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Lahgo x AMASS: Talking Self-Care, Founder to Founder

Lahgo x AMASS: Talking Self-Care, Founder to Founder

We spent some quality time with Lunya/Lahgo founder and CEO, Ashley Merrill, and founder/CEO of AMASS Botanics, Mark Thomas Lynn – both big fans of making every day a self-care Sunday.

What are the self-care rituals you practice to best care for yourself?

Ashley Merrill: I've worked out obsessively, ever since I was in high school. It’s part of my routine now and is essential to maintaining physical and mental health for me. I’m also religious about sleep — going to bed early and taking naps on the weekend. I find that if I’m tired, everything else I do is a little tainted. I also have quite a skincare routine, from serums and lotions to microcurrent facials.

Mark Lynn: Music is a big stress reliever for me. I have a small Bang and Olufsen speaker that I use to play a lot of chill music – Bassanova has been on frequent rotation lately.

How are you finding connection right now?

AM: The arrival of COVID and the subsequent work from home mandate has had a silver lining in that it has given me the opportunity to spend more time being physically present with my family. I’ve come to appreciate a smaller circle and getting deeper with the friends and family in my bubble. I am certainly struggling a little to connect and maintain a company culture with a remote workforce, but it's a work in progress, and one the whole world is working on together.

ML: This past year, I’ve missed going to bars and restaurants. Now that I’m vaccinated, it’s been nice to connect with friends over dinner and drinks again. We’ve been revisiting all of our go-to places, of course, but also trying some of the new spots that have opened during COVID – Cara in Los Feliz has become a quick favorite.

How do you make your bedroom a sanctuary? How do you make your bedroom your own?

AM: Textiles play a prominent role here — soft Lunya sleepwear (Lahgo for my husband, of course) and bedding always lay the foundation for a cozy night. I also try to set the mood with art, colors, and candles that reinforce the restful environment I'm after. I treat it like a spa away from the spa; using more functional sleep aids like a Lunya mask, magnesium supplements, and infrared lights.

ML: Lighting and scent both play an important role in creating a calming environment for me. Our Art of Staying In candle is one of my favorites to burn at home, since it has a warm, comforting scent that’s still really clean. I like to keep it on my nightstand and burn it before bed to create a moody ambiance. I also do my best to keep things pretty minimal and tidy, especially in the bedroom.

What are your go-to tips for more restful sleep, or more effective lounging?

AM: Stress and motherhood have often made sleep a challenge, to say the least. We've come up with some tricks, like our Do Not Disturb hanger that we use to signal the kids if they can come in or not. Generally, this being up means there's another parent already awake, so the kids can go find them instead of waking up the other. We also set wake up times for the kids — they can wake up before 7, but they're not allowed to wake us up before this time. The kids stopped napping when they went off to kindergarten, but my husband and I never gave up! Now it's a quiet time on weekends when the kids can entertain themselves, and we can get some daytime rest.

ML: I’m a notoriously bad sleeper, but my Lahgo sleep mask is a game changer – it’s so soft, and blocks out light really well. I also got an 8 Sleep system that cools the bed and I’ve found that it really helps me stay asleep.

What helps you feel confident during your off-hours?

AM: While work and parenting figure prominently into my life, I really derive confidence and joy from the more intimate parts of my day. I find that it connects more to feeling physically, emotionally, creatively fulfilled. Being in good shape allows me to dress in a way that makes me feel confident and comfortable, so working out and eating well certainly contributes to my overall sense of contentment. I also crave alone time to recharge and satisfy creative needs — things like cooking, reading, and making (or just engaging with) art help me feel like the best version of myself. It's like exercise for my brain, stretching it in ways my professional demands don't.

ML: Like I said, scent is big for me – wearing a nice cologne helps me feel more confident and like myself, even during my off-hours. Can’t go wrong with Maison Francis Kurkdjian.

Describe how you would spend an entire day in bed.

AM: Now we're talking. Catch me watching TV, reading, and probably being alone most of the time — maybe the occasional hug visit from the family. I'd also put together some of my favorite meals, like a Macho salad (inspired by Honor Bar, it's romaine, goat cheese, and all the toppings), or just splurge on Sugarfish. Oh, and you can't forget some Rori's ice cream!

ML: I rarely do this at home (though maybe I should…), but on vacation I love lounging in bed with a book, maybe even ordering in some room service.

It’s the end of the day and you’re chilling on the couch — what are you drinking? Reading? Watching?

AM: Sparkling water, a hot cup of Bengal Spice Tea, or a cocktail featuring my favorite gin from AMASS, depending on the mood. Usually reading some kind of historical fiction!

ML: Naturally, I’m drinking an AMASS cocktail. At home, that usually means a negroni or a gin and tonic, since they’re impossible to mess up and don’t require any fussy bar equipment.

AMASS, based in Los Angeles, makes clean botanics for modern life, elevating everyday social and self-care rituals through the power of plants.

Lahgo is a menswear brand engineering elevated lounge and sleepwear. Their pieces are intended to help men prioritize their self-care, achieve more effective downtime, and unlock their best selves with advanced, sustainable fabrics.

Introducing AMASS Afterdream

Introducing AMASS Afterdream

We’re excited to announce the launch of AMASS Afterdream, a cannabis-infused non-alcoholic spirit. Made with a blend of THC, CBD, and Delta-8, the result is a limb-loosening, mind-mellowing sip that mirrors the feeling that comes from drinking a strong cocktail.

Inspired by the California coast where cannabis culture first took root in the ‘60s, Afterdream blends sunny Sumac, Sorrel, and Lemon Peel for a bright, tart taste, balanced by herbaceous notes of Mint and Rosemary. AMASS Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan also carefully selected cannabis-derived terpenes like Limonene, Beta-myrcene, and Eucalyptol to complement the spirit’s sophisticated flavor profile.

Afterdream is meant to be sipped simply on the rocks with a splash of tonic water, or in an array of non-alcoholic cocktails.

Afterdream is now available for purchase in Southern California exclusively at Sweet Flower 

Food & Drink Pairings

Food & Drink Pairings

Coming together for a meal is an important ritual across households. It’s a time for us to slow down, review our day, and enjoy our favorite foods and drinks. Whether you’re dining out or cooking at home AMASS, has the perfect botanic spirits to complement all of your meals. Take your pick from some of our favorite combinations:

Oysters with a Martini.

You can never go wrong with a classic combo like oysters and a martini. The quick burn of brine and vinegar complement the floral notes of chamomile and the zest of lemon in our AMASS Botanic vodka martini. For larger oysters we recommend a more drinkable, lower abv martini.

Garlic Parmesan pasta with a Negroni.

Herbaceous gin meets the fruity, nutty flavor of parmesan. Dry gin and parmesan cheese are a perfect match, and a simple garlicky pasta is sure to delight your taste buds. We recommend finishing your meal with a sip of this refreshingly sweet sunshine negroni made with AMASS Dry Gin and topped with Sun Sign.

Lamb Curry with Gin and Tonic.

If you love a little spice, this is the pairing for you. Fragrant spices like coriander, cumin, paprika, and cayenne lead the way in this tasty dish that is partnered with the bubbly, citrus-forward welcome of AMASS Dry Gin and tonic water. If you prefer your curry on the spicy side, the fizzy flavor can even add an extra kick to your meal.

Espresso Martini and Chocolate Covered Pretzels.

No dinner is complete without dessert. An espresso martini is the perfect complement to sea salt and chocolate. Let the flavors of espresso and chocolate blend together in your mouth for the perfect sweet bite and an epic night cap. Try dark chocolate covered pretzels for an even more decadent flavor.

Mercury in Retrograde

Mercury in Retrograde

Three to four times a year we hear the dreaded phrase: Mercury is in retrograde. These words strike fear in some, but what’s actually occurring is not so scary at all. Simply explained, Mercury is in retrograde when it appears to move backwards. It's an astrological sensation when fast-moving Mercury, which typically spends 88 days in orbit around the sun compared to Earth’s 365, appears to move West to East instead of East to West.

Although Mercury moving backwards is only an optical illusion, the areas of life that Mercury dictates, including communication, travel, and rationality, can be thrown into chaos during this time. From unexpected texts from your ex, to missing your flight, when this astrological phenomenon occurs things tend to go haywire.

Luckily, Mercury is only in retrograde for three to four weeks, however the chaos can begin and end at different times. Mercury Retroshade is described as the two week time period before and after Mercury goes into retrograde. Before it begins, communication mishaps are more likely to happen, so it's not a bad idea to prepare by cleaning your electronics and rescheduling any big decision-making plans. The period after retrograde is viewed more positively however, as the fog clears, and clarity is regained. This is a good time to reflect on any lessons that were learned and revisit decisions that were put on hold.

Not all are easily affected by this time of transition. Those born during a period of retrograde may feel a sense of lucidity during this time of chaos. This may explain why those of us not born during retrograde may be on edge, while others seemingly thrive.

So what do we do about the astrological chaos that is thrust upon us three to four times a year? While there isn’t much we can do to avoid it, we can prepare ourselves for the disarray. Astrologists recommend that you relax the mind through journaling and meditation. Here at AMASS, we recommend unwinding with a cocktail and a soothing soak. Whatever will help you keep your sanity while Mercury is in retrograde, just relax and know that you’re not alone in the turmoil.

How to Style Your Bathroom

How to Style Your Bathroom

From morning cleansing to nighttime pampering, we spend more time in front of the mirror in our bathrooms than we may realize. This time is sacred and typically devoted to self care, so how do we maximize the potential of this space? Here’s a guide for how to style your bathroom:

1. Keep things clean.

Sometimes less is more. A crowded bathroom counter may result in an overworked mind. Invest in chic containers to hold and conceal all your essentials and try to keep only what you use everyday out on display.

2. Visualize your routine.

If you like to entertain or just love feeling pampered in your own bathroom, having a functional setup is a must. Visualize your daily routines and think about what you need at every step. Make sure to keep essentials like hand soap, towels, and lotion accessible. Bonus points if you include cotton swabs for quick touch ups, a hook for grooming tools, and a basket with extra bathroom tissue.

3. No nonscents.

Smell is one of the most important elements of your bathroom, but there can also be a visual appeal. Consider keeping a candle, incense, or room spray out on your counter to keep your bathroom smelling fresh. If you’re a candle fanatic, try repurposing your empty candle containers for a toothbrush holder or knick knack catcher.

4. Spruce it up.

Last but not least, make your bathroom yours by including your favorite pieces. Our favorite ways to make the bathroom feel more posh include adding a vase of fresh flowers, or a grab and go tray with your favorite jewelry, fragrances, or aftershave.

