Married Distillery Founders Jan and Marsh Mokhtari Put a Fragrant Coastal Journey in a Bottle

One part gin, two parts love.

“It was when the gravitational pull of making money left us for a moment and we started to think clearly,” says Marsh Mokhtari of the moment he and his wife, Jan Livingston Mokhtari, dreamed up the idea for Gray Whale Gin. The pair was on vacation with their two daughters in Napa and Big Sur, enjoying the sights and drinking some of the best wine in California.

“After six days of drinking wonderful red wines, we both just wanted to change it up a little,” he says. “I ordered a craft beer while Jan asked for a local spirit—a cocktail. They didn’t have a local one. Then we noticed that although everywhere makes wine, nobody distilled spirits. There were few, if any, craft spirits at the time … anywhere.”

That trip led to Jan and Marsh’s quest to launch Golden State Distillery. Their newfound passion for spirits manifested itself on the cliffs of McWay Falls in Big Sur.

“We were watching gray whales in the distance, and we pondered what we wanted our impact to be on California, our girls and our lives,” Marsh says. “Right there and then we decided to start a company dedicated to celebrating California and proudly supporting ocean conservation—something that not only we’d be proud of but our daughters too.”

The six botanicals used in Gray Whale Gin (limes, juniper berries, mint, fir trees, almonds and kombu sea kelp) span the Californian portion of the migratory path of the majestic gray whales. “The whales have their babies in a UNESCO-protected site called San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja,” notes Marsh. “They nurse their newborns for three to five months, then they head to the Arctic’s abundant feeding grounds. This migration inspired the gin.”

With a strong connection to the ocean, the couple wanted to pay forward the success of their product. Gray Whale gives 1% of its sales to environmental causes.

“On her birthday, in lieu of gifts, our daughter, Lila, asked guests to make donations to animal and environmental conservation groups like WWF and Oceana,” says Jan. “She taught us that lesson: You’re happy when you stop asking what can the world give you and start asking how you can make the world a better place.”

How do Jan and Marsh balance marriage, family and running a new business all at the same time? “One of the challenges is we never stop working,” explains Jan. “We’re at the girls’ soccer game and we’re discussing [the] Gray Whale bottling process and possible innovations, etc. But when it’s something you’re passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work.”

Coincidentally, the pair met at a bar in Chicago several years ago. Says Jan, “Both of our parents, who have been happily married for over 95 years combined, also met in a bar, so we think it’s good luck.”


  • 2 ounces Gray Whale Gin
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • ½ ounce Raspberry Shrub (see below)
  • ½ ounce orgeat syrup
  • 5 mint leaves
  • Garnish: blueberries, a sprig of mint and a lime wheel

Muddle mint in bottom of shaker with fresh lime juice. Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Shake and fine-strain into a chilled glass with new ice and garnish.

  • 1 cup raspberries
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup agave

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until liquefied (about 1 minute). Pour into a glass jar and place in fridge for 2 to 3 days. Fine-strain contents and serve.

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