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This One’s On Me: Granville Cafe Studio City

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Sometimes the best cocktail you’ve had in a long time has nothing to do with what’s in the glass, and everything to do with the person who made the drink. In the modern era of craft cocktails, bartenders showcase dazzling creativity and rigorous technique with artisan spirits and locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. What sometimes gets overshadowed is the essential hospitality I experienced recently when I sat in front of a bartender who, whether by raw instinct or from years behind the stick, had a fundamental understanding of why people go to bars in the first place.

An old friend from college had passed away on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t seen Keith in years, but the occasional “Likes” and comments on Facebook helped to bridge the gaps in time and distance. With or without social media, the texts and emails about his death would have still carried the same impact. The new year wasn’t even two weeks old when Keith’s funeral took place on a gray, rainy Saturday morning. After the service, I caught up with our fellow alums, many of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Sadly, some of us had attended another funeral just a few months earlier. A couple of us vowed that the next time we saw each other it would be for lunch or dinner.

As I drove away from Rose Hills, I wanted to decompress with a drink – there’s no better place than a bar if you want to be alone without being alone. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for – not a dive, but nothing too high end either. I wasn’t feeling chatty, so I didn’t want to go somewhere I might see someone I knew. I meandered over the rain-slicked freeways in the general direction of home, still wanting that drink and getting hungrier by the minute. This wasn’t exactly a film noir montage of neon signs and a mournful saxophone, but you get the idea.

granville-cafe-studio-city-cryptik-mural

CRYPTIK mural at Granville Cafe Studio City | Instagram by @impermanent_art

I ended up in Studio City and drove by Granville Cafe. I’d never been there, but after pulling over and doing a quick Google search it sounded promising. When I walked in it was just starting to get busy – best of all, there were open seats at the bar. There were two bartenders – one was chatting with a couple of guests when I sat down at the bar. (I found out later her name is Zoe.)

I was dressed in all black and my eyes were probably still bloodshot from crying during the service and burial. I’m sure I looked like I’d been out all night or had just gone through a very emotional experience. It could have been my imagination, but it seemed like Zoe’s demeanor changed very subtly when she turned to me and asked, “How are you doing?” Her tone wasn’t overly bright and perky – if anything, it was slightly subdued compared to a moment earlier. I answered, “Well, I could be better. I was just at a funeral.”

Zoe replied that she was sorry. But rather than saying something about my friend being in a better place or some other cliché – which would have been perfectly fine, mind you – she said that funerals can be very cathartic, and it’s important to have that release and closure. “You look young. Your friend was probably young.” I told her that I look young for my age. He was 52 – older than me, but not by much. Zoe said, “That’s young,” and astutely noted that I probably saw some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and that’s a good thing. She added that one of her regulars had recently lost a son, and continued with a few thoughts about how these losses are part of life and the importance of living life to the fullest, because we never know when it’s our time to go. I’m not a religious man, so with all due respect to the pastor who presided over Keith’s funeral, I found Zoe’s words infinitely more comforting than the scriptures he quoted at Rose Hills.

Bloody Mary at Granville Cafe Studio City

Bloody Mary at Granville Cafe Studio City

When Zoe gently asked if I wanted a drink, I told her I would love a Bloody Mary and looked over the brunch menu. She made the Bloody Mary and said, “This one’s on me.” We’ve all played our roles in this scenario, whether it’s buying a round or accepting a drink – celebrating a birthday, toasting a promotion, or drowning our sorrows after a tough breakup. Zoe’s unexpected, gracious gesture underscored everything she had said to me. As the bar got busier, Zoe checked in but let me quietly tuck into my meal without interruption.

At the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail, Father Bill Dailey (a Roman Catholic priest, lawyer and Death & Co regular) closed the Spirit of Spirits seminar by comparing bars to cathedrals – both are sanctuaries with their own rituals, where we seek advice and solace. Addressing the bartenders and bar owners in the audience, he said, “What you do is good work. It is important work.”

I have no idea if Zoe is a lifer or relatively new to bartending. I do know that my experience at Granville Cafe is one that I won’t soon forget, thanks to a bartender who knew intuitively how to make a first-time guest feel at home. I settled my tab and walked along Ventura Boulevard, still in no hurry to go home. It felt like the rain had let up and the sun was breaking through the cloud cover.

Granville Cafe Studio City bar | Instagram by @michkat

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The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition Launches in the U.S.

The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition

For single malt Scotch aficionados, it’s been far too long since the legendary Ronnie Cox last hosted a whisky tasting in Los Angeles. In 2012, he presented a music-themed tasting of The Glenrothes at The Parish, which culminated with the spectacular 1978 vintage. Cox, the Global Heritage Director of Berry Bros. & Rudd, was back in L.A. recently to celebrate the launch of The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage Single Malt Whisky, 2nd Edition.