Bouquet Making 101

Bouquet Making 101

We’re no strangers to the world of flora at AMASS. For home decoration or as a gift, a beautiful bouquet of flowers is the best way to brighten anyone's day. Although store bought bouquets get the job done, crafting a unique bunch makes a gift or home decor moment extra special. Enter: our AMASS flower specialist and Social & Community Strategist, Caitlin Zenisek. Follow Caitlin’s tips for building a flower arrangement here:

1. How did you get into bouquet making and creating flower arrangements? Is there a source of inspiration you pull from?

I’ve always loved the way a beautiful bouquet of flowers can make such a big impact on someone’s day, particularly mine! We tend to send or receive flowers for celebrations, milestones, or on days we need some extra joy, but I think flowers should be an everyday thing. I genuinely am happier when my home is blooming with arrangements in every room. I also love that you don’t need to be an expert - there is no right or wrong way to put together a beautiful bouquet, you just need some creativity. I follow a few florists on instagram that I really admire. @raphverrion is the head florist at Soho Farmhouse and his playfulness and sense of whimsy is everything! Other accounts I love are @theunlikelyflorist, @hart_floral, and @lambertfloralstudio (although I could go on and on)!

2. Flowers are obviously the most important element of a bouquet. Where do you find yours and how do you decide which to pick?

I always start at the farmers market! Most of the time, I’ll stick to my usual color palette of greens and whites (I love how fresh they make my space feel), but if something really special or kind of funky catches my eye, I’ll just start grabbing stems until I feel like I like the direction I’m headed. I like to pay attention to balance in terms of texture, color, height, and weight to make a well rounded bouquet.

3. Walk us through your process–how do you prep, create, and then finish your bouquets?

Once you get your flowers home, the first step is to pick your vase. This will determine how you prep your stems. Before you start arranging, remove any leaves or foliage that fall below the waterline of your vase, and trim each stem with scissors on an angle. This will help your flowers drink more water, and prevent any bacterial growth to keep your bouquet fresher, longer.

Once your flowers and greenery are prepped, start adding your flowers to your vase! I rotate my vase as I work to make sure the arrangement looks beautiful from every angle. Start with your thickest or sturdiest flowers to create a bit of an anchor, then work your way towards the more dainty ones. I always finish by filling in any gaps with extra greenery. Once you’re happy with how your bouquet looks, pick a pretty focal point in your home and admire your work!

Replace the water in your vase every day or two–this will really help get the longest life out of your flowers. After about a week, I start to remove any dying flowers and rearrange as necessary.

4. Are there any tips or tricks you’d like to share that help facilitate the process?

Some of my favorite bouquets come out of trips to the farmers market where I come home with a totally random selection of flowers, greenery, and even edible elements like fresh herbs or branches with berries. Don’t be afraid to try something new! And of course, just enjoy yourself. I find flowers to be very therapeutic - I’m usually doing my arrangements on a Sunday afternoon with music on and coffee (or a more boozy beverage) in hand, when I’m really relaxed and enjoying the process! The more creative you get, the more fun you’ll have!

How to Craft the Perfect Summer Playlist

How to Craft the Perfect Summer Playlist

Sharing a drink is a powerful way to bring people together. But it’s often music that keeps us there, setting the mood and enhancing these shared moments with friends. With that in mind, here’s how to craft your perfect playlist for your upcoming summer soirees:

1. Identify the intent.

Is this an intimate dinner party, or a full blown block party? The distinction is important, and will dictate the kind of playlist you put together. For smaller gatherings, curating a collection of songs that don’t distract from your conversation while also setting the right tone is key (are you going for a chill hang or a fancy dinner, for instance?). A big party, meanwhile, requires danceable tracks that keep the energy up.

2. Know your audience.

As the party-appointed DJ, it’s not your job to appeal to everyone’s music sensibilities, but curating a playlist around your friends’ tastes will help ensure everyone is having a good time. Don’t be afraid to span genres within one playlist, so long as you're mindful of how the songs flow into the next. Country, hip hop, sad girl indie – it can all coexist when done right.

3. Make it longer than you think.

Making your playlist a little longer than you think it needs to be gives you the flexibility to skip over songs that miss the mark while ensuring you’re not repeating the same songs over and over in a loop. Parties rarely run shorter than you think they will, so building a bigger playlist means you can go into the wee hours of the night.

4. Find your flow.

Most parties ebb and flow in a similar fashion; there’s the quiet catching up at the beginning as you intercept bottles of wine and find your footing. Then, once the food and drinks get going and stories are passed back and forth, the energy picks up, requiring a collection of upbeat tracks to keep the party going. And then, as the night peters out, there’s the deeper moments, the “how are you really?” conversations that require a soundtrack that can fade into the background. Of course, it’s not an exact science, but following this framework can help keep the music matching the mood.

Looking for a ready-made playlist? Here’s our Dry Gin, distilled into a playlist that pairs perfectly with a dirty martini.

Botanic Hard Seltzer: The Full Story

Botanic Hard Seltzer: The Full Story

Social media has always been a highlight reel. For this past year though as we’ve all been stuck in our homes alone, all we’ve had are these brief glimpses into our loved ones’ lives via virtual channels. We’ve seen our friends post about moving cities, starting new jobs, and adopting pets. But what’s going on behind the scenes?

Now that we’re able to spend time together with our friends in person again, we can get “The Full Story” behind those late-night Instagram posts and vague tweets.

Our Botanic Hard Seltzer is an invitation: to come together, dig a little deeper, and get #TheFullStory behind those moments we may have missed. Join us, won’t you?

How to Participate

Share your full story by taking to social media with photos and videos of you and your friends catching up over AMASS Botanic Hard Seltzers.Tag us @amass.botanics with the hashtag #TheFullStory.

How to Soothe Your Summer Skin

How to Soothe Your Summer Skin

The stresses of modern life sometimes require a more elaborate nightly ritual; a way to demarcate day from night and truly unwind. And in the summer, as temperatures swell and we get our fair share of sun, our self-care routines often revolve around keeping our skin nice and supple. Here are our tried and true rituals for smooth summer skin:

1. Dry brush.

Slough off dry skin and get the blood moving with a quick scrub from a dry brush. This will prime skin to soak up nourishing botanical oils, and help ease some of the tension that’s accumulated throughout the day.

2. Soak.

Swirl a handful of our Forest Bath Salts into a tub with running warm water. Formulated with sweet almond and apricot kernel oils, these salts deeply nourish the skin. Meanwhile, Himalayan pink, Pacific Sea, and Epsom salts relieve tension, relax muscles, and act as a gentle exfoliator.

3. Apply lotion.

As you dry off, apply a generous amount of our Botanic Lotion from your shoulders to your toes. Coconut oil helps to lock in moisture, while sweet almond oil, rich in polyphenol antioxidants, conditions and soothes the appearance of dry skin. You’ll be left with silky smooth skin, and enveloped in the scent of cinnamon, basil, or lemon.

Looking to further elevate your bath experience? Turn to our guide to a soothing soak here.

Get to Know Your Glassware

Get to Know Your Glassware

You’ve got good spirits, so now it’s time to raise your glassware game to the same level. From Collins to Coupes, here’s all the glimmering glassware you need to stock in your liquor cabinet:

1. Collins.

A Collins glass is a skinnier, taller version of the classic Highball, used to serve mixed drinks over ice like Gin & Tonics and, of course, Tom Collins. They’re sleek in style and endlessly versatile, so you can use them for your morning OJ just as you would your evening nightcap.

2. Coupe.

Essentially a curved martini glass, the coupe is a stemmed glass with a wide, shallow bowl that’s used to house everything from a Gimlet to a Martinez to a Bee’s Knees. Because of their shallow bowl and delicate touch, coupe glasses are best reserved for drinks served “up” – in layman terms, that means cocktails that are shaken with ice and strained, as opposed to Collins and Rocks glasses that are designed to bear the brunt of heavy cubes.

3. Rocks.

A rocks glass is as classic as it comes, and for good reason – these short and stout glasses are used for just about any cocktail served on ice. They’re a standby for gin drinks like the Negroni, and are often used to house brown spirit cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, diluting the potent libations with a large rock.

4. Martini.

The ‘90s are back, and with them comes the resurgence of the Martini glass, the conical shaped cocktail glass used to house Martinis, sure, but also drinks like the Cosmopolitan and the Appletini. While you could just as easily use a Coupe for these cocktails, there’s something nostalgic about an old-school Martini glass that earns it a place in our kitchen cabinets.

5. Nick and Nora

If a Martini glass and a Coupe glass had a baby, it’d be called Nick and Nora. And what a cute baby it is, with its delicate stem and small, curved bowl. Named after the main characters from the 1934 film The Thin Man, who were shown throughout the film sipping spirits from the iconic glasses, the Nick and Nora glass harkens back to retro cocktail culture, and can be used anytime you want to add a fun twist to any drink traditionally served in a Martini or Coupe glass.

Summer Solstice Rituals

Summer Solstice Rituals

Summer is here, and there’s no better way to ring in the season than basking in the light on the longest day of the year. Here are the midsummer rituals we’re practicing to celebrate this year’s summer solstice.

1. BURN BABY BURN.

The summer solstice is all about honoring the sun, and symbolically at least, fire is an extension of that. Bask in the glow of a bonfire, play with sparklers, or light candles around your home. Whatever you choose, set your intentions for the rest of the year as the flame flickers.

2. PARTY ALL NIGHT.

Traditionally, the shortest night of the year has been a time to party, staying up until the sun rises on the 21st or 22nd. Our advice? Go dancing, throw a beach bonfire party, and drink up – this time won’t come for another 365 days.

3. SETTLE IN FOR A SOAK.

If you prefer a leisurely evening in over an all night rager, consider settling in for a long soak in the tub. The meditative experience of turning off all the lights, running some warm water, and soaking in the soothing scent of eucalyptus and fir is the perfect way to clear your mind.

4. TAKE A WALK.

Flowers are symbols of the solstice, so in celebration surround yourself with burgeoning buds on a walk through your neighborhood or a nearby botanical garden as a way to ground yourself and stay connected with the changing of seasons.

5. PICNIC WITH SUMMER PRODUCE.

Celebrate the abundance of the season with a homemade meal featuring fresh summer produce. Honey is the symbol of the June moon, but other June blooms like asparagus, tomatoes, and peaches are also fit for feasting on this June 20th.

How to Take Care of Your Candles

How to Take Care of Your Candles

Candle care seems simple enough, until your flame starts sputtering and smoking. Here’s how to avoid that, plus four other tips on how to keep your candles burning clean.

1. Burn for at least two hours.

To avoid tunneling, it’s important to let your candle burn until the entire surface has evenly melted, otherwise you’ll end up with an unpleasant ring of unmelted wax. For an 8 oz candle like ours, that usually means burning it for about two hours, though you can let it burn up to four hours if you really want the scent to fill the room. Just make sure you’re keeping an eye on it, and avoid going much longer than four hours; extensive burn times can thin your wax, put off soot, and damage the oils in your candle.

2. Trim the wick.

You know that part of your wick that looks like a burnt piece of popcorn? It’s called a mushroom, and burning it results in a large smoky flame. To cut down on all that and have a cleaner, more even burn, use scissors periodically to trim your wick down to 0.25 inches, being careful not to trim so far that the wax covers the wick. Once your candle gets pretty low on wax, swapping in a wick trimmer for scissors will help you reach deep into the vessel.

3. Put out the flame carefully.

Candle snuffers exist for a reason; they gently extinguish the flame while minimizing smoke, preserving the lovely aroma that the candle has produced. If you don’t have a snuffer though, don’t sweat it. Just be sure to carefully blow out your candle with a small amount of air so that the wax doesn’t splatter everywhere.

