From the outside, 1235 East 6th Street in downtown Los Angeles looks like a fairly generic industrial building, sitting across from a giant produce warehouse and around the corner from Skid Row. Inside, however, lies what might be the most innovative distillery in the world—a cross between Disneyland, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and a biochemistry lab.
For now, Davis has plenty more ideas in the works, both technical and amusement-park-ride-related. He’s working on recreating a 19th-century style of rum that was aged in American chestnut wood—except that species of tree was almost completely wiped out by disease in the early 1900s, so he’s cutting up an antique chestnut nightstand from the 1850s instead to get wood samples. He has plans for a botanical garden growing obscure fruits from the Amazon, for eventual distillation into brandy. He’s experimenting with fermenting rum in seawater, and also feeding various ingredients to the bacteria that ferment orchid seedpods into what we call vanilla beans, just to see what happens. But Davis emphasizes that he figured this all out himself, through a combination of "obsessive Googling" and learning from experts: “This whole place is mostly built from stuff you can buy at Home Depot,” he says.