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Origins

History of the LA Flower District

History of the LA Flower District

At the corner of Wall and 8th streets in Downtown LA sits the heart of the Los Angeles Flower District. The perennial institution has been the standard supplier of fresh-cut stems for Angelenos everywhere since the early 20th century.

Available only to those up and awake in the sunrise hours between 5am and noon, this botanical cornucopia offers every commercially available cut flower under the sun, from snapdragons to marigolds. That, coupled with the low cost of admission ($2 on weekdays, $1 on weekends) spurs everyone from earnest lovers seeking Valentine’s Day roses to Instagram influencers in pursuit of anything deemed aesthetic to flock here in droves.

Like most Los Angeles stories, the LA Flower District has a young yet rich history, one that starts –  and truthfully, ends – with immigrants seeking to bring something beautiful, human, true to this desert city by the sea.

In the early 20th century, LA-area flower farmers drove their horse-drawn wagons into DTLA every morning to sell their flowers. The scene was starkly different than what it looks like now: the blaring horns and headlights that fill the 101 replaced with dirt and dust. There was no Eastern Columbia Building gilded and glimmering in the aquamarine light, telling time. And the Flower District that is now a sprawling mecca of buds and blossoms was just a couple wagons lined up along the side of the road.

A prominent carnation grower based out of Santa Monica named James Vaweter established the first dedicated flower market in 1905. It was on Spring Street, the west side. It would take a few years for the floral business to make its way East into the derelict streets of downtown, where it would stay and flourish for the next century.

The Southern California Flower Market, organized by local Japanese-American farmers, was the first to settle there. In a few years, European immigrants would set up their own shop down the street, called the Los Angeles Flower Market. In due time, both markets would relocate to the 700 block of South Wall Street, where they would expand and modernize.

Over time and out of simple necessity, these two standalone shops that were seemingly at odds came to be part of a mosaic of florists and nurseries that called DTLA home. Through the ‘90s, dozens of smaller flower shops migrated downtown to do business near the historic Los Angeles Flower District, blooming alongside these towering cathedrals of chrysanthemums. A ragtag community quickly formed, and today more than 50 vendors make up the largest wholesale flower district in the US.

Regardless of whether you’re outfitting an entire wedding reception or simply looking for a single pink peony to sit on your kitchen counter, the Los Angeles Flower District is the kind of place special enough to set your alarm for. Carve out a few hours to aimlessly stroll through its stalls, bargaining with vendors and getting lost in the sea of blossoms. Just a PSA: don’t forget to bring cash.

History of Aperitivo Culture

History of Aperitivo Culture

Conjure up an image in your head of Rome or Paris and it will likely look something like this: impossibly chic women wearing large hats, dining al fresco at sidewalk cafes, smoking cigarettes and sipping candy-colored tipples out of shrunken glasses.

What are they drinking, you ask? Allow us to explain.

The aperitivo – a bittersweet alcoholic beverage thought to stimulate your appetite pre-dinner – is, in many countries and cultures, a way of life. Known as aperitif in French, the word comes from the Latin amperire, meaning “to open up.” And that’s exactly what these low-ABV beverages do; they warm up your taste buds and prep your digestive system for a decadent meal.

Digestivi fall in the same camp, the after-dinner counterpart to aperitivi purported to settle your stomach after an especially indulgent feast. Much of this effect comes down to alcohol. As anyone who has ever had a drunken hankering for a late night bite can tell you, alcohol stimulates the appetite, meaning when you’re full and you drink, you will begin to crave food again. 

Aperitivi and digestivi couple that power of booze with good old fashioned herbal medicine. Most spirits, whether labelled as a digestivo or otherwise, began as elixirs. Stomach-soothing botanicals like ginger and cardamom were added to drinks to aid in digestion, and tavern keepers kept up with the tradition by lacing liquor with flowers and herbs to ease any adverse effects from a stiff drink.

The prevalence of these spirits has now stretched so far that it’s seeped into European drinking culture. Entire books, like Marissa Huff’s Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy have been dedicated to the subject, and for good reason. Peruse any given sidestreet in Milan around golden hour and you’ll see cafes lined with people gathering for the liquid precursor to dinner. Come by a little later and you’ll see a similar scene, but with plates cleaned and votives and moonlight dappling the digestivi.

And that’s not even getting started on the sheer amount of varieties that abound in the dizzying world of aperitivi. There are the brands you know and love, like Aperol, Campari, and Lillet. These are the classic bottles that make their way into your summer spritzes and winter negronis, adding a delightful dose of something bitter, something sweet. And then there are others, like Fernet and Port, best taken neat as a post-meal potation.