4. Keep it out of the sun.

Exposure to direct sunlight and high heat leads to some sad, melted candles, accelerating their aging process and ultimately weakening their fragrance. Instead, keep your candles out of the rays and in a cool, dark place like a drawer or cabinet when they’re not burning. Too pretty to put away? Leaving your candles out on your coffee table is totally fine if you’re going through them fast; just make sure they’re not up against a window.

5. Upcycle your vessels.

Resist the temptation to burn every last drop of wax, as doing so could overheat the candle and lead to breakage. Instead, follow our tips on how to properly upcycle your candle, and use the leftover vessel to corral everything from makeup brushes to pens to your toothbrush.

 

How I Get Undone with Brianna Bitton

How I Get Undone with Brianna Bitton

We are constantly bombarded with productivity hacks – tips and tricks on how to cross everything off our to-do lists while also being a person/partner/colleague/parent. Here at AMASS, though, we are far more interested in how people get undone. We want to know the nightly rituals that happen after 5PM, from the cocktails drunk to the books read. To us, it’s those small moments behind the scenes that really count, because in them lies a glimpse into who we want to be.

This time around, we talked with Brianna Bitton, Co-Founder of Flo Vitamins and an LA-based Interior Designer designing AMASS’ HQ here in Los Angeles.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in a suburb of LA. I’ve been a California girl my whole life, and I love it. I’m an Interior Designer, and also cofounded a vitamin company with my brother. My favorite way to enjoy AMASS is in an espresso martini.

What rituals do you practice to take care of yourself?

I love a PCH drive. I love to take a drive down PCH, open my sunroof, and blast music. Everytime I do that I just feel like a fresh new person. So that’s a ritual I do. I love to light a candle and take a bath – that’s fantastic. And I love love love to bake treats. If I just want something fun to do, I’ll bake cookies or cakes or something. I actually haven’t made them in a little while, but all during quarantine I made these brown butter sprinkle cookies. They are so good. I would make them almost every night in the height of quarantine, and… it was troubling. I had to have a cookie every night [laughs].

You’re an interior designer. What does your ideal space look like for a relaxing night in?

So for my personal style, I love to keep it as neutral as possible. I love warm creams and whites, and really beautiful natural woods and walnuts. I do love a sparkle of gold though. My place is pretty natural – I love natural materials and linen, and those really nice warm colors, but I love to pop it with a little gold shimmer.

What music do you put on when you want to chill?

I have a playlist of all of these oldies. I call it “cutie romantic nostalgia,” and it’s all Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Billie Holiday – all of these super old school songs that when I’m just chilling or cooking dinner I love to put on. It just makes me feel good. I love to listen to Dean Martin when I’m drinking wine and making Italian food. It’s just so fun, and puts you in a good mood – it’s almost like Christmas music playing when it’s not Christmas. That’s my way of having that warm spirit all year long.

Where are you hoping to travel next?

I’m going to Nashville next week actually, so that will be really fun. It’s my first time and I’m really excited to go. And then this summer, I’m doing a little European trip with my family. We’re going to go to Tuscany for the first time and also do the English countryside. I’m really excited about that. The EU just announced they’re opening travel for vaccinated Americans on June 15th, and we’re supposed to be going on June 29th. We’re really just jumping in [laughs].

What does an ideal day off look like for you?

I love a coffee walk. I’d start the day with a walk to coffee in my neigborhood and maybe a little pop into the farmer’s market, or a fun, casual shopping day around my neighborhood. Maybe some brunch with friends going into a really yummy dinner and a fun night out. That’s kind of a full day. I love a brunch that fades into a night out.

It’s the end of the day and you’re vegging on the couch–what are you drinking? Reading? Watching?

I’m definitely a TV girl. I’m probably rewatching some CW teen drama, if I’m being honest. Probably like a little OC, One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl moment. And definitely drinking AMASS, obviously. I have a four-pack of Faerie Fizz in my fridge right now waiting for me.

Get to Know Your Bar Instruments

Get to Know Your Bar Instruments

Let’s be real: you could use a pair of chopsticks to stir a cocktail and still end up with a downright delicious drink. But for those interested in upping your bartending game, we’re breaking down all the tools you need to shake, stir, and strain in style.

Beginner

1. Shaker.

When it comes to shakers, there are two kinds: Boston-style and cobbler-style. The pros prefer the Boston, which essentially is just two metal cups that fit into each other and form a tight seal. It’s faster and a little more secure than the cobbler-style, which instead offers convenience through its small size and built-in strainer. Personally, we prefer the Boston shaker, mainly because of its precision and control, which requires a bit more finesse but is ultimately a much more elegant, specialized tool.

2. Hawthorne strainer.

If you opt for a Boston-style shaker, you’ll need a strainer, which keeps ice out of your drinking glass so as to not dilute your cocktail. Any old strainer will work just fine, but what you really want is a classic Hawthorne strainer that snugly fits your shaker.

3. Jigger.

For jiggers, we love a classic double-sided metal version, where one side measures one ounce and the other two ounces. But if you’re a novice, it can be tough to clock more precise measurements in one of these, which is where a small measuring cup comes in handy. Decidedly less chic? Yes. But good to have on hand as you’re getting started? Also yes.

Intermediate

4. Mixing glass.

For when you want a stirred cocktail, look no further than a mixing glass or beaker, a large vessel where you can pour all of your liquor and give it a good stir. While these are a pretty fairly simple tool, they’re also not the most necessary, as you could easily use a French press or other spouted glassware to stir together a drink.

5. Bar spoon.

Like with mixing glasses, bar spoons get knocked down to the intermediate level simply because you can get on just fine at first without them. But when you are ready to level up, nothing stirs a cocktail better than a nice twisted bar spoon. We favor the Japanese style, which is a bit heavier than American and European bar spoons.

Expert

6. Muddler.

If you’re a fan of cocktails like a berry smash or simple mojito, it’s also a good idea to have a muddler on hand. The blunt tool is used like a pestle to muddle fruit, herbs, and spices in the bottom of your glass, releasing their flavor for a more delicious drink.

7. Pitcher.

Once you’ve mastered your at-home bartending game and are ready to serve a crowd, it’s nice to have a big, beautiful pitcher, perfect for batching negronis, martinis, or any other large-format cocktail. You can turn to our batch cocktail recipes here for inspiration on cocktails to make en masse, with AMASS.

How to Recycle Your AMASS

How to Recycle Your AMASS

 

Hard Seltzer

Our aluminum hard seltzer cans are wrapped in labels. To improve each can’s recyclability, remove these labels by cutting down their seam with scissors or a knife. Crush the can and toss it in the recycling bin, along with the cardboard case packs.

Dry Gin, Botanic Vodka, & Riverine

Our spirits bottles are made with quality materials so you can continue to reuse them around your home, whether as flower vases or candle holders. If you’re going through quite a few bottles though (we know the feeling…), you can recycle the ones you don’t need by simply tossing them in the recycling bin, no label removal necessary.

Hand Sanitizer

Our hand sanitizer bottles are made with PET, one of the most widely used and therefore most recyclable plastics. Recycle them once they’re empty, or if you’re using our portable 2oz sprays, stock up on refills.

Soap & Forest Bath Salts

Made of tinted glass, the vessels for our botanic soaps and bath salts are made for reusing. While totally recyclable, these containers would love a second life, whether to house your reusable cotton pads (for Forest Bath) or as a small bud vase (for our soaps).

Candles

The first step in recycling or upcycling candles is to remove any remaining wax. Pour boiling water into your candle vessel and let it cool until the wax on the bottom begins to rise to the top. Remove the hardened wax, pour out the water, and you’ve got yourself a clean vessel perfect for holding makeup brushes, pens, or your toothbrush. On the off chance you’re ready to part with your candle, the matte black glass is totally recyclable.

Build Your Bar Cart with AMASS

Build Your Bar Cart with AMASS

In about 2010, households nationwide underwent the Mad Men effect. Living rooms everywhere were striving to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s through velvet armchairs, oak furniture, and perhaps most lastingly, the bar cart. Embraced by drinkers and nondrinkers alike, these liquor cabinets on wheels were carted into a new generation and outfitted to fit the times. What was once a fixture in the stylish, mid-century modern homes of the 1950s and ‘60s had suddenly returned, although with some notable upgrades.

These days, bar carts are a standard interior design element, used to house booze just as much as they are to display tchotchkes, coffee table books, and bowls of editorialized fruit.

Here’s how to build yours:

1. Pick your poison.

It’s a no-brainer, but the spirits that take up shelf space on your cart should be a reflection of what you like to drink. For us, that means a bottle of our gin and vodka, as well as whiskey, tequila, and rum. Come winter, cognac and brandy are helpful additions to have for mulling wine and stirring up hot toddies.

2. Include a non-alcoholic option.

For evenings when you want a less potent potation or are entertaining friends who don’t drink, it’s nice to have a non-alc option on the table so you can sip on something a little more sophisticated than a Diet Coke. Riverine, our non-alcoholic distilled spirit, is fit for an array of cocktails. Use it just as you would your favorite clear spirit.

3. Add your add-ons.

Bitters, vermouth, Luxardo cherries; these are the building blocks to a number of classic cocktails. Keep it simple with some Angostoura bitters and a bottle of Dolin, or do it up to the nines with green Chartreuse (for Last Words), Campari (for Negronis), or Cointreau (for Cosmos and Margaritas alike). To start, make a list of your favorite cocktails and arm your cart with all the fixings to shake or stir them up at home.

4. Get your gear.

You don’t need an extensive toolkit to make bar-quality drinks at home. A shaker, strainer, jigger, and bar spoon are all you really need, plus some glimmering glassware to make your drinks look as good as they taste. A coupe, rocks glass, and a tall Collins-style glass will cover just about every cocktail you want to make.

4. Style it.

Start by framing your liquor tray with structural elements like a coffee table book, a lamp, or a floral arrangement to create height and fill up the space. Keep your chicest bottles on display and put the rest in a cabinet for a classy, never cluttered look. Then, from there, accessorize with glassware and smaller items like candles and fruit for a dynamic, lived-in space.

Vodka Sauce

Vodka Sauce

When Charles Eames said “take your pleasure seriously,” we’re pretty sure he was actually talking about vodka sauce. And what makes vodka sauce more pleasurable than adding good vodka?

The delicate floral notes and bright lemon zest in AMASS Botanic Vodka lend depth and complexity to this otherwise simple dish. The result is a lusciously silky, shockingly easy, and delightfully decadent vodka sauce, best served in a deep bowl alongside a 50/50. Bottoms up.

Vodka Sauce

Ingredients

¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup tomato paste
4 tablespoons AMASS Botanic Vodka
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lb rigatoni, or pasta of your choice
Parmesan cheese

Recipe

In a dutch oven or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring until fragrant. Add tomato paste and stir occasionally until the paste begins to caramelize, about five minutes. Carefully pour in the vodka, scraping off any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to medium-low and slowly whisk in the heavy cream, stirring until the sauce is smooth and uniform in color. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in a knob of butter for a velvety texture.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta of your choice according to package directions. Drain, reserving one cup of pasta water.

Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the sauce. Stir, then add the cooked pasta to the skillet and coat with sauce. Add additional pasta water as needed to reach your desired consistency. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Botanicals in the Bedroom

Botanicals in the Bedroom

Throughout history, countless spices and herbs have been touted as love potions, placed under pillowcases and swallowed as tinctures to attract romance. While the efficacy of these natural aphrodisiacs has been debated for centuries, more and more scientific studies have proven the power of plants to boost libido.

Here are the botanicals we turn to in the bedroom:

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) There’s nothing sexy about stress. That’s why we love ashwagandha, a powerful adaptogenic plant that regulates cortisol levels, keeping stress and fatigue at bay. In fact, the word ashwagandha in Sanskrit loosely means “the smell and strength of a horse.” While the smell is rather literal, the strength winkingly refers to the plant’s aphrodisiac qualities.

 

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) Researchers aren’t quite sure what makes basil such a pleasurable plant, but we’re thinking its naturally heady, sensuous scent has something to do with it. A common botanical in aromatherapy, sweet basil has the power to stimulate and uplift the senses, making it a perfect food for getting in the mood.

 

Cacao (Theobroma cacao) You can thank cacao for the tradition of gifting your lover heart-shaped bonbons come February 14th. Used in the production of chocolate, cacao is rich in anandamide, otherwise known as the bliss chemical. While its feel-good effects are diminished in the roasting process, raw cacao is downright titillating.

 

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, coriander seeds were often added to wine to increase desire and stimulate passion. The plant is famous for its mention in Arabian Nights, where it was used to cure a merchant of impotence.

 

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) One of the most powerful natural aphrodisiacs, ginseng has long been held up in traditional Chinese medical practices for its ability to enhance sexual behavior. In addition to upping desire, it’s purported to support reproductive capabilities and treat sexual dysfunction.

 

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) Like ashwagandha, Reishi mushroom is a potent adaptogen that works wonders in mellowing the mind. The magic mushroom increases fertility and overall sexual performance, even supporting the kidney and urinary function, which in Chinese medicine are believed to be the homes of one’s sexual power.

 

Dry January Is a State of Mind

Dry January Is a State of Mind

It’s February. Which, if you’ve been keeping track, means that Dry January – the month of mocktails – is long gone. But unlike the lofty resolutions that we’re happy to leave behind, low- to no-proof cocktails are here to stay.

Dry January has existed in some form or another for nearly a century, when the Finnish government launched a “Sober January” campaign in the ‘40s as part of the war effort. After that, the years came and went. Drinks were drunk. And then, some time in the late aughts, the movement reemerged, this time as a way to make up for the excessive imbibing of the holiday season and start the new year off right after the last drop of the New Year’s champagne was drunk.

In 2014, the British nonprofit Alcohol Concern officially trademarked the term “Dry January.” The name and concept stuck, and today millions of people around the world pledge to stay sober for the first month of the year.

This past January felt different, though. Of course it did.

In a Nielson poll from this year, 13% of American respondents said they were skipping the spirits this January. Unsurprisingly, the number is up from last year, following the trend of the growing sober and sober curious movement. But it’s more than that. While in years past Dry January has served as a time to undo all the eggnog from the month prior, this year it’s an answer to nearly 10 months of over-imbibing and overindulging at home.

We’ve been drinking a lot. Our nightly cocktail has served not only as an escape, but as a ritual, a celebration, a way to demarcate day and night. We order to-go cocktails when we’re craving community, we drink glasses of Pinot when it’s isolation and introspection that we seek. The close of our laptops at 5pm is accompanied by the now very familiar crack of a can.

For many of us, Dry January this year gently pushed us to call into question and reevaluate our relationship with drinking. It spurred us to check in on ourselves – really – by asking questions like, How does my body feel? My mind? Am I taking care of myself? How do I find moments of peace, calm, and even pleasure?

That’s all to say, we’re not not drinking necessarily, but maybe just drinking a little less alcohol, a little less often, and a little more thoughtfully. That means cleaner cocktails, zero-proof spirits, and low-abv alternatives to our typical boozy fare.

We’re making Dry January not just a month, but a state of mind.

How I Get Undone: Jason Eisner

How I Get Undone: Jason Eisner

We are constantly bombarded with productivity hacks – tips and tricks on how to cross everything off our to-do lists while also being a person/partner/colleague/parent. Here at AMASS, though, we are far more interested in how people get undone. We want to know the nightly rituals that happen after 5PM, from the cocktails drunk to the books read. To us, it’s those small moments behind the scenes that really count, because in them lies a glimpse into who we want to be.

This time around, we chatted with LA-based Restaurateur, Bar Owner, and Chef Jason Eisner about how he unwinds after a busy Saturday shift.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Cleveland, raised in Brooklyn, and have lived in LA since 2007. I am a restauranteur, brewery owner, bar owner, and chef.

I love an AMASS negroni. I have a home carbonation system, so I'll stir it nice and cold with a little residual water, and I'll force inject it with Co2, which I find really opens it up and makes it lively and bright. I call it a Negroni Pop.

What rituals do you practice to take care of yourself?

A great stress reliever I have found over the last 20 years is practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is a grappling martial art. I often refer to it as meditation in motion, because it’s really like human chess. It works out your body, but it also puts a nice tax on your mind. Over COVID, I haven’t been able to practice as often as I would like since it’s just too close-contact with people. So, what I've been doing, which has essentially diverted all of my energy from martial arts, is I’ve gone back to the process of making homemade pasta and pizza.

I have a plant based diet, so I’ve been working on a lot of Southern dishes, both Sardinian, Calabrian, and Sicilian. Last week, I made something called malloreddus, which is also sometimes referred to as gnocchetti sardi. It’s a Sardinian pasta that’s about three centimeters in length. It’s rolled onto an old ancient wooden board to create a pattern of texture in it that captures all the sauce. I made that with a vegan version of a sauce called alla campidanese, which is like a sausage sauce. I made homemade fennel and seitan sausages, caramelized some onions and garlic, and then peeled some San Marzano tomatoes. It was delicious. I made some cashew parm to go on top of it. It’s a really gummy, bouncy noodle, so that’s one I’m super proud of.

I also made a black sesame raviolo with homemade almond ricotta and sauteed spinach inside. Then, I made a very simple browned vegan butter sauce with that. With pizzas, I’ve just been going off. A friend of mine, who’s from Oaxaca, his grandma had an amazing mole negro recipe, so I made a Mexican-inspired pizza. It was black mole with cashew lime crema and homemade flash-pickled jalapenos and onions, some micro cilantro, and a whole lot of hot sauce. It was really yummy.

How are you finding connection in the midst of this period of isolation?

I have a 6 year old daughter. Her name is Maxine, and she’s the light of my life. Through COVID, being able to connect with her has been the silver lining. As you know, kids aren’t in school right now, so they’re doing school online through Zoom. She’s done by 10:30 in the morning every day, so afterward we’ll go on nature walks and try to identify birds in the part of LA where I live. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Cooking with my daughter and going on little nature hikes in the neighborhood has been amazing.

I also bought a vintage motorcycle, and I've been zooming and zipping around through the twists and turns of Los Angeles just to see trees and see people at a distance as you’re cruising by. That’s been a nice way to connect with myself.

I feel like one of the things COVID has done is send people spiralling and getting depressed. It’s important to find ways to stay connected to ourselves and stay grounded.

What does an ideal Saturday look like for you?

I love to make people smile and feed people, so I definitely spend a lot of time in my restaurants. Right now, I have two plant-based Nashville hot chicken restaurants called Wolfie's Nashville Hot Chicken, with one in Highland Park and one in Atwater Village that’s opening. I’m a partner at Nic’s on Beverly in West Hollywood, which is a plant-based restaurant that serves California cuisine and regional American cuisine. We’re opening up a pizza concept that does Grandma-style square pies as well as Neapolitan-style woodfired pies. And then, the brewery Party Beer Co in West Adams that makes craft beer and hard seltzer. I like to spend time working, getting my hands dirty. It doesn’t matter if I’m working a register or serving or bartending or managing a floor or even washing dishes. I just love to be in a restaurant working, so that is part of an ideal Saturday, especially since those are the busier days in restaurants.

But also, just spending time with my family. We recently got a goldendoodle puppy, so playing fetch and watching my daughter run around in the backyard playing with our dog while I’m sipping on a cocktail is pretty nice. Then of course, getting in the kitchen and making some food [laughs].

It’s the end of the day and you’re vegging on the couch–what are you drinking? Reading? Watching?

These days, I’ve been kind of obsessed with going back and watching all the classic cooking competition shows. [I’ve also been watching] a lot of travelogs – anything Anthony Bourdain, since he’s for sure one of the greatest of all time. I love watching adventure shows with people that are willing to climb massive mountains and go to extreme lengths to live a full and complete life.

If I'm not drinking something simple like a pilsner, then I'm definitely enjoying a classic, like a single malt Islay Scotch or a Gibson with AMASS Gin. Something super simple, and clean. I love Paulo Coelho, so I love to go back and reread all of his books. He’s one of my favorites. I also have been reading a lot of business books about how people have built heart-based businesses and grew them and were able to scale up and achieve dreams and give jobs to lots of people. I find stuff like that inspiring.

 

Our Guide to a Soothing Soak

Our Guide to a Soothing Soak

The beauty of a bath is greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, there’s water. You’re naked. The lights are dimmed. But beyond the logistical elements that accompany tub time, a long soak can be truly transformative if done right. Here are our tips to give your body and brain the rest they need, all with the help of a little warm water.

1. Use salts.

Bubbles are fun, but they also strip the skin of much-needed moisture. Instead, use some bath salts. The benefits of swirling a handful of salts in your bath are threefold: rich in therapeutic minerals, natural sea and Epsom salts relieve tension, relax muscles, and gently exfoliate. Meanwhile, nourishing oils like sweet almond and apricot kernel help quench the skin, while soothing essential oils of eucalyptus and amber create a mind-mellowing environment.

2. Light a candle.

You know what’s not part of the bath time vibe? Fluorescent lights. Turn them off and instead strike a match on your favorite candle, letting the slow flicker of candlelight lull you into a meditative state. Pick a scent that suits the mood – notes of lavender, chamomile, and palo santo can help you relax, while brighter botanicals like grapefruit and vetiver can stimulate your senses.

3. Turn on the tunes.

Or a podcast. Or an audiobook. Or your go-to meditation app. Whatever rhythmic voice sets you into a slower pace and helps you disconnect from the world beyond your bathroom door is fine by us. Maybe skip the true crime podcast, though.

3. Drink up.

Last but not least, offset your steamy soak with an ice-cold drink. Pour yourself a Riverine and Tonic for ultimate herbal refreshment minus the booze, or keep it classic with a Spanish G&T, a Gin and Tonic adorned with a bevy of garnishes, like rosemary, grapefruit, and mint.

The Art of Forest Bathing

The Art of Forest Bathing

Getting out into the great outdoors does our brains and bodies a lot of good. The sights, smells, and sounds that accompany a trek through the woods have the ability to ease stress, clear the mind, and release feel-good endorphins. That much we know. But what is it about time spent amidst the trees that soothes the soul?

