“I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which made me interested in nature and botany. I just really feel at peace in nature. Apart from that, I come from a family of artists – my grandfather is an artist, my uncle is. As an artist, my father is Cinematographer. I always thought I’d follow in their footsteps, and so did I. I worked in the movie business for about a decade making music videos and indie films. I discovered my interest in spirits when I was living and working in the Czech Republic The Czech Republic is known for absinthe, but traditionally the smaller producers in the region make what would be called schnapps, which gave me the idea that every area has its own you know if your friend goes to Going to Mexico he will likely drink mescaline tequila, if he goes to Scotland he could drink scotch.
The career change happened when I moved to Southern California. I fell in love with the landscape down here – it has very beautiful and varied terrain and there are many microclimates. I began to wonder what a California regional spirit would look like. My interest in botany led me to gin because gin is really an expression and celebration of botanicals. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance when I say Los Angeles Gin because I think we associate gin more with the British drinking culture. Twenty years ago, Beefeater, Tanqueray, Seagrams, Bombay Sapphire was the only gin you could get. You know, London dry gin. Most gins have perhaps a third of the number of botanicals in Amass, which makes it taste very different. It’s really like perfumery – you add base and top notes and each has a purpose in terms of the taste, mouthfeel and finish of the gin.
My interest in botany led me to gin because gin is really an expression and celebration of botanicals.
As a camerawoman, I knew I had a feel for technical things. Film and distilling are similar in that they’re both professions, and I wasn’t intimidated by the idea of learning a new profession. There aren’t really places to learn how to distill, so I’ve taken lots of trips to the library and done a lot of research online to learn the genres and rules of thumb. Finally, I built a statue. It’s hard and it’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’ve taught myself how to do all kinds of things. I put a few of these out and brands came up to me developing spirits for them. By the time I started working on Amass almost a decade later, I had developed a range of gins and somehow figured out my technique. From inception to completion, the gin probably took about a year. Our vodka was launched about a year ago and now we are working on botanical hard seltzer, soft drinks and an aperitif. We are also expanding into personal care products.
When I tell people that I make personal care products and drink alcohol, they are like, ‘Huh?’ But there is really a lot of crossover going on. The way I conceptualize Amass relates to modern rituals. Social ritual is our drink, and our personal care products would come under personal ritual. COVID forced me to start using the products. I was seven months pregnant and got on a plane. I couldn’t find hand sanitizer in any store – this was in February when it was hard to come by. I already knew how to make hand sanitizer from my time at the distillery, so I only made a few for myself. My business partner suggested we make some commercially to see if anyone wanted and we finally got started. I don’t make eye cream or anything. Body care products with aromatic botanical experiences complement your rituals.
The cool thing about spirits is that everyone has their own preferences. Personally, I like pretty simple cocktails, and I think this is actually best for the home bartender. Our gin makes a wonderful gin and tonic. Gin and vodka together make a wonderful Vesper Martini, a combination of gin, vodka, lillet and lemon peel. This is what James Bond drank in the movies – it’s a sleek, light martini. A negroni is a juicy cocktail to take home, and it’s great because the recipe is so simple. It consists in equal parts of gin, campari and sweet vermouth. I usually try to keep it simple for the home bar, but I will always have these things. There is a wonderful shop here in Los Angeles called Bar Keeper that I buy most of my barware from, and there is a shop online called Cocktail Kingdom that I like. They have nice barware too.
SKIN CARE + MAKEUP
My skin care routine is pretty rudimentary and it has taken me a long time to dial in to what is good for me. In the morning I start with Milky Jelly Cleanser. I have combination skin and find that it cleanses me very thoroughly without drying my skin. It’s kind of a better cetaphil. And then I use a rose water toner from Fresh, which is very moisturizing. Next up is the common niacinamide serum, which is also pleasantly moisturizing to the touch. If I stay in I will moisturize with Embryolisse, but when I go out Cetaphil has a great SPF moisturizer. At night I start the same way – milk jelly, toner. Then I switch between treatment products. The common one has a 7% glycolic acid toner, and I’ll be using either that or Nancy K. Brown’s Aloe Vera toner. It’s a Canadian brand that I discovered through my mom 15 years ago – they have beautiful, natural products and you can buy them online. Depending on how tired I am, I can also put on this Embryolisse moisturizing mask. When I’m really feeling indulgent, I can use a Neutrogena Hydro Boost Overnight Mask. When I use this my skin is super moist and fresh in the morning.