The process of picking your poison, so to speak, is one that should not be rushed. It’s a deeply personal choice, and we’re not here to complicate matters by offering our opinions. So instead we’ll just sit here, sipping our AMASS negroni in peace. Cin cin.

Meet Lucy Rose Mallory, The Greatest Woman In America

Meet Lucy Rose Mallory, The Greatest Woman In America

At AMASS, we have a bit of a preoccupation with the occult. After all, our Chief Product Officer and Master Distiller is a practicing witch with a penchant for herbal remedies. So, when we heard about the Progressive Era witchy weirdos that were hanging around Portland in the 19th century, we needed to know more.

There are certain characters that the history books forget, women whose stories are buried under centuries and centuries of men in suits. Lucy Rose Mallory was one of those women.

Born in 1843, Lucy Rose Mallory was a psychic, a suffragist, a vegetarian, a devotee of metaphysical experiences – the kind of woman Portland Monthly once called “an internationally respected good vibes factory.” She was, in a word, an icon, and was born in Michigan before moving west with her father into the unbroken wilderness of mid-19th century Oregon. The Roses settled in a city in the Umpqua River Valley that would later be named Roseburg in honor of them.

As an adult, Lucy was probably known best as the wife of Oregon congressman Rufus Mallory. But her work – as a writer and editor, namely – has endured. For 30 years, she ran two periodicals printed under one cover – The World’s Advanced Thought and the Universal Republic. She wrote passionately on a myriad of topics: a small spider she had befriended, the power of collective positive thinking, her experience with astral projection as a child. Of the spider, Lucy wrote upon feeding it a dead fly,

 

“It soon became very friendly, and it would eat from my hand, and run all over my head and face, and it appeared to love me.” Life, it seemed, Lucy experienced as one big out-of-body experience.

Leo Tolstoy was such an ardent admirer of Lucy’s monthly magazine that he swiftly declared her the “greatest woman in America.” This was not an unpopular opinion. Across Portland, Lucy attracted the attention of advanced thinkers and workers, who were devoted readers of her magazine and attendees of her twice-weekly parlor meetings in which she led séances. What Lucy spoke became gospel, her musings on New Thought – the simple belief of mind over matter – championed by her league of loyal followers. She was the psychic friend to the city’s social elite, and the first to establish and maintain a free reading room in the city. For 30 years, she opened its doors to anyone and everyone who wanted to enjoy the rare books on spiritualism and philosophy that lined its shelves.

Her commitment to her community did not stop there. Back in 1874, the old slavery prejudice ran so strong in Oregon that 45 Black children were forbidden from attending the Salem public schools, as no white teachers would teach them. Lucy volunteered to instruct them for the three years it took for the opposition to end and for the children to be admitted into the public school system. The money she made sat in the bank, as she had no use for it.

In her free time, Lucy sat on the boards of associations and clubs like the Oregon Vegetarian Society and the Association of Artists and Authors. She was, perhaps most importantly, a lifelong member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and fought for the right to vote just as she fought for the right to education. She died in September of 1920, just one week after the ratification of the 19th amendment and two months before eight million women would rush to the polls for the very first time.

100 years later, the story of Lucy Rose Mallory, an otherwise forgotten figure, is important to remember and retell. She  was a woman of the people, an active advocate and celebrated psychic, a friend to both Tolstoy and spiders. If there’s a moral to her story, it’s this: be more like Lucy (and don’t forget to cast your vote tomorrow).

Why We Say Cheers

Why We Say Cheers

Traditional rules of etiquette have, for the most part, been retired. It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than my grandmother caring which fork I use, how I fold a napkin, whether or not I excuse myself from the table after dinner. But when it comes to drinking, there are certain rites and rituals that never faded out of style. Raise a glass. Share a toast. Clink. Maintain eye contact. Say cheers, and do it with feeling.

These are the things we do and have done for centuries, millenia, forever. But why? What is their cultural significance?

While the ritual of clinking glasses has evolved to become a means of connection among friends, it started, like most things do, as an act of self-preservation. The custom of touching glasses arose from concerns about poisoning, as clinking coupes and steins together jubilantly would cause each drink to slosh and spill over into the others’. Over time, as fears of contaminated cocktails waned, the ritual took on a new meaning.

According to the International Handbook of Alcohol and Culture, toasting “is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words 'long life!' or 'to your health!'"