The Japanese have a term for it: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. The term essentially means to take in the forest atmosphere through your senses. It arose in the 1980s as an answer to the tech burnout culture that was just beginning thanks to the advent of the personal computer. By the ‘90s, Japanese researchers were conducting studies into the science behind this form of ecotherapy.

Their findings elucidated a lot of the hunches we already had about the power of plants to heal, and included these three main health benefits:

1.  Bathing boosts our immune system.

Beyond providing a soothing smell, coniferous trees like cedars, spruces, and firs release phytoncides, airborne oils that, when breathed in, increase activity of virus-fighting white blood cells.

2.  Tree time reduces stress.

The power of plants runs so deep that even looking at a photo of trees has some mind-mellowing effects. But actually getting out there in the green can help lower stress-inducing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline even more.

3.  Immerse in the forest to focus up.

Giving our eyes a break from our screens and instead taking a gander at some good old fashioned flora can help give the cognitive portion of our brains a much-needed breather and cut down on attention fatigue.

Moral of the story: the practice of forest bathing is an important, potent salve. That said, some of its benefits can still be achieved within the confines of your apartment (we’re looking at you, house plants).

Our latest Forest Bath Salts allow you to soak in the forest from your tub, for moments when the mountains are calling, but you actually can’t go.

What Are Adaptogens and Nootropics?

What Are Adaptogens and Nootropics?

The words adaptogen and nootropic are thrown around quite a bit in the health and wellness space these days. But what are these superplants, exactly, and why do we use them in our spirits? Let’s discuss.

To put it simply, an adaptogen is a plant that helps the body adapt to and cope with stress. Adaptogens work to regulate the body’s cortisol levels, keeping not just stress but also fatigue and restlessness at bay.

Nootropics, meanwhile, are thought to enhance cognitive function. These mighty mushrooms and energizing roots improve memory, creativity, and concentration, keeping you feeling focused and motivated.

Harnessing the power of plants isn’t anything new, though – adaptogenic and nootropic botanicals like holy basil and ginseng have been used for centuries in both Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and alleviate feelings of anxiety.

In AMASS Dry Gin, we use our own blend of adaptogenic and nootropic botanicals to lend a complex boreal flavor profile to the spirit. These ingredients also tell a larger story of contemporary Los Angeles, a multicultural city that regularly leads the conversation in all things wellness, with quintessential new-agey brands like Sun Potion and Moon Juice popularizing the use of adaptogenic and nootropic herbs. The therapeutic effects of these ingredients are diminished when distilled, so if you’re looking for a strong mood-mellower, turn to your favorite tea or tincture.

Meet our Powerful Plants:

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a plant in the Solanaceae family native to the drier areas of India. The species name somnifera means sleep-inducing in Latin, referring to the calming properties of the plant. The bitter botanical can help the body cope with stress while improving memory, and is purported to possess aphrodisiac qualities. It has long been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine as a Rasayana, an herbal remedy intended to promote longevity.

When distilled, the botanical offers a sharp herbal taste that acts as pleasant foil for brighter California citrus and earthy mushrooms.

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a member of the Ganodermataceae family that grows in the tropical and temperate regions of Asia, as well as in the northern Eastern Hemlock forests of North America. Known as “lingzhi” in Chinese, the Reishi mushroom is also called the “mushroom of immortality,” “divine mushroom,” and “magic fungus” because of its therapeutic properties and distinct tonifying effects.

In AMASS Dry Gin, Reishi lends umami notes and earthy undertones to ground light and bright lemon, grapefruit, and lime leaf.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a type of fungus in the Hericaceae family native to North America, Europe, and Asia. Long lauded as a cure-all in Chinese medicine, the botanical possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is purported to stimulate and enhance nerve cells. Like ashwagandha and Reishi mushroom, lion’s mane is classified as both a nootropic and adaptogen.

For us, flavor always comes first though, which is why we love lion’s mane in our gin. While an uncommon feature in the spirit, lion’s mane couples up with Reishi mushroom to give AMASS Dry Gin its distinctive kick of umami.

How to Taste Spirits

How to Taste Spirits

The way we talk about spirits can sometimes feel a little intimidating. What does dry summer taste like? What about gin with an herbaceous quality on the middle of the palate? Are we speaking a different language? What does it all even mean?

If you’ve ever wondered how we’re coming up with this stuff, don’t sweat it – you’re not alone. But while the lexicon surrounding booze can seem inaccessible, it really just comes down to two basic senses: smell and taste.

Straight up or on the rocks, here’s how to talk about drinks.


Nose

When we talk about the nose of a spirit, we’re not being facetious – we’re straight up talking about how it smells. And while there are some best practices to abide by when sniffing your spirits, for the most part it really is as simple as taking a whiff. Here are a few tried and true steps to good first impressions:

First, choose your vessel. Using a curved, tulip-shaped glass helps funnel the delicate aromas to your nose. Have a wine glass on hand? That will do just fine.

Then, pour a small tipple and smell slowly. While wine tastings start with taking a deep sniff of the glass, spirits require a little more finesse and care. Because our gin and vodka are high proof (90 and 80 proof, respectively), you’re better off slowly raising the glass to your nose and smelling gently so as not to anesthetize your nostrils. Open your mouth slightly while you smell to allow more surface area for the alcohol itself to dissipate. Then, take note of what aromas you notice first, whether that’s citrus, herbs, or a bright punch of sumac. Jot it all down in a notebook, and take some time returning to your glass before your first sip.

If you feel like your nose needs a refresh, take a whiff of some coffee grounds before keeping on and carrying on.

Palate

Here’s where we get to the heart of the matter: how does the spirit taste? From the second the liquid hits your tongue, you’ve embarked on a gustatory journey. We like to start by tasting the liquid neat at room temp, and then diluting with water or ice as necessary. Keep water at the ready, but avoid drinking or eating anything else in the hour leading up to your tasting so your palate is as clean as can be.

Once you’re sipping, it’s really all about slowing down and paying attention. Start out small, taking a baby sip to warm up your palate before properly tasting. Then, breathe in a little through your mouth while you’re tasting, just as you would with wine. Take note of the botanicals that jump out at you first. These are what you taste on the front of your palate. If you smelled a bright squeeze of citrus, see if lemon or grapefruit come through when you taste. Then, as the spirit makes its way across your tastebuds, ask yourself what new flavors begin to reveal themselves. Is there an unexpected hit of spicy cardamom? Bitter, grassy notes on your rear palate? Write it all down, and remember there are no right or wrong answers here. Taste is personal, and our Proustian memories shape our perceptions. Let yourself be surprised.

Finish

The finish of a spirit is essentially a grown-up way of saying “aftertaste.” Here, we talk about the flavors that stay and linger, the complex notes that only come out once your glass is empty. Maybe it's mushrooms, or long pepper, or the cereal sweetness of wheat and chamomile. Whatever it is, savor it before going in for your next sip. And if you’re switching spirits? Drink some water and take 25.

Meet Nicholas Culpeper, The Bad Boy of Botany

Meet Nicholas Culpeper, The Bad Boy of Botany

We spend a lot of time thinking about plants. And while our list of go-to sources on the subject runs long, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal – a botanical index dating back to 1643 – remains our most frequently-visited resource. Despite being published nearly 400 years ago, the encyclopedic guide to botanicals is a treasure trove of trusted herbal wisdom.

The names of the entries alone, from Bastard Rhubarb to Field Mouse Ear Scorpion Grass, should be enough to pique your interest, but on the off chance they’re not, we decided to do a little digging into the man behind the plants: the bad boy of botany himself, Nicholas Culpeper.

Born in 1616, Nicholas Culpeper was an English botanist and astrologer who paired plants with planetary influences to treat his patients. As a child, he loved his grandfather’s collection of clocks, which spurred a deep interest in astrology and time. Through his youth and young adulthood, he obsessively read medical texts from his grandfather’s library and spent hours in the fields and forests of the English countryside cataloguing countless herbs with the intent of garnering enough knowledge to publish his findings.

Culpeper worked as an apprentice for an apothecary for seven years before getting married in 1640 to Alice Field, the heiress of an affluent grain merchant. Their courtship allowed Culpeper to establish his own pharmacy in Spitalfields, London at a time when medical facilities were sparse and faltering.

An unabashed skeptic, Culpeper constantly questioned traditional medicine, calling for a return to pharmaceuticals’ herbal origins. He vehemently shunned the medical practices of the time, once saying,

"This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it."

He argued that “no man deserved to starve to pay an insulting, insolent physician,” and so Culpeper offered his medical services gratis.

Unlike other contemporary physicians who resisted visiting patients in person, instead relying on urine samples to diagnose and treat illness, Culpeper saw as many as 40 patients in a single morning. To him, “as much piss as the Thames might hold” was not enough to effectively identify symptoms and treat his patients with the attention and care required.

Culpeper’s herbal remedies included many botanicals, including anemone to treat leprosy, bedstraw to act as an aphrodisiac, and burdock to soothe tooth pain. Other, less esoteric ingredients were used as well – chamomile, juniper, parsley being just a few among hundreds of other botanicals.

While time has taught us that some of Culpeper’s methods – like, say, prescribing walnuts to treat neurological ailments simply because they look like miniature brains – may not be the most effective, we still believe fully in the power of plants to transform the humdum rituals of modern life. We think that’s something Culpeper could get behind, too.

How I Get Undone: Morgan McLachlan

How I Get Undone: Morgan McLachlan

We are constantly bombarded with productivity hacks – tips and tricks on how to cross everything off our to-do lists while also being a person/partner/colleague/parent. Here at AMASS, though, we are far more interested in how people get undone. We want to know the nightly rituals that happen after 5PM, from the cocktails drunk to the books read. To us, it’s those small moments behind the scenes that really count, because in them lies a glimpse into who we want to be.

This time around, we chatted with AMASS Co-Founder and Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan about the ways she copes with her busy work schedule while balancing motherhood (and how she carves out time for nature in between).

Between being a new mom and building a botanics brand, you’re busier than ever. How are you coping with your packed schedule?

I think I’m doing very well, considering the circumstances. I’m definitely experiencing a special type of exhaustion, but I haven’t had a typical COVID experience in that I’ve been busier than ever before. Some things get sacrificed, mostly personal time, but it’s okay. As my grandfather says, if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person.

What are the rituals you practice to take care of yourself?

Between being a new mom and working full time, I don’t exactly have a lot of bandwidth for some of the old ways that I used to care for myself, and I do work in the evenings after my baby goes to sleep. By great providence, however, a lot of my favorite simple self-care rituals could be categorized as work, and vice versa. I’m fortunate that the product categories we are working in are conducive to “getting undone.” Anytime I develop a product, I try to experience a good expanse of products that are in the market in that particular category, as well as road-testing products and concoctions that I have in development. To me, experiencing and analyzing both personal care products, and also food and beverage, is an act of mindfulness. What do I like about this product? What don’t I like about this product? What feeling or memory does this fragrance evoke? Understanding the more impalpable qualities of sensory attributes is a decided act of mindfulness. Lately, in the name of product development duties, I’ve been taking a lot of baths! I feel like my natural habitat is a hot tub. And to kill two birds with one stone, I’ve been “testing” beverage products, while I’m in the bath. That is sort of my peak relaxation experience, or at least it has been in the last year. 

