Liquor Aisle Insider: Mary Michiels of Almor Wine & Spirits

Where to get Zankou Chicken with your booze order

In this recurring series, your intrepid spirit reporter goes straight to the source—the spirits buyers from your favorite L.A. liquor stores—for the best deals, hidden gems and what bottle is THE one to have.

Almor Wine & Spirits on Sunset Boulevard has been a family-owned liquor store serving Hollywood for 59 years. It’s managed to battle big chain stores like BevMo by catering to customers’ needs in a small-town way; be it hunting down bottles customers discovered in restaurants, to offering a Zankou Chicken order pickups to go with the free delivery ($20 minimum). There’s even an Almor mascot, Oliver the friendliest Chihuahua ever, who greets you at the door.

Owner Mary Michiels, who bought her parents’ business in 1988, fosters the whole sense of community by being on a first-name basis with customers as well as looking to her staff for suggestions on what to carry. “I strongly believe in this group decision because this way my entire staff is familiar with the spirits we are selling,” said Michiels.

Hidden Gems:

Caledonia Barr Hill Gin, $36.99: “A great spirit from Vermont made with a touch of raw honey added just before bottling. The honey adds an unexpected floral nose and a subtle viscosity that’s a perfect foil for the bite of the juniper. With a splash of Cava and lemon juice, it would make a great French 75 for sipping on the patio.”

Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum, $29.99: “A blend of handpicked three- to five-year-old Floridian, Caribbean, and Central American rums which undergo a unique Solera blending process. The blonde is a wonderful surprise of citrus, vanilla, and almonds. Distinctly reminiscent of the Port and Sherry casks it’s aged in, it has a nice, bright acidity that mellows into a richness of coconut and cream. It’s great for sipping on the rocks with a twist and the unique aromas and flavors make for a great change-up for any rum-based cocktail.”

High West “The 36th Vote” Barreled Manhattan, $49.99: “With the ‘bar bottled cocktail’ craze in full swing, grabbing a bottle of the 36th for your home bar lets you get in on it without all the work. Made with two parts rye whiskey, one part sweet vermouth and two dashes of bitters this classic Manhattan is barreled in American White Oak barrels for 90 days before bottling, producing a wonderfully smooth, mellow, and perfectly integrated cocktail straight out of the bottle.”

Bang for Your Buck:

“Craft-made shrubs, syrups, and bitters add nearly unlimited depth, and complexity to your drinks for a very small investment. Local producers like Glossop’s Syrup ($12.95) from Los Angeles are making wonderful concoctions like Smoked Sugar, Hibiscus Ginger, and Grapefruit Mint that can add fantastic variety to cocktails or even sodas.

“In a market that’s seen the prices of American whiskies soar, you can still get great bottles for great prices. Rittenhouse makes a rye that’s bottled in bond at 50 percent ABV and retails for $27. Buffalo Trace bourbon is another classic go-to that’s still in the same range at $25.

“Another example of locally produced spirits, the Ventura LimoncelloCompany makes delicious, authentic citrus liqueurs that can make a host of refreshing summer cocktails and a 375ml bottle retails for under $20.

Money No Object:

Del Maguey “Pechuga” Mezcal, $199: “A very limited production mezcal. During a third distillation, fruits, nuts, rice and a whole chicken breast–yes, a whole chicken breast–is placed into the distiller along with the mezcal. Said to balance the fruitiness, the chicken does add a great savory quality to the finished product that matches perfectly with the subtle smokiness.”