So the next time you’re at a wedding and some drunken groomsmen stumbles up to the microphone to toast to the bride and groom, think of it this way: it’s not about how your cousin Steve was a total legend in college as much as it is a sacrificial libation to the gods.

Saying “cheers,” similarly, holds a deeper meaning. The phrase originates from the old French word chiere meaning “face” or “head.” By the 18th century, it was used as a way to express happiness and encouragement. Today, the phrase is entirely symbolic, a practice of camaraderie that is so routine it’s almost second nature. As the round of drinks hits the table, it’s expected before taking your first sip that you raise your glass, lock eyes, and clink clink clink.

It’s a tradition that transcends language and culture. Salute in Italian, skol in Danish, sante in French, cheers in English all mean roughly the same thing: I’m happy to be here, in this moment, with you. And even when our meeting places are digitized and we can’t share a drink IRL, these small acts of communion remain.

Cheers to that.

Dirty or With a Twist: Why We Put Olives In Martinis

Dirty or With a Twist: Why We Put Olives In Martinis

When you think of martinis, chances are you think of olives. With the exception of the lemon twist, olives are the quintessential garnish for the booziest of classic gin cocktails. And varieties abound. Manzanillas and Spanish Queens are the standard fare, though I’m personally partial to the neon green Castelvetrano variety with its mild sweetness and buttery texture.

But when it comes to martinis, perhaps the more interesting question isn’t “how,” but “why?”

Why, dear reader, do we put olives in our martinis? Who was the first salt-crazed scoundrel to splash some OJ (olive juice, baby) into a glass of gin and take a swig? How — and again, why — does it somehow work?

We don’t add olives to our martinis for the aesthetics alone, though the glimmering green orbs do invite a sense of reverie when bobbing up and down in a vermouth-washed coupe.



Rather, the savory olives act as a pleasant foil for the bright botanicals in our gin and vodka and help settle the drink’s intense booziness. They add a certain je ne sais quoi, a briny oceanic bite of salinity that mixes and melds nicely with botanicals like lemon, angelica, ginger, cardamom, and yes, juniper. And of course: they offer a built-in snack, too.

While the dirty martini has become a standard iteration, the OG martini skewed more sweet than savory. Cherries, among other fruits, were added to the drink alongside syrups and bitters, and often with a heavy pour of sweet vermouth.

These days, the modern martini is served very, very dry, but that wasn’t the norm at their advent. In the 19th century, martinis were served either upside down with more vermouth than gin, or as a 50/50 with equal parts of both. Sometimes absinthe got in the mix, other times not. But gin and dry vermouth – the major players in the martinis we stir, sip, and love today – were often an afterthought. Olives had not yet made their way to the party.

That all changed at the turn of the 20th century, when James Bond sipped a shaken, not stirred martini on screen and FDR brought the dirty tini to the masses. At a dinner party, President Franklin D. Roosevelt infamously shook up a dirty martini for martini aficionado Winston Churchill, who later described FDR as “an enthusiastic but sloppy mixer.” Later, in 1943, FDR insisted on shaking up his signature drink for none other than Joseph Stalin, who remarked that “it was cold on the stomach,” but not unpleasant. And with two out of two less than rave reviews, one by a Soviet dictator, the dirty martini entered into the popular imagination.

Unlike FDR, there are a lot of bartenders and at-home mixologists these days getting the martini right. From EVOO washed vespers to versions spiked with pickled veggie juice, there’s a martini out there for the dirtiest among us.

And if you made it to the end of this article while having an aversion to olives? Bravo to you. Here’s a 50/50 for your troubles.

Ode to Olfaction

Ode to Olfaction

Freshly squeezed Florida oranges. A cedar closet. Gasoline. The whiff of your grandmother’s perfume, musked with age. Sweat mixed with cut grass. Sauce on the stove. Leather. The candy sweetness of waffle cones in an ice cream shop. A scent you can’t place but can feel coursing through you like a lightning bolt of recognition. A summer storm.

Smell – the good, the bad, the cloying, the intoxicating – is intrinsically linked to memory. It’s a romantic notion with scientific implications, as the reason we hold on so tightly to scent-fueled moments is simply because of our brain’s anatomy.

