Showing posts from March, 2017

A true speakeasy... somewhere


Watch Out: Jason Riley WILL fuck with you

There are two men behind the bar of the tasting room at J. Riley Distillery. These are manly men. Think full beards, bellies, arms that could squeeze the life out of a water buffalo- precisely who you'd want on your side in a fight. The bigger, dark-haired one breaks free from joking with customers and I introduce myself. My first mistake is asking if either of them is J. Riley.

"He's not here. I'm Steve and this is Doug," the big guys says, pointing at his gray-haired business partner. Something is clearly amusing these two, but I'm a little slow. No problem, we move on to the whiskeys, and there's a bunch.

"Steve" lines the bottles up on the bar: 1775 Whiskey, Jeremiah Riley Bourbon, Cask Strength Bourbon, and the recent-award-winning California Clear White Whiskey (sure enough, a bronze medal hangs around its neck).

In order: the 1775 is J. Riley's rye -21% rye, 75% yellow corn, and 4% barley mash- aged in bourbon barrels. It is sour in …

Tango Room and Langer's Deli

Few two places can be as different from each other as The Tango Room Bar (or "& Bar" as they put it) and Langer's Deli. It's fitting that they are next door to each other. You can knock back as many three dollar drinks as you can handle, then stumble over for a Langer's #19 pastrami sandwich.

Langer's consistently tops most accounts of best Deli in LA. I was embarrassed I have lived here almost nine years and have never tried it. When my friend John and I were on one of our food adventures this past Saturday, we decided it was time. But first, a quick stop at the Tango Room.

You could be forgiven for initially thinking the Tango Room is an add-on to Langer's a-la the Kibbitz Room at Canter's. As soon as you walk through the curtained doorway, and your eye's adjust, you will realize how unrelated they are. I don't know if I should have been surprised that every bar stool was taken on this gorgeous afternoon at 3pm. The Westlake neighborhoo…

Bar Notes: Have you been to Prince O' Whales?

The Prince O' Whales ("P-O-Dubs" to the locals) has been a mainstay on Playa del Rey's modest bar row for just about forever. Rochelle has been bartending there for as long as I've been going there, about five years. It's a tie for first thing you'll notice about her: beautiful green eyes and her no-nonsense running of the place. Those eyes light up when talking about food, and sometimes she'll let slip a little gossip about which of the regulars did what to another. But God help you if you even so much as think about violating the sanctity of the bar.  On the night I'm in, she tells me they had to put extra security at the back door, because of kids sneaking in over the patio fence. Ridiculous.

I show up around 7:30pm, and there's a large group standing around several tables pushed together in the bar to the right. One of the trademark features of POW is that it is actually comprised of two bars (and back patio), connected by a covered court…


If you want to find Kalifornia Distilleries, just look for the long line of Girl Scouts and their mothers. Ok, I can explain. Kalifornia Distilleries sits in the back of a nondescript office park in Temecula, CA. Around the corner is the local Girl Scouts headquarters. My visit was on the last day these little hustlers in training could return their unsold boxes of cookies. Mystery solved.

Billy Tiller is proud of his whiskey-making heritage. He traces it back to at least 1780, when his ancestors left Cork, Ireland for the less-famished shores of Virginia. The Navy brought Billy's father, plain old Bill, out to San Diego. When Bill retired, and shortly after Billy took early leave from the Sheriff's Department, they decided to get back to their family's roots and start cooking whiskey.

Billy greets me in the minimally-decorated tasting room and takes me back to the stills. He and his dad's service animals - a pair of lunking, loving German Shepherds named Cricket and …

When a Liqueur may be a Milkshake: the Curious Case of Coffee'tini

I sit down with Casey and a couple of his pals at a makeshift tasting room at his California Spirits Company in San Marcos. He's pouring samples of Proffenberger Lemoncello (surprisingly not too lemony), Malahat Straight Bourbon (very tasty) and a U4ik vodka  (euphoric, get it?) that I learn is made from three varietals each of red and white grapes. It comes to the distillers as a "low wine," or wine that is first distilled at the winery, to 95% alcohol.

Then we get to California Spirit's own Coffee'tini. Oh my God - hellohyperglycemia. You could say this stuff is sweet. Moreover,  I'm impressed with the creaminess of it.  And although it's made from rum (Casey's own white Innovo), milk, coffee and (duh) sugar, some strange trick of memory-association takes me back to childhood milkshakes. The dilemma with drinking a chilled shot of Coffee'tini, of course, will be familiar to anyone who has ordered a small ice cream cone. It's not nearly enou…

Perfect Soul Keeps It Pouring

There's no point in telling Jackson you just want a splash of anything. Jackson, owner-operator of Perfect Soul Whiskey in San Marcos, CA,  is a full pour kinda guy. As well he should be. His whiskey and rum are fittingly delicious. I got to try them on their own before Jackson channeled his best Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

 For his whiskey -aged anywhere from 3 weeks to three years in five-gallon barrels- Jackson made a deceptively simple iced coffee drink, just a pinch of sugar. McDonalds could learn a thing or two.

Jackson mixed the rum with brown sugar simple syrup, and generous squeezes of lime and orange. It was amazing, and I'm not even a citrus guy. Jackson told me he came up with this one on the spot for a local bar carrying the rum. This guy's got serious talent.

There's no pretentiousness when it comes to layout of the joint. It's purely function over aesthetics (though reason for the bathtub on a stage was lost on me).

The still was disassembled and no bat…

Side Note on Misadventure Vodka; or, I fucking love these guys!

First of all, let me just say: if you don't think what these three dudes are doing with unsold bread is stupid amazing, something is seriously wrong with you.

Allow me to set the scene: tiny manufacturing space in the middle of nowhere North San Diego Country aka San Marcos. Purpose of my visit is to check out The California Spirits Company. I step immediately onto a production floor where Casey the proprietor is behind the wheel of a fork lift (Raising a barrel drum on a palette to about twenty feet in the air, because "gravity works just as well as a pump." I can't tell if he's kidding). This place is so small, the five other people in there make it seem jam-packed.

Casey jumps down and introduces himself. Only a few words are exchanged -why I'm there, where I had come from, Casey basically making sure I'm not a spy out to steal his potions- before he's back work. Casey not only distills his own rum and (excellent) liqueurs, but he also rents his f…

Rob Rubens Distilling - Served by a Number, Not a Name

I had driven by Rob Rubens Distilling for months without knowing it was there. Every now and again, I'd catch a glimpse of the old-timey lightbulb-lettered sign,"Rubens," stuck onto the side of a red-brick, single-story building in the "industrial" section of El Segundo. I may go a bit "air-quote" crazy here, because "branding" agencies and "lifestyle" bakeries had been sprouting along this stretch of El Segundo Blvd for some time. So the sign -an artifact from some imagined past- made perfect sense.

I step inside and am greeted by the whir of some beautiful machinery. Rob Rubens is a brewery and distillery, so I won't know exactly what I'm looking at until I take the tour (first Fridays of every month). But all the pipework and big Buddha-belly of a boiler are shiny and clean and humming away contently. I imagine the molecules of ethanol inside bouncing around happy to know their fate is in the hands of a creator so consci…