These days, I’m typically doing more focused research. I’ll be reading books that are tangentially related to what we’re working on. Recently, I read a beautiful autobiography by Jean-Claude Ellena, the famed perfumer at Hermès. There’s another really great book called The Way We Lived, which is a first person aural account from the indigenous people of California about what life was like, from pre-colonization through colonization to now. That’s been a really interesting book for me, since I have an interest in indigenous plants. Generally speaking, I do a lot of my tangential research, which I really adore, in the evenings when I can sit down and focus and I’m not distracted by Slack or the baby or meetings. 

Before I fall asleep, I do a little meditation that’s a combination of different styles of meditation that I developed for myself. I’ve been doing it for about 20 years now. It’s a personal thing, but it centers and grounds me. I usually fall asleep during it because I’m so exhausted [laughs]. I’m also a big fan of adaptogens, so I sometimes use a combination of light relaxing herbs to go to sleep: lately it has been a combination of passion flower, l-theanine derived from green tea, and ashwagandha. It’s not exciting, but it’s what my evenings look like. It’s all just in a condensed amount of time, because I have a yelling, screaming baby. 

How are you finding connection in the midst of this period of isolation?

Because I’m both working and taking care of [my son] Arthur, I have less than an hour to myself every day. I find that lately I have only had time to connect to my immediate family. In the evenings, my partner comes home, and I love watching him and Arthur play together. It’s sort of our only time together as a family, so that’s really nice. I love bedtime with Arthur – playing with him in the evening is really special. It’s crazy having a kid, but they teach you how to be present. 

To be honest, thank goodness for FaceTime. I’ll try to FaceTime with my family as much as possible, but I will say with my limited bandwidth I’ve been a bad friend. There’s a lot of friends that I just haven’t been able to have the usual connection with, because I’ve been so busy with work and the baby. My hope is that soon I will have a little more time to connect with my friends, which obviously I used to do a lot more in the evenings. But it’s kind of been like triage. I FaceTime my grandparents, and obviously I FaceTime Arthur’s grandparents because they’re crazy about him. I text a bit with friends. But I can’t be hard on myself – I’m doing my best with everything. 

What restorative role does nature play in your life?

Nature is the most important thing to me, and it’s where I feel most at peace and comfortable. The great thing about LA is you can get out into nature and immerse yourself in all sorts of different microclimates (depending on which direction you go) pretty easily.  We haven’t been able to do that too much lately, but I’m lucky in that I live in this area within the city that has its own really incredible little microclimate. The property I live on has tons of trees, and I can at least get outside and hang out in the trees and look at the stars every night. 

It’s Sunday night and you’re vegging on the couch–what are you drinking? Reading?

It’s funny, in normal circumstances I would probably have a martini or a glass of Gamay, but my alcohol tolerance is still very low from not drinking during my pregnancy, so I might just have a glass of something in the beverage category that I am working on. Lately that is hard seltzer, since I am currently working on hard seltzer formulas. I really love aperitivos, so I might have a spritz or something like that in the summer months. 

My mother was a nonfiction and a literary editor, so whether it is by nature or nurture, I’m a voracious reader, but I just haven’t had the time to read much fiction lately, which I mourn. I actually think reading fiction is more important to developing intelligence and neural pathways than reading anything else, or even studying anything. I really think reading fiction is the best thing you can do for your heart and for your brain.

Want to learn more about Morgan? Read her full feature here.

3 Witchy Women You Should Know

3 Witchy Women You Should Know

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we at AMASS are, um, a little obsessed with the occult. Chalk it up to our Co-Founder and Master Distiller being a practicing witch, a preoccupation with all things herbal, or the fact that we’re a stone's throw away from some serious energy vortexes here in LA, but witchy wonders take up quite a bit of our headspace.

That’s why, in anticipation of this year’s upcoming Winter Solstice, we’re recounting the witchy women we know, love, and think you should too.

Marjerie Cameron

Where do we even start with Marjerie Cameron? A poet, actress, and dedicated occultist, Cameron was known for her sex magic rituals (more on that in a minute) and for being a lifelong follower of Thelema, the spiritual philosophy founded by part mystic, part magician Aleister Crowley.

She met her would-be husband, rocket scientist and fellow Thelemite Jack Parsons, in 1946. Unbeknownst to Cameron, before their meeting Parsons had intended to attract an elemental woman to be his lover. Then Cameron showed up, all red-haired and blue-eyed, and Parsons considered the deed done. The two spent the next two weeks enraptured in between the sheets. To Cameron, those two weeks were a passionate love affair, but to Parsons, they were a rite intended to invoke the birth of the Thelemite goddess into human form.

A few years later in 1952, Parsons died in a mysterious explosion, and Cameron descended deep into delirium, becoming increasingly paranoid that Parsons had been murdered by anti-Zionists. Through astral projection, she made efforts to commune with his spirit, and headed east to a ranch in Beaumont, CA. There she amassed a group of magical practitioners she called “The Children,” and oversaw sex magic rituals with the intent of creating a breed of mixed-race "moonchildren" who would be devoted to the Egyptian deity Horus.

From there, Cameron’s whereabouts get a little fuzzy, flitting from the bohemian circles of Beat-era San Francisco to a ranch just outside of Joshua Tree. Finally, she landed in a small bungalow in the then-impoverished streets of West Hollywood, which were lined with sex stores and adult movie theatres. She’d remain there for the rest of her life.

Leila Waddell

That brings us to Leila Waddell, Aleister Crowley’s most powerful muse and a talented violinist, who became a member of the gypsy band in A Waltz Dream in 1902 at Daly’s London Theatre. There she met Aleister, and the two studied the occult together while taking a lot of mescaline. Aleister had several cute pet names for Waddell, including “Divine Whore,” “Mother of Heaven,” and “Scarlet Woman,” and he wrote ample poetry about her, as well as two short stories entitled “The Vixen" and "The Violinist.”

Like most muses, Waddell also played a key role in shaping Crowley’s thoughts and philosophical musings. She earned a writer’s credit on Crowley’s Magick (Book 4), as she and several of Crowley’s other students helped shape the text by eliciting commentary and asking key questions. Among other members of his magical order, Crowley cast Waddell as the star of his planetary-based magical rites, the Rites of Eleusis.

Their relationship dissolved after a series of affairs, however, and Waddell returned to her orchestral roots in Sydney, playing and teaching the violin until her death at the age of 52.

Zeena Schreck

Last but not least, there is Zeena Schreck, daughter of the Church of Satan’s founder Antony LaVey and a spiritual leader in her own right. Like Leila Waddell, Schreck is also a musician, as well as a visual artist, photographer, and writer. Stylistically, she has been inspired by artists whose work is heavily imbued with a sense of mysticism and magic, and the idea that lineage is a vehicle to pass down metaphysical energy guides her ritual art.

In the ‘80s, Schreck served as the high priestess of the Church of Satan and remained its primary spokesperson until 1990, when she left the church to become a devotee of the ancient Egyptian deity Set and form the Sethian Liberation Movement. Unsurprisingly, during her time as the head of the Church of Satan, she had to take the heat for some serious publicity blunders. It wasn’t exactly the lifestyle she had in mind, and in a 2011 interview she said as much, “This was not what I'd intended to do with my life, I had other plans.”

Upon leaving the church, Schreck’s family lodged a full-scale smear campaign against her, and she decided to sever ties entirely, legally changing her last name from LaVey to Shreck. To this day, she won’t respond to any correspondence addressing her as “Zeena LaVey.”

These days, Schreck keeps mostly to herself and out of the news, save for the occasional conspiracy theory.

Feeling inspired to channel your inner witch? Read up on the occultish ways we like to celebrate the Winter Solstice, and then practice your own at-home rituals with our Mateo Candle, perfect for illuminating the darkest night of the year.

How to Repurpose Your AMASS Bottles

How to Repurpose Your AMASS Bottles

Sustainability was our top priority when designing our spirits bottles. We sought to build beautiful vessels that honored the natural botanicals inside of them, being both of the earth and for the earth. Our bespoke glass bottles were coated with organic inks by a decorator in Arques, France in order to improve their recyclability, so you can dispose of the packaging thoughtfully.

While our bottles are 100% recyclable, they’re also designed to be upcycled. The matte black and grey finishes and quality materials lend themselves to decorating the corners of your home, from the kitchen to the bedroom. Just remove the label with some good old fashioned soap and hot water, or leave it au natural with the label intact if that’s more your style.

Olive Oil Bottle — Our opaque vessels are perfect for housing grocery store olive oils and vinegars, as the UV-protected glass keeps out harsh rays that can break down oil over time. Plus, they’re sleek enough to keep on your kitchen countertops.

Bud Vase — Beautiful buds are the natural foil to our clean, minimal packaging. We love the look of lavender in our grey vodka bottles for a serene color story, while earthier blooms like eucalyptus contrast nicely against the cool black finish of our gin.

Candle Holder — Perch classic white candlesticks in the mouth of our bottles for an instantly dramatic tablescape. As the candle burns, hot wax will drip onto the bottle, giving a moody feel that makes for a spooky yet sophisticated centerpiece

How do you reuse your AMASS bottles? Tag us @amass.botanics so we can share your AMASSterpieces.

Is This the End of the Golden Age of Dining?

Is This the End of the Golden Age of Dining?

“Heraclitus once wrote that it is impossible to step in the same river twice. In Los Angeles, it can be nearly impossible to eat in the same restaurant twice. This is, I believe, what the economists call creative destruction. And it is not impossible here to experience extremes — restaurants that are born and die in a single evening; restaurants in suburbs so distant that they may as well be theoretical; restaurants so hard to get into that they may not actually exist outside of blogs."

"Los Angeles is where the modern restaurant was born, the good, the bad and the ugly of it, and we’re too far gone to stop now.”


- Jonathan Gold

Recently I watched City of Gold, the 2015 documentary detailing legendary food critic Jonathan Gold’s culinary contributions to Los Angeles. Directed by Laura Gobbert, the doc follows Gold as he traverses the freewheeling freeways of LA, zooming through the belly of the beast in his old Ram 1500 in search of a good bite.

Flashes of mom and pop spots, food trucks, and sidewalk tortillerias dance on screen in a dizzying dream of charred meat and paper plates. Bludso’s, Mariscos Jalisco, Jitlada – places that are less restaurants than they are cultural institutions – weave in and out of frame as Gold barrels down Pico, Sunset, anywhere, his left hand resting on the wheel as his right gesticulates to the camera.

Over the past couple decades, Los Angeles has undergone a culinary renaissance led by the late Gold, whose critiques put hole-in-the-wall spots on the map and breathed a new life into the city’s food scene. The “Gold effect,” as some have called it, saved countless struggling restaurants long before other major critics and publications were even looking their way. What Anthony Bourdain did for the far-flung food stalls of Chiang Mai and bountiful banquets of Reykjavik, Jonathan Gold did for Los Angeles.

