Jan and Marsh Mokhtari thought they were living out their California Dream. Jan worked as a multi-award-winning creative director for some of the world’s biggest brands, and Marsh hosted food and adventure shows on Nat Geo, Travel Channel, and the Food Network. Despite their professional success, they planted seeds for a new gin-based venture during a family vacation along Big Sur’s iconic coastline. With few distilleries actually operating in California, they saw their opportunity to create a uniquely California spirit that would bring joy to others and support sustainable causes—and maybe in the process build something that would make their daughters proud.
“It’s funny that we started a distillery to make our kids proud, but that’s exactly what happened,” Jan says of what became the Golden State Distillery. The connection between sunny California and the gloom associated with the traditionally British spirit might not seem obvious at first. Marsh, however, argues that “there’s one spirit that embodies the entire state of California––it’s gin,” citing its unique flavor based in “those beautiful botanicals,” which their distillery can source from the entire Golden State.
The couple committed to the prospect and sold their house to launch the distillery, as Jan put it, “just taking tiny little baby steps, every single day, to manifest this into happening.” To learn the art of distilling a distinctly California gin, however, Marsh had to head out of state, traveling the world to study the craft, while Jan focused on refining their branding, eventually landing upon their name: Gray Whale Gin.
“We just thought that if we’re going to create a spirit that says, ‘I love you, California,’ let’s call it the Gray Whale Gin,” says Jan. “It’s a celebration of both this beautiful state and the majestic creature that literally hugs the entire coastline.”
Making good on that initial promise to promote sustainability and make their kids proud, Jan and Marsh have focused on making a meaningful impact for gray whales. This includes regular donations to both Oceana and 1% for the Planet, and also partnering with Oceana on a special initiative to successfully ban drift gill nets off the coast of California––a significant threat to the migratory journey of gray whales and their calves.
That same migratory journey also served as inspiration for what goes inside each bottle. Each of the six botanicals offer a unique taste of California and are sustainably sourced from organic farms or wild harvested along the gray whale’s migratory path.
Their juniper berries are foraged from Big Sur’s rugged coastline, fir tree needles impart the freshness of Northern California’s coastal pines and Kombu Seaweed adds a touch of Pacific spray into each bottle. Gray Whale Gin also leans into California’s proud agricultural history with a smooth infusion of fresh lime, mint and almonds.
Perfecting this seven-times distilled recipe took two years, 152 batches and countless tasting sessions. The final result is a gin that hits your nose with refreshing aroma and leaves your palate with a silky-smooth almond finish––a quintessential Californian spirit from start-to-finish. Their efforts have paid off with several awards and positive industry recognition.
Here’s how you can benefit from all they’ve learned along the way with few of Jan and Marsh’s favorite gin cocktail recipes.
“Like an Eastsider, it’s an incredibly refreshing minty and lime drink that’s served in a tall collins glass. But this one has salted simple, which adds a little oceanic flavor and elevates some of the botanicals. It’s really something you want to sip on all throughout the beautiful summer months, but it’s great all-year-round.” -Marsh Mokhtari
+ 2 oz gin
+ .75 oz Salted Simple
+ .75 oz lime
+ 6 mint leaves
+ soda water
Combine mint, lime juice, gin, and salted simple into a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake for 3 to 4 seconds. Strain over fresh ice in a collins glass, top with soda and garnish with a mint bouquet.
Gold State Gimlet
“It’s a little bit more of a boozy cocktail and the Chareau Aloe Liqueur adds a level of mintiness. The typical gimlet is lime juice and gin, but we’re using lemon juice, gin and Chareau. It’s a very small amount of Chareau, which is this beautiful spirit from California, but it’s fabulous.” -Marsh
+ 2oz Gray Whale Gin
+ .75oz lemon juice
+ .5 parts Chareau Aloe Liqueur
+ .5 parts simple syrup
Shake all ingredients together and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Whale Hello There
“We call it, ‘summer in a glass.’ It’s very similar to a skinny Margarita recipe, so it’s just lemon juice, limes, agave and Gray Whale Gin. The botanicals really come out because the recipe is so simple and you just feel like you’re sitting next to the ocean, on the beach. It’s a crowd favorite, we have it at every event.” -Jan Mokhtari
+ 2 parts Gray Whale Gin
+ 1/2 part fresh lime juice
+ 1/2 part fresh lemon juice
+ 1/2 part agave syrup
Add all ingredients into a shaker, fill with ice and shake to combine. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a lemon peel.