by Jessie Setkus
THE EXPERT: Paul Ryan Elliot, Founder of YSA (Young State America) Distillery
PHOTOGRAPHED BY: JORDANA SHEARA
There are many classic forms of art: paintings, sculptures, musical compositions—they have been and continue to be highly regarded throughout time. Some pieces have been proudly displayed in museums for all to bask in their beauty, some have been repeatedly performed in concert halls for all to hear, and some have been placed in a tumbler over ice giving a perfect, savory flavor for all taste buds with every sip.
Paul Ryan Elliott is a true artist of his generation right down to his residency in Los Angeles’ Arts District. However, his tools are not the traditional paint brush, pencil, or musical instrument; it is bar ware, ice, and most importantly his vodka. Loft & Bear Artisanal Vodka is the masterpiece he has created, and he is no exception to the well-known pursuit of perfection artists are known for when striving to express their art. This smooth and creamy vodka is made to be simply enjoyed in a glass over ice to fully experience the pure flavors that have been masterfully crafted. When asked about the simplicity of the bottle’s design, Paul immediately says the product speaks for itself and does not want the label taking the spotlight from the flavors inside. If you want a taste of art at its purest form, come to LA and experience Loft & Bear. You’ll find its taste is nothing short of genius.
Paul Ryan Elliott: My venture started four to five years before the vodka craze. It took that much time to do the research, construct a solid business plan, and find an investor. That doesn’t even take into account the time it took to create the perfect formula. I consulted the advice of passionate home distillers and realized it was something I could do on my own. I learned through online forums and from personal mentors. It took two years to draw up my business plan and find the right investor, but ultimately the wealth of knowledge that I accumulated paved the way for me to find a foothold in the business of distilling.
Q: Where did you get the name Loft & Bear?
PRE: Loft & Bear merges two separate ideas. My vodka is distilled in a commercial loft space in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles—hence “Loft.” Also, my friends nicknamed me “Bear” since I can fall asleep anywhere—when I do, I look like a sleeping bear.
Q: Why did you choose to set up shop in the LA Arts District?
PRE: The Arts District is full of local and independent artists that are carving out their own places in the local scene. I consider my craft to be an alternate type of art form, so it made sense for me to work alongside and collaborate with like-minded artists.
Q: Why was vodka the first spirit you chose to distill?
PRE: I chose a spirit that I would be passionate about. I’ve always been a vodka drinker and decided that Loft & Bear would be a great product for my friends and I to consume.
Q: The flavor profile for Loft & Bear is pretty unique. How would you describe it?
PRE: Loft & Bear has a savory profile, derived from our use of soft winter wheat, which can only be sourced in certain parts of the country like Michigan and Northern California. This particular type of wheat is used in the production of baking flour and is lower in proteins, used as the preferred wheat for cakes, cookies, pastries, pie crusts and more.
With hints of full, floral sweet vanilla bean on the nose, Loft & Bear features mild, buttery smooth, understated wheat notes that are soft with a pleasant herbal flavor upon taste, and finishes with an elegant creaminess and whisper of anise.
PRE: Artisanal, for me, is all about the craft and handmade aspect. At maximum output, I can produce 100 cases per month at my current facility. Ultimately, I control every aspect of Loft & Bear’s production with my own two hands. This includes bottling, packaging and signing.
Q: Can you explain why Loft & Bear is designed to be a “whiskey drinker’s vodka”?
PRE: Whiskey drinkers tend to consume their products either neat or on the rocks to appreciate the true flavor and the character of whiskey. In many cases, people think that a “good” vodka needs to be flavorless. I created Loft & Bear to be consumed in a similar fashion as a sipping vodka because it retains its flavor and savory profile.
Q: You won a silver medal at the New York International Spirits Competition in New York City—how did it feel for Loft & Bear to win this award?
PRE: Right out of the gates in our first year, I felt a degree of validation that I was on the right track and doing something that would set me on the path to achieving my goals.
Q: What are some of your tricks behind the bar?
PRE: To be honest, I don’t have any tricks behind the bar. I’m not a big bartender, so ultimately I turn to my mixologist Karl Steuck to do the tricks and let his imagination wander. This is why it’s important that we have a great relationship since we’re always on the same page.
Q: What is your secret weapon when mixing drinks?
PRE: Lemon or lime. I have a book called “The Flavor Bible, ” and it says lemon is one of the most complementary flavors to vodka.
PRE: I went for simplicity, operating under the guise that less is usually more. I wanted to let the product speak for itself. It has an apothecary feel to it.
Q: What is your favorite drink?
PRE: I like my Loft & Bear up, and with a hint of lime. I’m also partial to the Left Coast Greyhound, a cocktail created by my mixologist Karl Steuck, which is made with Loft & Bear, grapefruit juice, sliced jalapeño, mint leaves and agave syrup.
Q: What is the strangest concoction you have made with Loft & Bear?
PRE: Karl did a mustard seed-infused cocktail called the Bear’s Knees. It’s a play on a Bee’s Knees, which is traditionally made with gin. The Bear’s Knees calls for 2 oz. mustard seed-infused Loft & Bear, 1/2 oz. of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a 1/2 oz. of honey syrup. The ingredients are shaken, then strained into a coupe glass and garnished with an edible flower.
Q: Can you tell me more about the Distill.Drink.Donate. program?
PRE: At the core of Loft & Bear’s brand and philosophy is Distill. Drink.Donate., a philanthropic initiative that contributes five percent of the distillery’s annual profits to organizations supporting distressed families, veterans’ affairs and human services. Loft & Bear is proud to work exclusively with PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), a family of agencies working together to end homelessness for individuals, families, and communities throughout Southern California.
Q: Do you plan to distill any other spirits besides vodka at YSA?
PRE: Not immediately, but I do have plans down the line.
Q: What’s the future for Loft & Bear?
PRE: We’re looking to expand operations and move to a new facility. It will give us capacity for greater output, a tasting room and more.
Q: What is some advice you can give to a novice in the vodka biz?
PRE: Find a mentor and constantly solicit advice as well as constructive criticism, so that you can consistently improve. Also, online forums are great tools for learning.
YSA Distellery 1300 Factory Place Los Angeles, CA 90013 www.loftandbear.com