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 conscious of style.

Blue Corn is the name of the game at Rubens. #033 explained to me as she poured my tasting (I'll get to the identifier in a bit), their gin, vodka and whiskey start as a blue corn mash.  The three thimbles of clear liquid look identical. The whiskey is un-aged, so I guess it can be called Moonshine? (They call it "California Whiskey")

The blue corn gives each a slight sweetness. All three are smooth and easy to drink - not a hint of the burn that usually accompanies whiskey.  I take another sip of the whiskey and push my tastebuds to task. What do I taste? Because the whiskey spends no time in a barrel, any flavors are subtle. But that Number Thirty Three has already told me about the blue corn origins, so now I'm just thinking corn chips. Shit. Well, it's still pretty damn good. Even the gin isn't too perfumey (the best compliment I can muster for gin). I'm told it's flavored with juniper, lavender, chocolate and one other "secret ingredient." I've mixed up the order of my thimbles and finish what I think is the whiskey.

So about these Numbers. Once you find the tasting room tucked in the back, you will be greeted by two very friendly bartenders. For those of you that like to get to know your servers a bit, they are happy to share. But when it gets to learning their name, they proudly display their name-tags, #033 and #019 in this case, and explain that during Prohibition, bartenders were only identified by numbers (because even made-up names were too risky?). If you've never tried it, addressing someone by a number feels like a goof at first and then gets old fast. Welcome to your fetishistically authentic drinking experience, circa 2017.


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