It was during a family camping trip along the California coast that the couple Marsh and Jan Mokhtari had an epiphany of sorts.
“I used to host a show on National Geographic called ‘Perilous Journeys,’” says Marsh Mokhtari. “I drove the worlds most dangerous roads, from the Arctic to the Himalayas, Africa, all over the world. There are very few places in the world as breathtaking as the Big Sur coastline.”
The couple watched some migrating gray whales and marveled at their 12,000-mile journey from Baja California all the way to the arctic and back.
“We decided to create a gin that is a celebration of this beautiful creature, and of it’s journey along the California coast.”
Mokhtari, 44, who also hosts the Food Network’s “Extreme Chef,” combined his love of the culinary with his sense of adventure.
“All gin is,” he says. “Is getting into a garden and chopping up vegetables. And that is what California is too. California is one of the biggest garden baskets in the entire world.”
Teaming with his designer/wife the two crafted the award-winning Gray Whale gin that has California coastline sensibilities both inside and outside of the bottle. Inside are juniper berries from Big Sur, limes from Baja California, mint from Santa Cruz, fir from Sonoma, almonds from the Central Valley and kombu from the Mendocino Coast. Outside it is all mapped out in an award-winning design featuring a gray whale fluke on the hazy blue bottle.
“If you are going to do gin, do gin,” says Mokhtari. “Gin is the original flavored vodka,” he says. And that flavor is juniper. “We wanted to go loud and proud on that.”
Distilled in Sebastopol, Gray Whale starts out with a six times distilled non-GMO base produced from corn, which makes it certified “gluten free.” Reverse osmosis water is added and then the botanicals are added to the essentially clean canvas.
“All the dried botanicals go directly into the base spirit, and all the fresh botanicals go into a little basket hovering above the liquid, so it’s a vapor distillation, one that is all done in a London dry gin style.”
152 different recipes eventually yielded the six-ingredient final result. “I’ve always had the ability to take a complex subject and distill it down to something simple,” says Mokhtari, who holds a degree in medical physics from Newcastle University in the U.K.
While juniper, citrus, mint and fir are easily recognizable as gin staples, kombu is not. At least not in the United States. While many people recognize four of the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, umami, the fifth, is more of a sensation and is closely tied to seaweed. Mokhtari calls it a “more-ish” sensation, where the ingestor wants “more” of the item. And while umami is most know around here in Japanese cooking, the Scots too have been cultivating seaweed for consumption for years. And many craft gins from Scotland feature edible seaweed as a botanical.
“We also went heavy on the almonds,” says Mokhtari. “More than most other gin [Beefeater gin and Bombay gin also use almonds as flavoring agents], and it changed the viscosity, the creaminess, the lasting finish,” Mokhtari says. “It works in perfect harmony with all the other botanicals.”
Distillation usually removes the nut allergy factor, but as with all allergens, every person’s sensitivity is different, so caution is always recommended.
At 86-proof, Gray Whale is full flavored with light notes of anise lingering behind the juniper and the fir. Bright citrus tempers the slightly viscous mouthfeel and there certainly is that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that comes along with kombu. Definitely a gin for people who already like gin.
“I didn’t want to make another gin the same as everyone else’s because the California coastline is different from everywhere else,” says Mokhtari. “Six ingredients only, because there’s an elegance and sophistication to something that is that simple.”
Gray Whale retails for around $40 and is available throughout Marin County. A percentage of their profits help support Oceana, an international organization protecting and restoring the world’s oceans on a global scale. More information can be found here: www.graywhalegin.com.