

DRISCOLL: Why would I pay $60 for a one-year-old California whiskey when I can pay $20 for a 10-year old Kentucky Bourbon? And, you know, I don't always have the answer to that question.

MYROW: One San Francisco bartender famous for locally sourced ingredients is Thad Vogler. He established the cocktail programs at a number of nationally regarded bars in the Bay Area. But Vogler says you would give up a lot of good booze by religiously insisting on local only.

THAD VOGLER: A lot of the great spirits are limited to certain producing areas. So true Piscos, true tequilas, true Armagnacs, true cognacs, true Scotches - a lot, yeah.

MYROW: At his own Bar Agricole, Vogler prefers to celebrate individual products he considers world class.

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MYROW: To demonstrate, he makes a drink with a brandy from Marian Farms in Fresno and a rum made by St. George in Alameda.

VOGLER: It's a brandy milk punch, which is a great holiday drink. It's a lot like a very, very, very fresh eggnog.

MYROW: The way Vogler sees it, whatever your cocktail philosophy, the proof of its utility is in the glass.

(SOUNDBITE OF POURING)

VOGLER: There you go.

MYROW: For NPR News, I'm Rachael Myrow in San Francisco.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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