Scent starts out simple. Odor molecules travel up and through the nostrils, binding to receptors in the nose and transmitting a signal through the olfactory system. From here, things get more complicated. The main olfactory bulb transmits pulses to both mitral and tufted cells, which help determine odor concentration based on the time certain neuron clusters fire. These cells work hard to differentiate between similar scents, such as a lemon versus a grapefruit, and hold onto that data for future recognition. The amygdala, a part of the limbic system responsible for processing memory and emotion, also processes pheromone and allomone signals. These include everything from bodily excretions (sexy) to the smell of flowers.

So when I say smell is tied to memory, I’m not being corny; it’s a cold hard fact, backed and approved by cold hard science. And our olfactory impressions begin early.

In the womb, smell is the only fully developed sense a fetus has. In fact, it continues to be the most developed sense in a child until the tender age of 10, when sight takes over. It’s the reason so many of our childhood memories are linked to scent.

Even as the vision of my grandmother fades, I can still vividly remember the soap she used, how her clothes always smelled like mothballs, the way fresh garden basil seemed to linger in her kitchen.

Taste, similarly, takes on a heightened nostalgia. If you’ve ever been instructed to pinch your nose when glugging down a dose of cough syrup, you know that without smell, taste is a rather empty sense. When you eat, food molecules make their way back to the nasal epithelium, meaning the majority of spices and flavors we savor are actually being processed through our sense of smell, not taste. Is there any wonder why then, for so many of us, our sense of home is so tightly tied to the foods we ate and the scents we smelled?

Because smell is processed by the amygdala, smell and emotion are stored as one memory. A positive association with the smell of gasoline as a child translates into a lifelong love of the scent. A close encounter with a bonfire means you likely won’t be keen to smoky scents later in life.

Proustian memory, a concept that comes from Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, speaks to this very phenomenon – with just a quick whiff or taste, we can instantaneously be transported back to another moment in time. It’s a powerful kind of time travel, and one that unwittingly guides our days.

A stranger’s cologne on a too-crowded subway car, sharp with vetiver and pine, can make us yearn for a grandfatherly kind of love. Thick steam swirling out of a Taiwanese restaurant can transport you to childhood days spent dawdling around while your dad worked the line, the hot spatter of fryer oil perfuming his clothes. Far less pleasant smells – menthol cigarettes, New York sewers, the chemical clean of pool chlorine – can have a similarly transformative effect.

This superpower is one we can wield intentionally, too.

When I was a kid, my mom applied lotion to my back every night. In dim purple light, she would put a dollop on my spine, the cold cream at once startling and then like home. It smelled like lavender, vanilla, her. And so now, on nights when I can’t sleep, I reach for the bottle. It lives on my nightstand, for ease in time travel. I can’t reach my own back, so instead I rub it in slow circles at the base of my neck until my stress has melted entirely and I am 10 years old again, sitting at the foot end of my mother’s bed.

That’s the power scent has; to transcend space and time and land us in a moment that feels like an embrace. It’s perhaps the simplest, most time-effective way to make our day-to-day lives feel a little more beautiful, our in-between moments a little more sacred. A ritual, if you will.

And the best part? It’s only a spray away.

A Storied History of the Post-Work Drink

A Storied History of the Post-Work Drink

Since the advent of alcohol, imbibing has gone hand-in-hand with unwinding. We mark the end of a day with a twist of a cap, the pour of a drink, the clink of ice in a glass. Happy hour, in particular, has become a designated time for us to meet up with friends and colleagues over drinks and half-priced appetizers and forget about the meetings, the deadlines, the banality of the workday. It wasn’t always like that though.

The term “happy hour” comes from American Naval slang dating back to World War I. In its conception, it referred to an allotted time on the ship when sailors could let loose, so to speak, competing in boxing matches and other foolhardy pursuits. Alcohol was not yet intrinsically linked to happy hour–the term instead referred, quite literally, to the one hour a day sailors got to kick back and make happy.

During Prohibition, the phrase was picked up to describe the underground speakeasy gatherings that often took place. Opinions differ on how the term became introduced into mainstream vernacular–some say it was a Saturday Evening Post article from 1959 that mentioned happy hour in regards to military life, while others cite a 1961 Providence Journal article referencing Newport policemen “deprived of their happy hour at the cocktail bar.” Regardless of how the expression rose in popularity, it was quickly co-opted by the service industry in the ’70s and ’80s as a way to draw in customers before the daily dinner rush.

The idea stuck, and now nearly 50 years later you can stroll into any chain restaurant on a Wednesday and order a $1 Mai Tai, so long as you show up before 6 pm. It’s a uniquely American sensation, the notion of getting drunker for less. But happy hour, despite its popularity among deal-loving Westerners, is not a universal phenomenon. In some places, offering discounted drinks is even prohibited by law.

“Colleagues are drinking as a means to understand and connect with each other. They’re searching for a deeper truth that is harder to come by within the confines of a cubicle, and the ritual of after-work nomikai gives them the time and space to do that.”

Imbibing in a post-work drink is not just about snagging a deal, though. In Japan, drinking is deeply ingrained in corporate culture, a way of breaking down barriers between bosses and employees outside of the daily 9 to 5. Nomikai, which loosely translates in English to “gathering to drink,” is a recreational aspect of work, but to say it is entirely optional would be to write off the intense pressures present in many Japanese workplaces. This attitude is slowly changing, thanks in large part to a drunk driving law that was stiffened in Japan in 2007 to prohibit driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0%. The advent of non-alcoholic beer and spirits shortly followed. But the desire to indulge in a post-work drink speaks to a larger social yearning that doesn’t seem to be fading, even as non-alcoholic options replace the standard boozy fare.

The term nommunication, a combination of the Japanese word nomu, meaning drink, and the English word communication, describes the phenomenon best–colleagues are drinking as a means to understand and connect with each other. They’re searching for a deeper truth that is harder to come by within the confines of a cubicle, and the ritual of after-work nomikai gives them the time and space to do that.

Drinking after work is not narrowly defined by a trip to the bar, however. At-home cocktail culture has been on the rise for quite some time now, with stylized bar carts becoming a fixture in living and dining rooms across the world. The uptick of craft distilleries and breweries has ignited a passion for drinking–and drinking well. It’s not just “cracking open a cold one” after a long day at the office–consumers are sipping natural wines, shaking up premium cocktails, and enjoying low-alc and even non-alcoholic spirits and aperitifs at the end of the workday.

For many, the intent to get drunk has escaped the equation and instead has been replaced with a desire to slow down and delight in the pleasure of drinking. At the end of the day, people crave that ritual, whether as a means to human connection or simply to feel connected to themselves. And despite a rather storied and sometimes complicated past, the tradition of the post-work drink is rooted in that connection.

A Witchy Winter Solstice

A Witchy Winter Solstice

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re just a couple weeks away from the Winter Solstice. While the Solstice is commonly understood to be the shortest day of the year, it’s actually a singular moment in which one of Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the sun. In Pagan tradition, that moment is commemorated with a twelve-day long celebration called Yule that begins on December 21st and continues on through the lengthening of days.

Many Christmas traditions, like decorating an evergreen tree, hanging mistletoe, and burning a Yule log, originally stem from Yule customs. And like with Christmas, food historically played a large role in Yule celebration, as the Winter Solstice signified the last big feast before deep winter began and famine set in. Most wine and beer was ready for drinking at this time and cattle were slaughtered so they wouldn’t have to be fed through the scarcer months, leading to a surplus of fresh meat. It was a time of excess followed by pronounced scarcity, and while the Winter Solstice is no longer the foreboder of harder days to come, it is still celebrated by many.

These days, many modern witches skip the Yule log and twelve-day feast and instead partake in other festivities on the 21st. Forms of celebration vary and include (but are of course not limited to) the following: burning rosemary or incense, adorning the home with sacred herbs, reading tarot cards, building an altar, and taking salt baths to release toxins. AMASS’s self-proclaimed “gin witch” and Chief Product Officer, Morgan McLachlan, personally celebrates the seasonal shift by attending the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival with her family in her hometown of Vancouver. The festival, a community-based, nondenominational celebration for all ages, is intended to “illuminate the darkest night of the year with lanterns, fire, singing, drumming, music, storytelling, and dancing.” There are light-based art installations and a self-guided meditation ceremony in which participants silently walk through a labyrinth of light in order to release old attachments and envision new possibilities. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the lengthening of days to come, and gives members of the community a reason to come together and party during the darkest, coldest time of the year.

Since prehistory, the Winter Solstice has marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun, which is why for many it’s an apt time to reflect and start anew. When McLachlan is unable to make it home to Vancouver for the Solstice, she celebrates here in Los Angeles by hosting a “casual coven” party with her fellow witches in which they light candles and meditate, focusing on the theme of rebirth and new beginnings. Regardless of ritual, that is the governing principle of the Winter Solstice for most who celebrate–to let go of any darkness from the previous year and set intentions for the lengthening of days to come.

