In Los Angeles, the Greenbar Distillery is producing sustainable, organic, and local spirits made with Angelenos in mind.
Sustainable spirits are on the rise.
Last year Moët Hennesy announced a €20 million sustainability research center to green its sourcing and production. France is so committed to sustainability that it estimates by 2025, 100 percent of winemakers in Bordeaux—the wine capital of the world—will be certified organic, sustainable, or well on their way. Leonardo DiCaprio recently invested in Champagne Telmont as the legacy brand increases its sustainability commitments. And the Cameron Diaz co-founded wine brand Avaline recently announced a partnership with a sustainable winery in France for its Pinot Noir launched last October.
In Mexico, agave-based spirits tequila, mezcal, and bacanora are prioritizing sustainable heritage methods. Celebrities are diving in to promote the trend; Eva Mendes and Kendall Jenner both have sustainable tequila brands, and Breaking Bad co-stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul recently launched Dos Hombres sustainable mezcal.
Here in the U.S., sustainability efforts are on the rise, too. Whisky brand Maker’s Mark recently earned B Corp status for its efforts to produce a sustainable and socially responsible whisky. The Northern California wine industry is also booming with organic vineyards and sustainable production methods in line with the state’s commitments to organic agriculture.
Change is happening in Southern California, too, at Greenbar Distillery, the first distillery in Los Angeles since Prohibition. The company makes a large range of organic spirits, most recently adding organic canned cocktails, including non-alcoholic options. We caught up with Litty Mathew, co-founder of Greenbar Distillery to discuss the company, why organic spirits matter, and how the company is giving back.
This article is edited for length and clarity.
Ethos: Why organic spirits?
LM: We didn’t start out using organic ingredients. In the summer and fall of 2007, we began to notice that some batches started to taste different even though we used the same ingredients from the same farmers in similar proportions to make identical spirits. Some of the flavors were way too strong and forced us to remake the batches.
After triple-checking our records and realizing that it was the ingredients that were responsible for the strong taste, we contacted the farm to find out what was going on. It turned out they had just changed some of their land to organic farming and we were getting the first organic harvests. They told us these healthier, heartier plants produced more aroma and flavor for their own survival. We definitely noticed!
Luckily, we recognized it for what it really was—our key to making better, more flavorful spirits for our customers to enjoy. We soon converted our whole company to all organic ingredients and have never looked back.
The benefit of drinking organic comes down to great flavor. The larger benefit is by choosing organic farming, we help better sustain the land, water, air, and the people who grow our ingredients.
Ethos: How is Greenbar able to hold its own in such a competitive category?
LM: Although we’re a small company, our approach to creating flavorful spirits and nonalcoholic drinks resonates with buyers and we are deeply appreciative of their support. When you open something we make, there’s no need to explain the flavor. What we make tastes good. And that’s what matters to us.
Ethos: What’s Los Angeles like as a base for a distillery?
LM: Greenbar couldn’t exist anywhere else. Not only do we rely on Southern California’s fresh produce, but we’re also part of the region’s multicultural fabric and are often inspired by the city we love (that’s why there’s a heart on every bottle).
In fact, we created Greenbar Bright Gin to express our love for Los Angeles’ immigrant restaurants. Eating fresh mint at the Armenian sandwich shop; drinking lapsang souchong tea at our favorite Sichuan restaurant; the Indian spices in Mexican torta fillings—this is how Angelenos eat. The rich culture of Los Angeles’ landscape is what inspired us to make the Bright Gin along with our other LA-inspired spirits and canned cocktails.
Ethos: You plant trees with every purchase. Why is this an important program for Greenbar?
LM: Since 2008, we have helped plant a million trees in Central American rainforests. Every time you buy one of our bottles or a flat of our cans, we plant a tree for you. What does this amount to? Specifically, it means that by simply purchasing Greenbar products, imbibers are directly contributing to erasing the carbon footprint of 17,394,140 Americans for a day; or erasing the carbon footprint of everyone in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston for a day; or taking 55,083,940 cars off the road for a day.
Ethos: Ahead of Earth Day, you announced you’d planted a million trees. How does that milestone feel?
LM: We’ve been helping plant trees through our wonderful partners, Sustainable Harvest International, since 2008, so it has been a steady, unwavering mission. We help plant trees in Central America where trees grow fast and act like the world’s lungs. It feels wonderful to know that a positive, small act can lead to a big stride in sustainability.
Ethos: What’s next for the brand?
LM: To keep making delicious drinks for customers. There’s always something up our sleeve!