How This Gin Company Is Helping Save California’s Coasts

Jan and Marsh Mokhtari founded Gray Whale Gin in 2016 with the intention of bringing “people together for good times” and doing “some good in the world”

Amidst the eruption of electric guitars and echoes of drums of the BeachLife Festival in Redondo Beach last weekend, the event’s new—and old—generation of hippies gathered around a glimmering blue van at the center of the venue’s sprawling lawn.

Gray Whale Gin had made the trek to the festival, with their staple vintage ocean blue Volkswagen. Alongside the van was their “Blue Mind,” an experience to promote their brand message of preserving the world’s oceans—all inside a capsule containing imagery of the Pacific coast.

Attendees of BeachLife Festival 2022 crowd around Gray Whale Gin’s “Blue Mind” experience on May 14, 2022. (Photo by Katrina Frederick)

Founders Jan and Marsh Mokhtari greeted attendees and gin-consumers alike with their signature smiles as Anastasia, one of the company’s employees working the event, told us of the people that would meditate, crack jokes, and take photographs in the capsule.

And still, every team member managed to drive forward the core message of Gray Whale Gin: “a spirit can bring people together for good times, and while together do some good in the world.”

“At the BeachLife Festival this past weekend, we were able to connect with consumers and invite them to experience Gray Whale Gin’s “Blue Mind” experience.” Jan and Marsh told Los Angeles magazine.

“The blue mind is the scientific notion that when near a body of water or submerged underwater, people feel more at peace, happier, creative and joyful. We felt this way while overlooking the water in Big Sur as we spotted a Gray Whale on its migratory journey, and the concept of Gray Whale Gin began. The blue mind feeling sparked the idea for the brand, our conservation efforts, and is the inspiration for our festival activation.”

Jan and Marsh started the company back in 2016, while on a camping trip in Big Sur. While engaging in a range of deep conversation, the type they noted as the ones “you only have when you’re on vacation, away from your 9-to-5 job and [when] the gravitational pull of making money goes out the window.”

Founders Marsh and Jan Mokhtari sit inside Gray Whale Gin’s signature ocean blue Volkswagen van. (Photo by Daniel Gorostieta)

Despite Jan’s success as an award-winning creative director and filmmaker and Marsh’s as a food and adventure host that has entertained the audiences of the Food Network, National Geographic, and Travel Channel, they felt something was still missing: a “meaningful legacy” to leave to their two daughters.

While sitting back and admiring the “turquoise oceans” that characteristically paint California’s coasts, they spotted a gray whale and her calf on their annual northern migration. And thus, the idea for Gray Whale Gin was born.

“Gray Whale Gin is a small-batch spirit inspired by the migratory path of the Pacific Gray Whale. Each of the gin’s six botanicals is wild foraged or sustainably sourced along the whale’s 12,000-mile journey from Baja, California up to the Arctic,” the couple said. “Gray Whale Gin gives back through 1% for the Planet and a partnership with Oceana, the largest organization in the world devoted to ocean conservation.”

The core idea of the company has always been to give back to the ocean waters that have continually allowed their business to thrive. Jan and Marsh sought to address fishermen and their drift gillnets, which commonly entangle and drown over 60 marine species, including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles.

A shot of founder Jan Mokhtari from behind as she approaches the Gray Whale Gin van at BeachLife Festival on May 14, 2022. (Photo by Katrina Frederick)

The couple decided to partner with Oceana, a 501 nonprofit ocean conservation organization. In doing so, Gray Whale Gin produced a video to raise awareness of the drift-gillnet issue, and aided in leading Oceana’s successful campaign that raised more than $1 million to match funds from the State of California.

Ultimately, it also triggered California’s four-year phase-out period for all remaining drift-gillnet permits by Jan. 31, 2024.

“These funds incentivize fishermen to turn in their drift gillnets and switch to cleaner, deep-set buoy gear, which is proven to profitably catch swordfish without harming other animals,” Jan and Marsh said. “Twenty-eight of the 32 active drift gillnet fishermen have agreed to participate in the program, and at least 20 miles of drift gillnets have already been turned in for destruction and recycling into other products.”

But Jan and Marsh are not yet finished in their work for ocean conservation, as the two told Los Angeles magazine of their plans for the future.

“The last step to getting these mile-long drift gillnets out of our ocean waters for good is to get them prohibited federally. Once the federal bill passes Congress and is signed into law, large-scale drift gillnets will be permanently phased out nationwide.”

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