The first 1992 vintage was released in 2004. At that time, Glenrothes Malt Master John Ramsay selected the casks he felt were at their peak, but left some casks to continue aging. Ten years later, under current Malt Master Gordon Motion’s watchful eye, the second edition of the 1992 vintage launched to the public in October 2014.

In the press materials, Cox says the 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition is “definitely an uplifting, conversational style. The original 1992 was more formal and austere; here we have a confident, but altogether more ‘come-hither’ expression. This edition is the first Glenrothes vintage comprised entirely of whisky aged in refill casks, allowing the true Glenrothes character to come through.”

The tasting took place at Faith & Flower, recently named by Esquire as one of the 2014 Best New Restaurants in America. The vertical tasting featured The Glenrothes 2001, 1998 and 1995 vintages. The highlight of the event was a dram from the second bottle of the 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition to be opened in the world.

Penny Lane cocktail by Michael Lay at Faith & Flower

Penny Lane cocktail by Michael Lay

Guests were welcomed with a pair of cocktails from Faith & Flower head bartender Michael Lay. The consensus favorite of the two was the excellent Penny Lane: No. 3 London Dry Gin, Maurin White Vermouth, Combier Crème de Pamplemousse Rose, lemon and Absinthe Duplais. Lay’s other offering was the Autumn Buck, made with Glenrothes Select Reserve, Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur, citrus and ginger.

The whisky was paired with multiple courses of chef Michael Hung’s Asian-inflected cuisine, including New York steak tartare with miso cream and black sesame; confit duck leg with peaches and watercress soubise; seared steelhead trout with chioggia beets, cucumber, and caraway bread sauce; and grilled broccolini with garlic anchovy salsa and California chilies. Pastry chef Indelisa Zarate concluded the tasting in style with an array of mignardises – chocolates, passion fruit marshmallow, honeycomb candy, petite madeline, almond biscotti and chocolate truffle.

Looking dapper as always, Cox enlivened the evening with anecdotes on everything from the higher life expectancy of West Londoners compared to East Londoners, to the origin of the word “butler” – from the Old French botellier, or “officer in charge of the king’s wine bottles.” With seven generations of whisky distilling in his family, Cox certainly has no shortage of tales to tell. His own story with Berry Bros. & Rudd began in 1989, when he was brought on board to look after Cutty Sark in Latin America. (The Glenrothes is the backbone of the Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse Scotch blends.)

The Glenrothes Core Vintages

The Glenrothes 1995, 1998 and 2001 vintages. | Photo courtesy of The Glenrothes, via Facebook

The vertical tasting began with the Vintage 2001, bottled in 2012 and described by Cox as “complex integrity in a glass.” On the nose there’s lemon zest, butterscotch and vanilla. The vanilla continues on the palate, as well as oak, nutmeg and cinnamon. The finish offers the Speyside distillery’s signature soft spices – sweet and dry, lingering vanilla and oak, with a hint of orange peel.

Next was the 1998, the Core Vintage that followed the 1991 and 1994 vintages. Bottled in 2009, the Vintage 1998 is Gordon Motion’s first bottling as Malt Master – he describes the 1998 as “Carmen Miranda’s hat in a bottle.” Indeed, the sweet and spicy nose showcases vanilla, honey and grilled pineapple. More vanilla on the palate, with Christmas spices and citrus. The finish is long, with notes of vanilla, nutmeg and a hint of marmalade.

Cox said the Vintage 1995 was the first Glenrothes expression made from casks specifically laid down with the intention of bottling the whisky as Glenrothes at maturity. Previous vintages were selected from existing casks. The Vintage 1995 is made with 30% first-fill sherry casks (American and Spanish oak) and the remainder from refill casks. The floral nose gives butterscotch, allspice and hints of chocolate and coffee. The 1995 is rich and textured on the palate, with vanilla, maple syrup and dried fruit notes. The sweet and spicy finish is warm and lingering. It’s a wonderfully rich, sweet and balanced whisky – as Cox says, it’s ideal for an after-dinner dram, when “the conversation is in full flow.”

And then it was time for a climactic dram of The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition. As mentioned above, the second edition is aged 10 years longer than its predecessor. The 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition is non-chill filtered and aged in a mixture of refilled sherry butts and American ex-bourbon hogsheads. The new expression is bottled at 44.3% ABV, compared to 43% for the three Core Vintages that were also sampled.

The additional decade of aging has imparted a rich depth of character to the second edition. Vanilla, dark coffee and chocolate on the nose hint at the velvety mouthfeel to follow. On the palate, an elevated Glenrothes profile of rich vanilla and intense spice is accompanied by molasses, honey and orange peel. The lingering finish has a long fade, with more vanilla, citrus and milk chocolate. A few drops of water opens it up with hints of banana and other tropical fruit. The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition is a superb whisky, the epitome of the thoughtful, “conversational” single malt Scotch that Cox so eloquently described to his guests.

Priced at $249.99, The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition is now available in the U.S. via Anchor Distilling Company. For more information, visit www.glenrothes.com.

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