As I get older, I wear less and less makeup. I think in a funny way, as our skin ages, makeup becomes more noticeable. I’m really bad at putting it on too. My joke is that I do makeup for the sighted – I can’t do makeup without looking like Donatella Versace. I wear mascara, either the Dior or the L’Oréal Voluminous X Fiber, which I really love. I think it’s new.
I think in a funny way, as our skin ages, makeup becomes more noticeable.
My hair is ridiculously easy to maintain. Davines Melu Shampoo and Conditioner, a little It’s A 10 Detangler … and most of the time I fall asleep with my hair wet. Now that I have a baby, I shower at night after he goes to bed. I have a lot of hair, but everything is very fine and my natural texture is slightly wavy. When I sleep wet I get beach waves. I actually have a funny story about my hair. I was in Vegas once for a friend’s bachelorette party and the 12 women I was with wanted to do what you have where you have champagne and get ready for hours. I didn’t do my hair just because I’m bad at it. And then we went to a night club. My hair was really long back then and I must have been standing near a candle – it just caught fire! If I had done my hair with hairspray and all of that, I would have been in the hospital. So, I think that’s an advantage! [Laughs]
I’ve been getting blonde highlights for about five or six years because I think people find me less threatening as a blonde. I do this in a parlor called Perry McGrath near my house. I use purple shampoo from time to time to tint the blonde, but I find what works best is a bit of Punky Color or Manic Panic purple mixed in with conditioner. I find it less harsh on my hair.
I’ve always bathed a lot – I feel like my natural habitat is a hot spring. But having a little baby is hard on your back, and baths help me relax. We also come out with a range of bath salts, so I’ve taken more baths than usual to test the products. The first to come out is called Forest Bath. It is a combination of many different types of mineral salts and smells of essential conifer oils from fir, spruce, cedar and many others. In all honesty, I just wanted something that smelled like the forest I grew up in. It’s a very therapeutic bath. That being said, L’Occitane’s lavender bath is divine. They also do a milk bath which is amazing. I’m a fan of body oil instead of moisturizers, and I usually make one myself with sesame oil, a bit of apricot kernel oil, sweet almond oil, and some essential oil. It’s another old classic, but I also love the Aveda body oil.
I’ve always bathed a lot – I feel like my natural habitat is a hot spring.
As a distillery I work a lot with my hands and also with high proof alcohol. The thing about high proof alcohol is that it removes nail polish from your nails. The only way to get a beautiful manicure is to gel nails. I did that before COVID. Now, with COVID and a baby, I really just massage some apricot kernel oil into my nail beds and cuticles. The only thing that absolutely changed my nails is collagen hydrolyzate. I started taking it for general health, but the by-product was my nails got really strong and long. People asked me if they were artificial. I get this from Great Lakes Gelatin and it’s not vegan. I’m also a big fan of omega-3s, which obviously come from fish. Omega-3 has really great benefits for your brain, and it helps my mood and calms me down too. But I’ve also noticed that my skin is much better when I take a significant amount of omega-3s. I buy glasses of Carlson fish oil and just drink it. They have a lemon flavor and it’s not that bad. Finally, I take prenatal vitamins year round. Prenatal vitamins are quite high in B vitamin, which is why I like them – it really helps with mood and cognition. I’m taking some from Ancient Nutrition that I got from Whole Foods. I work full time and have a full time baby so I just want to make sure I’m getting all of the basic nutrients I need.
Meditation is the main thing that keeps me going. I started studying meditation about 20 years ago. I usually do a 15 to 20 minute meditation that I just personalize. I think apps are great, but for anyone interested in mediation, I recommend this Shivananda guide to meditation. There is a really good introduction. I think what goes in our mind is really as important as what we put in our body – if not more important. So meditating is like eating a healthy diet. For me, it’s a way to be self-aware and detox the negative thought patterns that we are all somehow wired as humans. It’s something anyone would benefit from … you’re probably starting to understand that I’m a bit of a hippie. “
– as ITG said
Morgan McLachlan photographed by Felisha Tolentino on November 13, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.