Types of Vodka

Types of Vodka

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

This time we’re talking about vodka, a spirit most of us first encountered in someone else’s basement (likely paired with fruit punch). But to dismiss vodka as a drink best suited for frat parties would be to miss the point, as distillers like our very own Lasse Öznek are crafting vodka that is thoughtfully considered and imbued with fresh citrus and layered florals.

Vodka is often divided into two general categories: flavored and unflavored. But within these rather broad classifications are more nuanced distinctions, like its base, country of origin, and proof. Here we’ve laid out three of the most popular vodka brands (among Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials, respectively) in an earnest attempt to answer the long-debated question: what distinguishes one vodka from the next?

Boomers

First up: Ketel One. This brand has been kicking since 1691, when Nolet Distillery was first founded in the Netherlands. Since then, Ketel One has come stateside, where it’s found popularity among Boomers, a generation that seems to favor brands with a healthy dose of history (this is, after all, the same generation that once accused millennials of killing the diamond industry–we think it’s safe to say tradition is something they value). The vodka is distilled through a coal-fired copper pot still called Distilleerketel #1, a technique that removes impurities and gives the spirit a clean and crisp taste. Because Ketel One is distilled from wheat, it tastes lighter and smoother than other brands.

Gen X'ers

Next: Belvedere. The drink of choice among Gen X’ers, this Polish vodka has a much stronger flavor profile than Ketel One. Because it’s distilled from rye (a commonly used grain in Polish vodka), Belvedere tastes bolder and denser than its wheat-based counterparts, in the same way that rye bread has a bit more bite than wheat. Since the flavor of the grain is so pronounced, the spirit is distilled four times to help mellow it a bit.

Millenials

Last: Tito’s. Beloved among Millennials, Tito’s is a corn-based vodka, which means it has a slightly sweeter finish and a smooth mouthfeel. It’s distilled in Austin, Texas and, compared to historic brands like Ketel One and Belvedere, hasn’t been around all that long–the brand was founded in 1995, making it something of a teenager in the liquor world. However, what Tito’s lacks in history it makes up for in curb appeal–the brand’s no-nonsense approach and under-dog origin story makes it a clear favorite among the younger generation.

What's Next

So, where does a newcomer like AMASS fit into this rather eclectic mix? Like Ketel One, AMASS is distilled from wheat, but that’s pretty much where the similarities between the two brands end. Unlike most vodkas, our vodka is distilled in the tradition of the Scandinavian liquor, Aquavit. Botanicals (like marigold, chamomile, and lemon zest) are distilled on an Aquavit still to create a subtle, floral flavor. It’s a technique that sets us apart, for sure, but one that still relies heavily upon age-old vodka-making tradition, because somewhere between convention and innovation is where we feel most at home.

What Even Is Vodka?

What Even Is Vodka?

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

This time we’re talking about vodka, a spirit most of us first encountered in someone else’s basement (likely paired with fruit punch). But to dismiss vodka as a drink best suited for frat parties would be to miss the point, as distillers like our very own Lasse Öznek are crafting vodka that is thoughtfully considered and imbued with fresh citrus and layered florals.

What is Vodka?

So what is vodka, exactly? Perhaps it’s best here to start with what it is not: vodka is not aged, for starters, which means it doesn’t take on any color. Unlike most other spirits, it is not particularly flavorful or fragrant. And despite popular misconceptions that vodka is made from potatoes, in reality, vodka can be made from a laundry list of ingredients–cereal grains, fruits, sugars, beets, and, yes, potatoes, can all serve as a base for the spirit.

But if vodka is “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color,” as per US law, what distinguishes one bottle from the next? The answer lies in the distilling process. Most vodka is distilled a minimum of three times in order to filter out any impurities. The degree to which vodka is “flavorless,” or smooth and clean in taste, largely depends on how many rounds of distilling it underwent.

The albeit subtle flavor you’re left with after distilling depends on both the base and the additional flavors added to the spirit. In the early days of vodka when the spirit was predominantly used for medicinal purposes, producers would often add spices to mask any remaining impurities. Today though, any addition of flavors is much more about enhancing or embellishing the natural taste of the spirit than it is about covering anything up. We’ve moved long past treating vodka as a cure for the common cold, is what I’m saying.

Instead, modern-day distillers like AMASS’ own Lasse Öznek are challenging the conventions of vodka by carefully distilling beautiful botanicals like marigold petals, chamomile flowers, and lemon zest into the spirit. The ingredient list is short, but high impact, especially for a drink that was long supposed to taste like nothing.

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