Morgan McLachlan, also known as @gin.witch, certainly has us under her spell. She is the co-founder, Chief Product Officer, and Master Distiller of AMASS botanics, which creates not only the delicious alcohol-free distilled spirit Riverine, but also a variety of botanical-forward products from gin to skincare. You may also recognize her name as partner to Katy Perry in their new nonalcoholic aperitif line, De Soi, which debuted this past January. Luckily, we were able to ask the very busy Morgan some questions about her fascinating work.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what has been your professional path before AMASS?
I was born and raised in British Columbia, and grew up in a family of mostly artists. When I was a little girl, I expected to be an artist or a filmmaker like my father when I grew up. My joke is that I didn't wake up as a little girl and say "Im going to formulate booze when I grow up!" I indeed did end up following in my father's footsteps, and worked as a motion picture camera woman for the first decade of my adult life. To this day, I love cinema and storytelling, as well as the technical and aesthetic elements of camera work, but I wasn't creatively fulfilled on the content I was working on. I became interested in distilling when I moved to Southern California in my late 20s, and found it was a way that I could get to know the local flora better.
What was your inspiration to start AMASS?
AMASS was the result of a number of small epiphanies. To start, as a distiller, my main interest has always been in the interface of botanicals in beverage, and professionally that is what I am most known for. I wanted to continue to pursue that work in an intentional, formalist way. At the same time, like many people in our industry, I found both the traditions around alcohol categories, and also drinking traditions, somewhat archaic and stifling, and not in step with current cultural evolutions. Finally, our team observed the contemporary cultural presentations of "biophilia" as much more a fundamental innate human desire (or need) than a modern fad.
How do your past experiences and career path inform the work you do today?
I am grateful to have grown up in a family of artists, because it taught me a lot about creative process, as well as the technical discipline that goes along with developing skills in any craft. As a camera woman, I needed to not only create beautiful compositions, but also to have the resourcefulness and technical ability to fix the timing belt of a 35mm motion picture camera. Product development is no different: it is both an art and a technical trade, neither of which one can master overnight.
What's been your experience as a gin distiller who is female?
Being a gin distiller that is female means that I was already an outlier in our traditionally male-dominated industry. Since I already didn't fit in, I feel like it afforded me the freedom to be more experimental, trust my gut, and follow my own path as I journeyed developing my craft as a distiller. Also, I have had a number of women tell me that they love our gin, and could tell that it was a woman who developed it. I don't know exactly what that means, but if it is a compliment, I will take it.
What was your process in creating Riverine's flavor profile? It's so complex yet refreshing, and really something of its own.
Low-alc, non-alc, and "better for you" drinks have always been an interest of ours, so including a non-alc spirit in our portfolio was a natural decision. There are plenty of fantastic alcohol alternatives on the market now, but we wanted to of course do ours, the AMASS way, which typically involves more nuance when it comes to the aroma and flavor composition through our use of botanicals. We didn't want to make any gin proxy, we wanted the experience to be a little more nuanced. As with many of our products, I took the botanical inspiration for Riverine from the terroir of a region, which in this case was the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up. I knew that I always wanted to make a "gin" inspired by that region, given the preponderance of juniper-like plant species in the area, and it seemed the freshness, herbaceous, and earthiness would translate particularly well to a non-alc spirit.
We love the reverence AMASS products brings to plants. What drew you to becoming a master of botanicals?
It was simply a deep reverence for nature, and the recognition (at least for myself) that I am more at peace in nature, and with nature. Drinks and personal care products are somewhat quotidien, but my goal with our products is to give people another conduit by which they can interface with and celebrate nature, via the magical sensory attributes of botanicals.
What's your favorite plant right now and why?
At this very moment, it is star jasmine! It is blooming right now in Los Angeles, and is making my evening strolls intoxicating.
What's your go-to Riverine cocktail recipe at the moment?
Right now I like the Vitamin Bee, its our riff on The Bees Knees (the classic gin cocktail). It is very simple, and perfect for spring time. It is 2oz Riverine, 1 oz fresh lemon juice, 1 oz honey syrup, shaken, and served over ice. If I am feeling fancy, I will garnish it with edible flowers. I like how the earthy notes in the honey compliment the earthy and herbaceous notes in Riverine.
As someone who both creates and drinks alcoholic gin, what's the appeal and occasion for you to switch to something nonalcoholic?
I deeply enjoy spirits and other alcoholic beverages, so much so, that I made making them my career! However, the fact of the matter is, as a person who is very somatic, and has had a long journey to find health and balance as an adult, I am also very sensitive to alcohol. As a distiller, I could literally go swimming in alcohol, there is an endless supply, but I don't like how I feel if I have more than a couple of drinks at once, and I don't like how I feel if I drink more than 2-3 times per week. That leaves plenty of time for imbibing fine alcohol alternatives.
What has made you most proud on this journey of bringing AMASS into the world?
Seeing that our product range resonates with modern consumers has been very fulfilling. Creatively, every little decision made during product development needs to have an intention, or raison d'être, sometimes on multiple levels. It is satisfying seeing people respond to that level of thoughtfulness. In general, I think that brands underestimate the sophistication of their consumers. Additionally, I am immensely proud of our team and our collaborations. "Amass" means "to gather", and as an upstart brand, we have gathered together an inspiring community of folks along the way.
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half-Full. How do you think alcohol-free alternatives like AMASS Riverine allow people to see the glass half-full?
I love this concept! As funny as it sounds, I think that abstinence from alcohol is generally a bit stigmatized because of all of the traditions around imbibing. I have a lot of friends and family who don't drink, and they always seemed like they were missing out by not having a celebratory beverage in hand. I believe AMASS Riverine (and all the other alcohol alternatives out there) allow people to see the glass half-full by creating the opportunity for inclusivity during drinking occasions, and I love that not drinking is getting normalized.