With the popularity of craft cocktails in the early 2000s came a boom of craft distillers as bartenders and consumers searched for a variety of unique spirits. But while craft distilleries continue to proliferate throughout California, L.A. is still growing its own numbers. We have Greenbar Distillery downtown and…yup, that was it. Until Paul Ryan, owner of small-batch distillery Young State America (YSA) and one of the youngest master distillers in the country, moved here from Washington D.C. three years ago and took up a commercial loft in the Factory Place Arts Complex. It was there he created and produced Loft & Bear Vodka in 2013.
However, unlike Greenbar, you can’t schedule a tour of Ryan’s distillery—it is just a loft. YSA is still a very small operation after all, only capable of putting out 100 cases (600 bottles) in a month; and that’s at Ryan’s full production (with no social life). Ryan cooks the mash and ferments it in one corner of the loft, and then takes about 10 steps to the right and distills his vodka four times in the still.
Along the wall nearest the front door is his “bottling facility” where he bottles the vodka one bottle at a time. “I spend a lot of nights just rinsing out my bottles, lining them up and just going one by one. It goes pretty fast. One bottle will fill up in 10 seconds,” he said. Past the stack of large plastic containers of grain toward the back part of the loft is Ryan’s office, dressing area, and “game room.” Since it’s a commercial space, Ryan says he doesn’t live there but he does spend many a late night assembling his product.
It’s thrilling to think that from out of this unassuming downtown loft comes a premium vodka that has won several awards, like the silver medal at the 2013 New York International Spirits Competition and the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition in the vodka category, to name a few. L&B has been described as the “whiskey drinker’s vodka,” very smooth but with a rich aroma. “The biggest thing for me is I wanted it to reflect how I drink it myself, which is generally straight, on the rocks, with a little bit of lime,” he said.
Currently, Loft & Bear Vodka is only available in Los Angeles but Ryan plans to distribute it in New York, Miami, and Washington, D.C., later this year. Fortunately the company is growing and looking to move to a larger facility. “I’m looking towards the next stage of a bigger operation at the end of the year,” Ryan said. “We already got the [1,300-liter] still on its way. I’m hoping to do 2,000 cases a month.”
You can find Loft & Bear now at K&L Wines and Bar Keeper ,or behind the bar at places like Bacö Mercat, Crustacean, and Zinc. To party with the vodka, check out the Theatre at Ace Hotel’s Vault Series where, starting Friday, September 19, ‘80s hits like Ghostbusters and Sixteen Candles will be screened monthly and Loft & Bear will be served up in specialty cocktails.