And then, like a flash in a pan, both of them were gone. Gold and Bourdain died in the summer of 2018, just one month apart and two years before the hospitality industry would crumble under the mandated closures of bars and restaurants and an economic recession that would rival that of the Great Depression. As heart-wrenching and deeply personal as the loss of Gold and Bourdain felt in 2018, somehow it’s even more palpable now, as restaurants shutter their doors in alarming numbers and headlines blare the sad siren song,

“Is this the end of the golden age of dining?”

It’s a declaration critics have been swift to jump to ever since it was first decreed that we were, in fact, in the midst of a golden age. But the promise looms larger now, its fate seeming more and more inevitable. Which restaurants will weather this storm? What will become of the state of dining as we know it? With Gold and Bourdain gone, who will advocate for the busboys, the bartenders, the band of misfit toys that make up this industry?

Trois Mec, the Gold-approved, Michelin-starred, and Ludo Lefebvre-led tasting menu in Hollywood was one of the first of many upscale, inventive restaurants to close in the wake of the pandemic. Its sister restaurant, Petit Trois, still stands, though its future – like so many of the bars and restaurants that already barely get by on paper-thin margins – becomes less and less certain every day.

Others, like Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown and Broken Spanish Downtown, have suffered the same fate.  Ma’am Sir, a modern Filipino restaurant in Silver Lake that did for Filipino food what Night + Market did for Thai, just recently joined their ranks. Every day the number swells, not just in Los Angeles but in cities and suburbs and small towns around the world. Our cultural meccas are dwindling as fast-casual chains continue to survive and thrive, threatening to take over.

As a newcomer to Los Angeles, one of the millions who have trekked from some small town somewhere to this City of Angels, I have felt a peculiar sadness over the loss of these restaurants that were never mine. Restaurants that were erased from my list of places “to try” almost as quickly as they were added. It’s a strange phantom grief, mourning something you never – and will never – know. And of course, it applies to more than just food; this year has brought with it countless trips that will never be taken, memories that will never be made. But there is something about the fleetingness of a restaurant that makes its loss especially devastating; Italy will still be there when you inevitably take that trip. The Coliseum will still stand. But will the corner pizzeria?

According to writer Kevin Alexander, the end of the golden age of dining began before COVID even hit. In Burn The Ice, his 2019 book, Alexander argues that the golden age started in 2006 with the rise of farm-to-table restaurants in Portland and the launch of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. What followed was a decade-long stint of fine casual dining, a “golden age” in which good food and good drinks were championed above all else. Of course, it had to come to an end. Everything does. But the timing of that ending feels startlingly ominous, the future far too bleak.

At the time Burn The Ice was published, Alexander wrote that there were 100,000 more restaurants in the US in 2019 than there were 10 years ago. In the past six months alone, another 100,000 have closed. It’s grim, sure. An erasure of a decade of dining in America. But if we’re back at square one, so to speak, if we’re starting over exactly where we were in 2006 when farm-to-table was a new concept and Anthony Bourdain was just some sly, rough around the edges chef we had never heard of, then maybe it means that we are on the precipice of another golden age. That when this is all over – when restaurants get back up on their feet and start again – they’ll be stronger than ever.

During the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Jonathan Gold penned an essay for the LA Times on his neighborhood, Koreatown, “a neighborhood just west of downtown.” He wrote of the Bangkok-style buffets and Filipino fish joints that were burned to the ground, entire livelihoods diminished to ashes. The picture he painted then looked stunningly similar to what it looks like now: neighborhoods in a state of unrest and upheaval, boarded up buildings, signs that have always read “open” turned to say “closed.”

History repeats itself, again and again in an infinite time loop. That much we know. And as much as I wish Gold – and Bourdain – were here to offer their sage wisdom, in a way they have already given that to us.

“And yet the neighborhood survives,” Gold wrote in 1992, his words echoing through time and space to a moment 28 years removed that is more alike than it is different. We have rebuilt before. We can do it again.

Meet The Woman Who Took Her Pleasure Seriously: A Proper Intro To Ray Eames

Meet The Woman Who Took Her Pleasure Seriously: A Proper Intro To Ray Eames

Ray Eames was many things to many people: a designer, a painter, a true artist, a vehement Fire sign, a wife, an Episcopalian, a woman whose life – both personal and professional – revolved around play. She was born in Sacramento in 1912, before it was Didion’s Sacramento, and grew up governed by the firm yet often challenged belief that life was meant to be enjoyed.

That belief followed her to New York, where she studied abstract expressionist painting under renowned artists Lu Duble and Hans Hofmann. Ray’s list of close confidantes from the time reads like a who’s who of the New York art scene, and includes bigwig painters like Lee Krasner and Mercedes Matter. Her time in the city was short lived, however, as just a few years later she hatched a plan to head back west and build a house in California.

It would become the Eames House.

Ray met and quickly married her creative partner in crime, Charles Eames, in 1941 after working together on the display panels for the exhibition “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” at the Museum of Modern Art. The two honeymooned in Los Angeles and never left, the rest of their lives spent together frozen in a sweet honey haze. While Charles had a child, Lucia, from a previous marriage, he and Ray never had their own. It was like they never came home from vacation.

A few years into their lifelong Californian honeymoon, Ray and Charles were asked to participate in the Case Study House Program, an initiative sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine with the goal of showcasing examples of modern yet modest homes that utilized wartime and industrial materials. They were assigned Case Study House Number 8, one of 28 homes throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

Addressing the swift switch in her career from abstract expressionism to architecture, Ray said, “I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette.” During the building of the Case Study home, Ray and Charles spent days and nights in the eucalyptus groves overlooking the sea from the Pacific Palisades. They shot arrows, picnicked in meadows, lounged about with friends and family. And on Christmas Eve, 1949, they moved in. Like their initial relocation to Los Angeles, this was a permanent choice; Ray and Charles would live together in that house on the hill for the remainder of their lives.

As much as the Case Study house became a milestone of modern architecture, perhaps its most significant role was as a backdrop for the creative endeavors that would come to comprise Ray and Charles’ careers.

There, in the light-dappled studio by the sea, they devised design after design. Ergonomic seat shells, the instantly classic Eames lounger, animal masks; these were the things they crafted on Chautauqua Boulevard. Practical commingled with playful, and novelty was rejected at all costs. Instead, they followed the design principle coined by Louis Sullivan that form should follow function. “Why design a beautiful chair that you can’t sit in?”, their work seemed to ask.

This philosophy manifested in their teachings, too. Often their first assignment was to build a kite, a simple task with  an even simpler grading scale: design a beautiful kite that can’t fly and you fail. Design one that flies and you pass. Always ones to favor simple childhood pleasures, Ray and Charles used toys extensively as a means of experimentation and investigation in their work.

“Toys are not really as innocent as they look,” they said. “Toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas.”

While their work was a true collaboration, Ray is credited for establishing what is generally recognized as the “Eames look.” She didn’t do drawings – that was all Charles – but her keen sense for form and color from her days as a painter guided her and Charles’ work. She designed everything from magazine covers to textiles to game boards with the same nonchalance and simple joy with which she and Charles built everything. Nothing was done for vanity. Everything was done for pleasure – both theirs and others.

Like most famously pithy intellectual types, Ray and Charles have some great one-liners, the kind that are swiftly declarative and often tattooed on bodies, held up on posters, printed in coffee table books. “Anything I can do, Ray can do better,” Charles once said, and the historians took note.

And another, this one more a call to action than a passive claim: “Take your pleasure seriously.”

If you wanted, you could take this sentiment at face value, a superficial interpretation on par with “carpe diem” or “you only live once.” To take your pleasure seriously, though – in life, in love, in work – demands a much more thoughtful approach.

In an article published by the Eames Office, the quote is explained further,

"It means choosing work that you enjoy. It means doing a deep dive—taking the time to delve into your pursuits and explore them fully. It’s an encouragement to analyze objects, ideas, problems, and subjects from every angle with a playful, exploratory openness that allows you to reap the joys of the process."

Whatever it meant to live a life like that, Ray did it with grace. The joy lied in the process: of the honeymoon, of the days spent frolicking among eucalyptus, of the things she built with Charles – a chair, a house, a life.

Small Footprint, High Design

Small Footprint, High Design

Architecture is at odds with nature. Condominiums are built in the ashes of meadows, parking lots on the beds of forests. To design is to undo. To build is to take away. And so treetops are phased out in favor of sharp lines and concrete.

But within that rigid dichotomy, there are architects and designers striving to bridge the divide between the natural and the man-made. They seek out innovative solutions to incorporate a site’s landscape into the final design; boulders exist in internal spaces, trees are rooted in courtyards, medieval moats are made modern. The natural and artificial commingle and are made better for it.

While many modern-day architects use organic materials and glean inspiration from native structures, the following designers and firms create strictly with the intent to preserve. In this new sustainable mode of design, cliffsides are not obliterated, but carved to fit a space for something human.

Peter Zumthor

Take a look at the exterior of a Peter Zumthor building and prepare to be unimpressed. The Swiss architect’s work is notoriously spare, devoid of the flashiness we’ve come to expect from architecture bigwigs like Frank Gehry and Norman Foster. There are no elaborate skyscrapers or sculptural amphitheaters. But inside Zumthor’s buildings, entire worlds unfold.

Built in 1996, Zumthor’s Therme Vals is a hotel and spa situated over the only thermal springs in the Graubünden Canton in Switzerland. Like most Zumthor works, the exterior is stark, utilizing harsh grey stone to mirror the cold landscape of the Swiss countryside.

In conceptualizing the spa, Zumthor’s initial idea was to build a structure that mirrored the form of a cave or quarry, marrying the site’s Valser Quarzite slabs and water into a space designed for guests to luxuriate.

“Mountain, stone, water – building in the stone, building with the stone, into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – how can the implications and the sensuality of the association of these words be interpreted, architecturally?”


— Peter Zumthor

The result is a space revered for participating so seamlessly in the transcendental experience of a hot spring. In Zumthor’s world, senses are heightened: the sound of bubbling water, the touch of hot stones, the dramatic contrast of darkness and light at every turn. It’s a space that very much is what it is – one governed by element and ritual.

Peruse Zumthor’s body of work and you’ll notice this is not incidental – he has a thing for site-specific materiality. Perhaps his most famous work, Bruder Klaus Chapel in the rural countryside of Germany, utilizes natural elements of tree trunks and frozen molten lead to honor the patron saint Bruder Klaus. Tree trunks were bundled to form a wigwam and the interior wood was ignited to create a hollow space. The inside of the chapel shows residual texture and lingering char, pulling the gaze up to the open roof peering out at the night stars.

It is a fitting feature for a chapel, utilizing simple features to point us to a godly sky. It’s also classic Zumthor; a minimalist, naturalistic structure that is utterly uncompromising. From the wigwam formwork to the ignited interior, the construction of Bruder Klaus seems to follow Zumthor’s every farfetched whim. While this unflinching vision can make him somewhat of a controversial figure (Zumthor’s recent LACMA proposal landed him in hot water for being both outrageously expensive and reducing the gallery square footage), it’s also what makes him and his work so widely lauded.

