A close up of a creative cocktail, topped with garnish

A Toast to LA: Where Laid Back Vibes Meet Cutting-Edge Cocktails and Wine

By Brian Masilionis, Senior Director of On-Premise National Accounts Commercial Development

For our second stop, we hit up Los Angeles, one of the cities from past Liquid Insights Tours. We’re revisiting LA (and New York) in 2024 for a few reasons – to have a year-over-year snapshot of changes in the city and to represent two of the largest cities on either side of the U.S. While New York is the "city that never sleeps," LA has a bustling vibe and energy, but in a laid-back, chill way. This is what came through on our visit to brand new places and old haunts alike, including one that's been around for more than 40 years.


During our last visit, the use of fresh flowers and fruit garnishes on many drinks stood out on the cocktail front. Given the climate and proximity to massive fruit industry, this made sense. However, this time, it seems that the aesthetic we've been seeing in NY has traversed the U.S. to influence LA – refined, yet elegant presentations with subtle use of fresh fruit (in most cases vs. dehydrated) and herbs. But that's just how things looked – what was in the glass, and how did it taste? Spoiler alert: delicious!


Like Tampa, we saw a fair amount of fat washing, with the most pronounced use being olive oil or, better yet, herbed olive oil gently mixed in spirits and frozen overnight to be skimmed off, leaving the spirit softened with a touch of olive and salted herb flavor. One of the other roles of ingredients like this was to add a subtle touch of umami to drinks – that softness with a touch of salt to make your mouth water and want to take another sip (and another, and another). We saw a fantastic, yet simple, way of doing this at a new Italian restaurant with a drink fittingly named “Pasta Water” that infused gin with olive oil and then added a small amount of pasta water with its lingering starch and salinity to finish the drink. Another location's "Bon 'Chovy Dirty Martini" was made with a touch of colatura, basically the Italian equivalent of Asian fish sauce, which added the saltiness, and was garnished with an anchovy speared with olives. Another interesting technique we saw to soften the flavor of citrus was “fluffing” fresh citrus with a spindle whip to make the juice, like an grapefruit juice in a “Fluffy Chihuahua” cocktail. Debbi Peek, our National Accounts mixologist, said that “one of my favorite new finds in LA, was ‘fluffy’ juices. It will be something I will look to be using from now on.”


Bubbly and refreshing cocktails were popular here as well, adding diversity to more citrus-fruit forward or boozier concoctions. One cocktail bar even had an entire section of its menu devoted to "carbonated" drinks, either through their addition of carbonation or carbonating the finished cocktail. Another location utilized tepache, a fermented bubbly beverage usually made from the rind and peel of pineapple, but in this case, they used De La Calle Mango Chili Tepache. Because it's only mildly sweet, the flavor didn't take over the drink, and it added a tremendous amount of color as well as tropical fruit and spice – like a beach vacation in a glass, minus the sand in your swimsuit.


Martinis – possibly re-inspired by the explosion of espresso martinis we first started commenting on in early 2022 – are having a bit of a moment again on menus. The most common are just doing wonderful things with gin or vodka martinis to add unique but subtle flavors. However, the remaining martinis we saw are not about re-inventing the Cosmo (or at least we haven't seen that yet), but we did spot an incredible take on an Apple Martini that mixed fresh Granny Smith apple with Thai basil, vodka, gin, and white balsamic, which was then clarified so it was perfectly clear. Yuzu and lychee were ingredients we continue to see – especially the lychee in a variety of drinks, including martinis.


While only in one location, we saw a great use of "mini" cocktails. Why not? Batching is the standard these days either entirely or partially making this easier than earlier versions of this. Some were listed on their menu to order to give a taste of some of the full-sized versions. What was fun about our experience was that for the drinks we didn't order, the server brought us a few minis of those we missed as a "thank you" for our visit. She said they do this quite a bit for guests who were especially enjoyable or celebrating something.


For wine, menus again appear to have lengthened since we were last out, relying heavily on wines from around the world to bolster American AVAs and brands, both broadly available and popular as well as from smaller vineyards around California. We saw orange and chilled reds again like we did last year – the chilled red was at a very casual restaurant that served it simply in an 8 oz. Gibraltar rocks glass – pretty mundane presentation from a great wine from France, but it fit the environment and laid-back vibe perfectly, and was great for use on the back patio since it is less likely to tip over on a wobbly table on flagstone, as we saw (safety first, folks!). Other locations continued to feature a range of sparkling wines, with Prosecco being the foundation on the sweet side and then broadening out from there to more dry options like Cava and Crémant. The wine that straddles this type between sweet and dry and is also even more food-friendly was sparkling Lambrusco, which is great on its own and also in drinks. The other area of innovation was in the white wine section. While whites have largely been focused on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio – it doesn’t have to end there. And, in LA, it didn’t. For their inspiration, one of the best places to look is often over the pond. What was once relegated to fine dining restaurants, there's been an expansion of wines on casual and polished menus like Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, Vermentino, Verdejo, and the most interesting find was a Grignolino rosé from Mexico at the casual place with the back patio. The takeaway for me here is that while the most broadly appealing wines remain the same, trend-forward locations, I would imagine targeting younger guests (Millennials and Gen Z), are taking their guests on a trip with their tastebuds to explore all the flavors the wine industry has to offer. This exposure to wine flavor profiles like this may cultivate new younger wine fans in the coming years with an even broader flavor palate than their older counterparts – and that's something we can all raise a glass to!


So, Los Angeles was another successful stop in the Liquid Insights Tour. Debbi told me, “It was interesting to already spot similarities in flavor trends that we noticed in our first stop, Tampa, also in showing up in the second, LA.  Being on two completely different coasts, I personally expected them to be very different.”