LA DOWNTOWNER

Written by Rayna Jensen | Photographed by Rozette Rago

Downtown has long been the purveyor of specialty spirits — there’s the West Coast’s only baijiu bar at Peking Tavern, and virtually every tequila, mezcal, and sotol you can dream of at Las Perlas, and that’s just between two blocks. When it comes to crafting our own products, however, that’s fairly uncharted territory. But maybe not for long.

Young State America (YSA), a small-batch distillery located in a loft space above Factory Kitchen, is only the second distillery in Los Angeles since prohibition. YSA was founded in 2013 when owner Paul Ryan, one of the youngest commercial distillery owners in the country, moved here from Maryland to begin crafting his drink of choice. After a few months of hunting and couch surfing, things clicked: he had a business plan, a business partner, a place to live, and he had leased the loft that now houses his distillery. It was here that he created Loft and Bear Vodka.

“Sometimes people will be like ‘eh, it’s just vodka,’” says Karl Steuck, resident mixologist and head of business development, “but we’re showing you what vodka can be.”

“LA tends to be a market that people want to emulate,” Ryan says of ultimately settling on the Arts District. “People always want to know what’s going on in LA. Everyone comes out here with a dream, right?”

YSA runs its entire operation out of the 1,400 square foot space — the bottling, the tasting, the marketing, and the distilling, which all happens in a single copper still. Even at full capacity, it’s a very small operation, but that hasn’t stopped Loft and Bear from bringing home a few awards, like a gold medal at the 2014 MicroLiquor Spirit Awards, and a silver medal at the 2013 New York World Wine and Spirits Competition.

Loft and Bear is distilled from soft winter wheat, a variety of the grain usually used for baking. The low protein content makes it ideal for distillation — higher protein usually results in a less nuanced flavor profile. Like many good vodkas, Loft and Bear’s flavor is clean enough to serve as a solid foundation for a number of cocktails, but the spirit holds up in pretty much any iteration: chilled, mixed, over ice, even neat (especially neat).

“Anyone can make a good chilled vodka,” says Steuck, who came on board only after having tried Loft and Bear at the temperature where most vodkas are their least palatable — warm.

Even at room temperature, Loft and Bear drinks almost like a chardonnay: it has a creamy, buttery mouth feel, with notes of vanilla and the subtlest zing of lemon. It’s smoother than the average vodka, thanks to the soft winter wheat, and has a more substantial texture. Though vodka isn’t much of a sipping drink in this part of the world, it might be high time to make it one.

So where can you find this rare beast of a drink? For now, only in Los Angeles. Restaurants like Bestia and Zinc have it on their menu, and you can find bottles at K&L in Hollywood or at any local Whole Foods.

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