PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARGAUX GIBBONS
Gray Whale Gin mixes locally sourced botanicals with efforts to protect the oceans
Gray whales are washing ashore in alarming numbers. In July, seven were found dead in Alaska. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tally for 2019 along the West Coast of the continent is nearing 200. NOAA describes it as an “unusual mortality event.”
This did not move Marsh and Jan Mokhtari to create Gray Whale Gin. But it does add urgency to their efforts, which is to celebrate and protect gray whales with every bottle sold. Their inspiration was less ominous: The couple, who met in a Chicago bar 20 years ago, were camping with their kids above McWay Falls at Big Sur’s Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park when they spied a gray whale and her calf migrating north. In that moment, they say, an idea was hatched.
That migration ranges from warm and protected birthing bays in Baja California to the frigid feeding grounds of the Bering Sea, covering 10,000 miles round trip and ranking among the longest for any mammal on Earth. To prep for the 55-day voyage, gray whale calves power down some 50 gallons of milk daily. At 40 percent fat, it’s thick stuff: The National Park Service describes it as “the consistency of cottage cheese.”
Gray Whale Gin enjoys a lighter flavor profile and one that reflects the annual migration. Each batch of 86-proof Gray Whale Gin is distilled six times, then a collection of precisely curated botanicals, either foraged from the coast or sourced from organic farms, is added to the pot still or vapor baskets.
Each ingredient corresponds to a spot along the migration route and those appear on a coastal map integrated into the tail symbol on the gin’s azure bottle. They include lime zest from Baja, almonds from Capay Valley, juniper berries from Big Sur, mint from Santa Cruz, kombu from Mendocino and fresh fir needles from Sonoma.
The recipe is worthy of the awards it has reeled in, including gold at the San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge, but its most appetizing quality lies elsewhere. One percent of annual sales (not profits) supports Oceana, the world’s largest organization dedicated solely to marine conservation. In GWG’s first year, it donated $30,000 to abate practices like fishing with massive and destructive drift gill nets.
That gives experts like Oceana Pacific Policy Manager Ashley Blacow-Draeger hope. “With all the threats to the ocean, it can get a little overwhelming,” she says. “But I’m optimistic.”
Mark C. Anderson is a freelance writer based in Seaside (and in his backpack). Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @MontereyMCA.