Monday, February 26, 2024

FIRST LOOK: Inside Broken Spirits Distillery, taking over Portuguese Bend in Long Beach

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The space that formerly occupied Portuguese Bend—Long Beach’s first grain-to-glass distillery that shuttered in February before filing for bankruptcy in August—has officially been taken over by the crew behind Smoke & Fire and Villains Brewery. Dubbed Broken Spirits Distillery, the massive re-haul of the space will show off some definitive reminders of its previous tenants while also offering an entirely new space dedicated to the craft of master distiller Massimiliano “Max” Stecca.

Announced back in October, the move marks a huge shift in Long Beach’s distilling scene, which currently has Willie’s Tin Shop in Cal Heights and the soon-to-be-distilling endeavors from Beachwood at their Bixby Knolls.

And yes, Broken Spirits Distillery will be opening with whiskeys and aged aquavit on hand.

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Wait—whiskeys and aged aquavit take years. How is Broken Spirits Distillery opening with them on hand?

Former Blinking Owl master distiller Stecca watched some drama unfold at the distillery he was once at: Rumors abound, eventually all assets of the company were sold off—including the whiskeys, aquavits, and other spirits Stecca had been aging. Unable to part, he decided to buy them—and luckily, they will be a part of Broken Spirit Distillery’s opening.

“They were made by me and it will give people an idea of my style,” Stecca said, taking out a barrel of 2019 aquavit and tapping into it. Pouring a small amount into a tasting glass, the immediate notes of caraway and dill come through on the palate, offering up a high-proof preview of what will eventually be a spirit that “can be used in nearly every cocktail,” Stecca said. “It’s such a wonderful, underrated spirit.

“This particular cask is kinda a solara project: I tend to leave a little left in the barrel to get extra concentrated and then add new make. So there’s always a little bit of the original batch in every bottle,” Stecca said.

Making the space feel like Broken Spirits Distillery’s, well, spirit

“We’re all pretty broken and we love our spirits,” said co-owner and Long Beach resident Josh Bentrem, offering up a pretty succinct and understandable reason behind the name.

On top of that, it hints toward moving forward—they are, after all, taking on a distillery that was much hyped, Long Beach’s first, and sadly failed to many broken hearts across the city—despite heartbreak, with lovely nods to Long Beach’s rich tattoo history and love of the off-beat if not outright punk-ish aesthetic. (Cheers to Alex’s Bar, Pike Bar, Outer Limits, 4th Horseman, and more who share this love.)

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This does not mean that the space will be reflective of that rough quality.

Instead, the interior is being met with gold and copper metallics met with dark tones of blue and possible incorporations of greens and purples. Geometric shapes are ubiquitous, from the rectangular octagon copper mirrors behind the bar to black stone and gold details found on the northern wall of the space.

U-shaped booths will surround the bar and the nook which previously sat behind the liquor lockers of former Portuguese Bend members—whose liquor was sadly not returned to them upon closure, leaving the Broken Spirits team to wonder who they belong to—will have a moveable seating area to make way for live music performances.

Some features—like Portuguese Bend’s hanging boat—will remain and incorporated in some sense.

“That feature is just too costly for us to dismantle so we’re going to incorporate it in some cool way,” Stecca said. “Still trying to figure out in what specific way but it will remain.”

And what about the food at Broken Spirits Distillery?

Broken Spirits is part of the Smoke & Fire/Craft/Villains Brewing team—and in that sense, at least for now, the food of those spaces will likely be reflected in Broken, as well as honoring a member of the team they lost.

Executive Chef Oscar Victoria—the man who played in a role in dialing in Craft’s menu to what it is and was allowed near complete freedom with the Villains space in Anaheim—passed earlier this month, leaving a hole in both the hearts and operations of the interconnected spaces. Bits of his spirit—in the double-fried-to-perfection wings, in the lamb chops slathered in chimmichurri, in the creamy-AF mac’n’cheese found at Villains and Smoke & Fire and Craft—are consistently in the present, leaving the crew to remember him but also, in Oscar’s very aura, succeed.

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“Oscar was as stoked about Long Beach as we were,” Bentrem said when the project was first announced. “He was going to play a pivotal role in the menu so, to keep his spirit alive a bit, we’re taking inspiration from the Craft menu that he helped hone and bringing it to Long Beach. It brings a little bit of him to Long Beach and lets us keep a little bit of him at the same time.”

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean an item-for-item copycat menu nor does it mean a menu that likely won’t change. As the cohort is clearly adept at creating vibes that cater, first and foremost, to its surrounding community—Villains in Anaheim is a masterful example of how to mix concepts singularly and mix them well—Broken Spirits Distillery will follow those very rules.

Broken Spirits Distillery will be located at 300 The Promenade N.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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