Imbibing California’s History: Griffith’s Gift

What was that? You want more history with a side of booze? You got it.

In this episode, I will discuss one of the biggest, greatest, most fantastical parks in the world as well as challenge your palate with a groovy herbal liqueur made by some Carthusian monks.

The History…

Back during the pretty horrible Spanish rule of California, the Spanish government issued “permanent, unencumbered property-ownership rights to land called ranchos“. Of course, they didn’t really have any real right to just give away land already occupied by people who has been there for thousands of years, but they did and it sucked and we just have to deal with it.

Anyhoo. One of the land grants was the Rancho Los Feliz.

Griffith J Griffith

Griffith Jenkins Griffith

The grant covered 6,647 acres and was given to Jose Vicente Feliz by Pedro Fages in 1795. Feliz was a part of the super cool Anza Expedition and was later given the title of Comisionado of the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Corporal Feliz was given Rancho Los Feliz as a kind of reward for doing so well in his fancy new position.

When the Mexican government was established in the early 1800’s, all Spanish land grants were honored. This meant that Feliz got to keep his super fantastic land. Well… he didn’t… his family did. He was dead before Mexico gained its independence from Spain.

Next up… AMERICA!!!

The U.S. defeated Mexico in the Mexican-American War and signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which also honored all Spanish land grants. The Feliz family maintained their ownership of the land until Antonio F. Coronel swindled them out of it.

Not cool, Antonio… NOT. COOL.

That rude dude eventually sold the land. Rancho Los Feliz was bought and sold a few more times until 1882. It was in this year that Colonel Griffith J. Griffith bought the land.

Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory! Named after a murderous philanthropist…

Griffith J. Griffith was an interesting fellow.

He was a man born in Wales who came to America and got filthy stinking rich from a mining syndicate. He used that money to buy Rancho Los Feliz. He held on to the land for 14 years until 1896 when he presented a good portion of it to the city of Los Angeles as a Christmas present! He directed the city to designate all of the land for use as a public park because he was awesome. Everyone loved him and the city named the park after him and everything was magical…

Until he shot his wife in the head.

You see… Mr. Griffith had a drinking problem. It was pretty bad and made him paranoid. So paranoid that he became convinced that his wife was conspiring with the freaking Pope to have him killed. Well… Griffith wasn’t gonna let that happen. So… naturally… he shot his wife in the head. Oof. Luckily, she jerked her head at the right moment, was able to take a non-lethal bullet to the head (very lucky lady), and climbed out the window where she fell onto an awning below and made it to safety. Yay! Obviously… she got a divorce. GIRL POWER.

Griffith was sentenced to two years in prison and carried out those two years in prison.

When he got out, he really was actually a reformed man. Doesn’t change the fact that he tried to murder his wife, but still… good job, guy.

He decided to give California two more gifts: a Greek Theatre and a Hall of Science. Unfortunately, because of what he did, the state was not able to accept his donations… except when they were. Griffith left the money for the projects in his will, and when he died, the state was finally cool with taking the money. It used the cash to build the Greek Theater and the Griffith Observatory.

There ya go. That’s basically the history of Griffith Park. Weird, huh?

One last thing before I get to the booze.

Walt Disney!

Walt's Barn

Hey! It’s Walt Disney’s barn! *click to embiggen*

On the third Sunday of every month, something very special is open to the public at the park.

Before Walt Disney built Disneyland, he built the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. This miniature railroad contained 2,615 feet of track and was built in his own backyard. Walt needed a structure for machining and controlling the railroad, so he built a barn! It was inspired by the one he spent much of his childhood in back at the old Disney farmstead in Marceline, Missouri.

Walt’s barn remained where it was built until the late 1990’s when the house was sold. The new owner would have had the barn demolished had it not been for Diane Disney Miller who stepped in and saved it! It was moved to its new home at the Los Angeles Live Steamers Museum in Griffith Park and is still there. So. Go see it!

The Cocktail…

It didn’t take long for me to figure out the basic gist of what qualities I wanted in a cocktail inspired by Griffith Park. It needed to involve Green Chartreuse and be a light, relaxing drink. I am a huge fan of Green Chartreuse, but I didn’t want it to overpower the cocktail like it tends to do in so many drinks made with it. If you’re not familiar with this intense, vegetal elixir, here’s a little history courtesy of Wikipedia:

Chartreuse is a French liqueur made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737 according to the instructions set out in the secret manuscript given to them by Maréchal d’Estrées in 1605. It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants and flowers. The liqueur is named after the Monks’ Grande Chartreuse monastery, located in the Chartreuse Mountains in the general region of Grenoble in France. The liqueur is produced in their distillery in the nearby town of Voiron.

It’s very intense. Definitely an acquired taste for many people. It’s made with “130 herbs, plants and flowers” and once you try it, you won’t doubt it. I think it’s pretty obvious why it belongs in a drink based on a park.

Griffith's Gift Cocktail

Super tasty… damn proud of this cocktail…

Another element I wanted to use was Cachaça. This Brazilian rum is much more earthy than most other rums. In fact, many people consider its flavor to be closer to that of tequila than rum. I figured it would be a great companion for the Green Chartreuse that would help mellow it out a bit while still retaining that earthy goodness. I was right.

After figuring out the base spirits, the rest was pretty easy.

Added some lime juice, St. Germain (mmm… flowers…), and honey syrup and then topped it all off with some soda water to lighten it up a bit.

The result blew me away.

Griffith's Gift Cocktail

Ladies and gentlemen… Griffith’s Gift!

Griffith’s Gift

1 1/2 oz Cachaça
1 oz Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
1/4 oz St. Germain
1/4 oz Honey Syrup
Soda Water

Combine the Cachaça, lime juice, Green Chartreuse, St. Germain, and honey syrup with some ice and shake it up! Go ahead and pour that delicious concoction over a bunch of ice in a highball glass… preferably one that looks like a bamboo shoot because those are the coolest. Then you’ll wanna pour some soda water on top and give the whole thing a very gentle stir with either a twig from Griffith Park or a boring old bar spoon. After that… drink it. Love it. Live it.

And there you have it!

You’ve just experienced Griffith Park’s weird history as well as the birth of a cocktail!


This is just one post in our Imbibing California’s History series. Read the rest!

About Adam Willis

I'm just a guy who really likes California. I live in Arizona for now, but will be moving over there as soon as possible. Also. I love you. Smile!

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: