By Angela Rose | Apr 12, 2020
Spirits and canned cocktails
Now in its 15th year of operation, L.A.'s first post-Prohibition distillery was inspired by a "home hobby gone wild," Mathew says. Melkon Khosrovian, Mathew's husband and co-founder, set out to make an infused spirit that she could enjoy at family gatherings.
"I wasn't much of a straight spirits drinker," Mathew continues. "By watching the way that I cooked, with fresh ingredients, layering flavors, tasting, and adjusting, he became obsessed with using the flavor of real food in his infusions. Once he deemed his concoctions done, he'd pour them into pretty bottles with gorgeous labels he'd designed and off we'd go to family events with bottles in hand."
The infusions were a decided hit, with cousins stealing bottles and friends calling to place orders. "Then people we didn't even know started calling our home to ask for our spirits," Mathew says. "It soon got out of hand and our choice became clear. Either unlist our phone number or go into business."
It was an easy decision, Mathew notes, with the couple investing $50,000 in savings to facilitate rental of a 2,000-square-foot unit in a commercial park where they infused and packaged spirits to sell to area restaurants and stores. "When we got to 50 accounts, we contacted a distributor to represent us," Mathew says. "We didn't take any salary for the first three years. After the first year, we showed our business plan to potential investors, including friends and family."
Today, Greenbar Distillery produces the largest portfolio of organic craft spirits in the world, with more than 24 products. "Organic produce contains more flavonoids, which contribute to deeper flavor and higher antioxidants, which preserve flavor," Mathew says of the couple's decision to go organic in 2008. "We've put our spin on extracting and capturing clean, rich flavors from organic ingredients simply because they taste better."
The distillery's offerings included bitters, gin, rum, liqueur, tequila, whiskey, and vodka, along with canned spritz cocktails introduced in 2019. "They're an American take on the traditional Italian aperitif," Mathew explains. "Bubbly, slightly sweet with a bitter backbone, these ready-to-drink cocktails come in three varieties, offer huge flavor, low alcohol, are USDA-certified organic, gluten-free, and, most importantly, deliver the depth, balance, and elegance that craft cocktail fans crave."
Everything Greenbar produces is made in small batches from complex recipes. "They're made by hand with real ingredients," Mathew adds. "Take our Greenbar TRU Lemon Vodka, for example. We zest 2,000 fresh organic lemons per batch of 1,000 gallons. We believe this makes all the difference when it comes to delivering real flavors that remind us of food along with a smooth, balanced spirit perfect for cocktails."
The distillery's products are available for consumer purchase online and at select retailers in California, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas. They're also available wholesale to bars and restaurants nationwide.
Challenges: "Cash flow, employees, marketing," Mathew says, "but we also have challenges specific to California. Did you know that we can't sell our handcrafted liquor to the public even at the distillery? Wineries and breweries can. It's unfair and a hurdle to connecting with our fans. It's a burden that puts us at a competitive disadvantage."
Opportunities: Mathew says that canned cocktails are a big opportunity because that segment of the beverage industry "is exploding, and we're at the forefront of it. Due to the immediate popularity of our spritz, we have committed to rolling out two new canned cocktail product lines [later this year]." These lines will include canned non-alcoholic bitters and soda along with canned highballs.
"Up until now, about 80 percent of our business was to on-premise clients and bartenders," Mathew continues. "With these canned beverages, we have expanded our reach directly to the consumer. And the new product lines will be available nationwide through our exclusive partnership with Whole Foods, resulting in consumer visibility that we have never had before, which is truly exciting."
Needs: "We like a certain amount of control in our manufacturing," Mathew says. "That takes a significant investment in equipment and manpower. We're extremely lucky to have great know-how in-house. That goes a long way."