Stories can be told in different ways.
When it comes to distilling, we can catalog facts and figures, often reducing a spirit to its process and chemical compounds. And, there’s much competitive dialogue about sourcing, blending, “luxury” and “craft.”
But, Mulholland Distilling’s portfolio shows that regionality also can be a key part of the story, along with culture and techniques, in manipulating ingredients into an engaging and original spirit that speaks of place.
Founder Matthew Alper said Mulholland’s spirits are a gift to Los Angeles, “a city that has given us so much.”
Named for William Mulholland, the visionary who brought water to what was then a desert town, Mulholland Distilling is one of the first spirit brands started in Los Angeles since Prohibition. The brand recently began its rollout to other cities, with Atlanta being its first stop.
Who better to bottle a love letter to L.A. than Alper, a third-generation Angeleno who is a cinematographer and first assistant cameraman, with dozens of credits in film and TV? In true L.A. fashion, the distillery’s genesis stems from a party where, while making conversation about booze, a distiller from North Carolina asked him why there wasn’t a distinct L.A. spirit.
“It just started this cascade of ideas,” Alper said.
He partnered on the project with a longtime friend, actor Walton Goggins. “It resonated deeply with me,” Goggins said. “I saw the potential, and it dovetailed into an expression of the way in which we both lead our lives.”
Because of his character on TV show “Justified,” Goggins had been asked several times before to be a whiskey spokesperson, but said that nothing was “a perfect fit.”
“For me, it’s all about the water,” Alper said. “It’s about Mulholland and the story behind him and the water behind it, all imbued with our L.A. spirit — our feeling, warm, sunny, oceans and mountains — kind of more of a lifestyle. Wherever you have a bottle of it, you can feel you are in a place of sunshine, hope and happiness.”
“I believe that libation is one of the greatest joys of life, for those who can enjoy it without excess, and, for me, it has always been a gateway to conversation and sharing one’s life with other people,” Goggins said. “It’s the therapist before therapy. To sit and share a drink with a friend is one of the greatest joys of life.”
Goggins, who grew up in Georgia, is happy that Mulholland now is available here. “It’s like coming home,” he said. “It’s just been so much fun, and that’s what I think you taste in the bottle.”
Unlike most new distilleries, Mulholland didn’t begin with just vodka or gin. “Because of my hubris and naivete,” Alper said, Mulholland started out with three spirits: vodka, gin and whiskey.
“I drink vodka at a business function where I don’t know anyone, gin where I do know people, and I drink whiskey with my friends,” Goggins said.
Amber-hued Mulholland American Whiskey ($27.99) first is distilled in Indiana, aged and blended with high rye bourbon in Kentucky, and finished in Ukiah, California. With a mash bill of 94% corn, 4% rye and 2% malted barley, the on-the-nose sensation is vanilla and sweet corn. It’s mellow and rich on the palate, with toasted oak, raisin and a hint of baking spices. A long finish is intriguing and original. It begins toffee-like, with rye spices and corn, ending dusty and dry, like black tea.
Alper sips it neat, while Goggins adds a couple of rocks.
Their vodka ($19.99), which won the silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, is gluten-free, made using non-genetically modified organism corn. It has a smooth, round character and a slight sweetness, from being distilled six times.
The partners describe their gin ($27.99), a double gold medal winner at the 2018 World Spirits Competition, as a blend of the New World and Old World. It’s infused with traditional botanicals, such as juniper, coriander and angelica, but they put their own spin on it with lavender, Japanese cucumber and Persian lime. It’s lavender on the nose, lightly sweet, with a bold cucumber backbone. It goes well in a 50-50 — gin and Dolin dry vermouth, cold, strained, and with an olive and lemon twist. It’s perfect in Goggins’ go-to cocktail, a Negroni.
“I love making it; I love drinking it,” he said.
Flavors, aromas, balance and complexity are always the arbiters of quality, but what Goggins and Alper are most proud of with their trio of spirits is accessibility. “It’s the ethos of our company. Why can’t you give a highly curated and designed product at a price that is affordable?” Goggins said.
“Mulholland is about embracing people, embracing creativity, humanity, great conversation and friendship. We are proud of it and we love it,” Alper said.
“We had a story to tell.”
You can find Mulholland spirits on-premises at 8Arm, Muss & Turner’s, 9 Mile Station, C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar, Local Three, Hugo’s Oyster Bar and Bistro Niko. They can be purchased at Elemental Spirits Co., J&J Liquor, Savi Provisions (Lenox), Total Wine & More (Kennesaw) and Tuxedo Wine & Spirits.
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