Olson Kundig

Based in Seattle, Olson Kundig is a contemporary design firm whose work “expands the context of built and natural landscapes.” It’s a line taken straight from their website, and if it were any other firm, you could probably discard it as empty corporate-speak. But for Olson Kundig, it rings sincere.

When founding partner Jim Olson was 18, he bought a plot of land on Puget Sound amidst the towering forest and built a 200 square foot bunkhouse. That was in 1959. In the over 60 years between then and now, the cabin has undergone numerous remodels, each working with and around the surrounding trees. Three mature firs grow through openings in the deck, with one exiting through an opening in the roof. In this way, the interior blends seamlessly into the outdoors.

“Our homes and cities are as much a part of nature as birds’ nests and beehives. Our role as architects is to fit human life into the world in an intelligent and meaningful way.”


— Jim Olson

While Olson Kundig produces cultural and commercial buildings, they are best known for their exquisite residential homes. A personal favorite is the Costa Rica Treehouse, an open-air surfer hut built entirely of locally harvested teak. Inspired by the jungle, the structure engages with its surroundings at every level: “the ground floor opens to the forest floor, the middle level is nestled within the trees, and the top level rises above the tree canopy.”

The owners of the treehouse are avid environmentalists, and their commitment to sustainability reverberates throughout the home. A rainwater collection system, thoughtful shading, and a 3.5-kW photovoltaic array make the house’s environmental footprint even lighter. These features don’t exist simply to better the Earth, however. Each and every design choice is also made with human experience in mind.

“Architecture not only provides shelter but also enhances the human experience. It creates pleasure, provides meaning, and inspires. Buildings are an extension of our dreams and aspirations, being both about us and for us.”


— Jim Olson

This philosophy is central to Olson Kundig’s mission: a humanistic approach to sustainable design. Their buildings are extensions of the outdoors, connecting people to nature and serving as daily reminders that we are one with our environment, even when we’re in our own domestic cocoons.

Hariri & Hariri

Iranian-born sisters Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri are known for imbuing each of their projects with a sense of “sensual modernism.” It’s a philosophy they picked up back when they were architecture students at Cornell in the ‘70s, and it’s one that’s served as a guiding light as they’ve designed everything from jewelry collections (for Swarovski) to architectural renderings (for an exhibit at the Guggenheim).

The Hariri sisters believe in architecture that awakens the senses, in taking natural elements and transforming them into a conduit for pleasure. They perhaps do this best with Jewels of Salzburg, a development that is less a development than it is a microcosm of the Austrian city itself.

Recipient of the American Architecture Award in 2015, the striking housing development is inspired by the natural elements of Salzburg. A small waterway cuts through the center of the miniature city, mimicking the Salzach River, while a rock face towers over the structure just as the defining mountains loom over Salzburg. The shrunken city offers more than just novelty, though.

The creek that cuts through the site acts as a natural boundary and guide, inviting the public through the space in a meditative journey. Water travels from the highest elevation of the site through a small waterfall, which serves as a collector of melting snow, icicles, and rock. From this pedestrian path, the splendor of the forest and rock face can be taken in.

And the buildings themselves? They simulate the rock formation, chiseled rocks stacked one on top of each other in a seemingly random fashion, just as they would sit on a quarry site.

“The buildings we have proposed here are set back from the rock-face. They hover over their bases just enough to create a tension from where one could almost reach out and touch the rock.”


— Hariri & Hariri

The resulting domiciliary maze is one that is in conversation with its surrounding landscape. Buildings bend to jutting rock formations, the creek winds its way around courtyards and terraces. It’s poetry, materialized. And while this structure is an indication of the Hariri’s own principles and design philosophies, it’s also an indication of where architecture is heading.

Gone are the days of architecture for architecture’s sake. In an age where forests are regularly being set ablaze and our planet is in shambles thanks to blatant denial and inaction from government officials and the continuous burning of fossil fuels, it’s not enough to simply design around nature. Instead, designers must ask themselves: how do we preserve what we already have? What steps must we take to remain connected to the nature that surrounds us? Where, and how, do we choose to build? And who will take us into this new tomorrow?

These architects may have some of the answers.

6 Black Creatives To Support Right Now

6 Black Creatives To Support Right Now

As a young brand in an industry that has long been steeped in racism, sexism, and economic inequality, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the injustices embedded in hospitality and drinking culture.

We want to hold ourselves accountable to ensure our anti-racism education reverberates beyond this current moment. Anti-racism work is never over. From our internal team, to our partners and freelance creatives we work with now and in the future, we are committed to amplifying BIPOC voices through diverse and inclusive hiring practices, creative campaigns, and editorial voices.

We are a maker-driven brand, and that starts with the creatives we partner with, from the photographers who bring our brand to life to the small studios whose beautiful ceramics and glassware we stock in our own homes. The creative industry has historically been white-dominated–of the 26% of BIPOC who hold a job in the creative sector, only 8% of those are Black. We are committed to using both our platform and our spending power to support Black makers. Below are some of our favorite Black-owned businesses you can and should support right now:

• Oak & Melanin

One of our longstanding creative partners, O&M is a creative agency with elevated visual storytelling at its heart. 100% of the profits from their online art shop go directly to the team member who designed it.

• Estelle Colored Glass

Estelle Colored Glass is a luxury brand of hand-blown, vintage-inspired glassware now available in cotton candy colors like blushed pink and lavender. The champagne coupe is perfectly suited for a gimlet.

• Shop Yowie

YOWIE is a Philadelphia-based shop that sources homegoods and apparel from independent designers and artists. Founder Shannon Maldonado offers consultations on prop styling, art direction, and interior design.

• Goodee World

Founded by designers and creative directors Byron and Dexter Peart, Goodee World is a curated marketplace offering sustainable, thoughtfully made homegoods, from bold textiles to delicate woven light fixtures.

• For the Culture

Founded by Klancy Miller, For The Culture is a biannual print magazine that celebrates Black women in food and wine. All of the stories in For The Culture are about Black women, written by Black women, and photographed and illustrated by Black women.

• Nur Ceramics

Dina Nur Satti makes ceramics inspired by the daily rituals of the Sahara. From handcrafted incense holders to elegant whiskey and mezcal cups, Satti’s collection thoughtfully pays homage to the Somali and Sudanese traditions she grew up with.

6 Organizations Providing Healing Resources to BIPOC

6 Organizations Providing Healing Resources to BIPOC

As a young brand in an industry that has long been steeped in racism, sexism, and economic inequality, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the injustices embedded in hospitality and drinking culture.

We want to hold ourselves accountable to ensure our anti-racism education reverberates beyond this current moment. Anti-racism work is never over. From our internal team, to our partners and freelance creatives we work with now and in the future, we are committed to amplifying BIPOC voices through diverse and inclusive hiring practices, creative campaigns, and editorial voices.

At AMASS, we believe in taking care of our community–mentally and physically–and want to support organizations that share that same value. Right now is an incredibly painful, exhausting time for the Black community, who often have little or no access to healthcare, a long-standing reality that’s recently been exposed by COVID and its disproportionate impact on BIPOC. The following non-profit organizations are doing the important work of providing therapy and other healing resources to BIPOC right now:

• NQTTCN

The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network is committed to increasing access to healing justice resources for Queer and Trans BIPOC.

• House of GG

The Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat & Historical Center offers a transformative and healing space for Trans BIWOC.

• Black AIDS Institute

The Black AIDS Institute provides resources and support for Black folx living with HIV.

• Harriet’s Apothecary

Harriet’s Apothecary creates accessible, affordable, and inclusive community healing spaces for BIPOC.

• The Unplug Collective

Unplug is a digital space where Black and Brown womxn and non-binary folx can share their stories without being silenced or censored.

• The Loveland Foundation

The Loveland Therapy Fund provides financial assistance to Black women and girls seeking therapy.

25 Local Black-Owned Farms & Food Suppliers

25 Local Black-Owned Farms & Food Suppliers

As a young brand in an industry that has long been steeped in racism, sexism, and economic inequality, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the injustices embedded in hospitality and drinking culture.

We want to hold ourselves accountable to ensure our anti-racism education reverberates beyond this current moment. Anti-racism work is never over. From our internal team, to our partners and freelance creatives we work with now and in the future, we are committed to amplifying BIPOC voices through diverse and inclusive hiring practices, creative campaigns, and editorial voices.

We talk a lot about plants–where we source them, how we use them, and why it’s important that our ingredients are 100% organic and non-GMO. As of 2012, Black farmers made up only 1.4% of the country’s 3.2 million farmers; the amount of Black farm-owners is an even more grim and yet still dwindling number. Below is a list of Black food purveyors and farmers from across the country that are committed to providing their community with fresh produce, as well as working to end food apartheid. If you don’t see your city listed, you can find a more exhaustive list here.

Los Angeles:

· Suprmarkt
· SummaEverythang Community Center
· Logan’s Garden
·  Sam Cobb Farms
· Seeds of Xanxadu

San Francisco:

· Black Earth Farms
· City Slicker Farms
· Farms to Grow
· Phat Beets Produce

New York:

· Black Urban Growers
· La Familia Verde
· East New York Farms
· Brooklyn Rescue Mission Urban Harvest
· Corbin Hill Food Project

Philadelphia:

· The Philadelphia Urban Creators
· Soil Generation
· Mill Creek Farm

Chicago:

· Healthy Food Hub
· Urban Growers Collective
· Trinity United Church of Christ Farmers Market
· Your Bountiful Harvest Family Farm

Washington DC:

· Good Sense Farm
· Sylvanaqua Farms
· Soilful City
· Three Part Harmony Farm

The Dawn of The Digital Drink

The Dawn of The Digital Drink

Once the first wave of bars and restaurants began to shutter their doors mid-March, at the start of what would become a months-long period of social distancing, the thought occurred to us, “But where will we gather?”

It’s a question we’ve continued to ask ourselves as feelings of loneliness set in, as the LA Times makes predictions like,

"Make a list of your top 10 restaurants that you would hate to see close and support them at this time. Because 75 percent of them may eventually close."

It’s a startling statistic, and one that has forced us to consider what the world would look like without the dive bars and mom and pop shops and Sunday breakfast spots we know and love. With patronage out of the question, we are supporting these brick and mortar shops and stops we used to frequent in a new, very online way. We’re following along on their Instagram stories for new-to-us market offerings and to-go cocktails, making donations in an effort to support waitstaffs, even personally checking in on the teams of our nearest and dearest spots.

It seems that just as the premise of the IRL dining experience was wiped clean, we have been presented with an ever-expanding list of ways to engage with our local food and drink purveyors.

The same is true within our social circles. We are adapting to the current climate at a staggering rate, and this immense change can be felt most in the ways we are connecting with each other. Under quarantine, we have turned to technology to find community in ways we haven’t since the days of blogs and forums and AIM. In this new normal, we spend our Friday nights on Zoom happy hours clinking glasses with no one. We watch Alison Roman dole out cooking tips and chop shallots on Instagram Live, tuning in at set times like we did back when we still watched cable TV. We are, in small but significant ways, using the digital landscape again as a tool for connection as opposed to self-promotion.

It’s rare that change looks like reverting back to old ways of doing things. But alas, here we are–searching for ways to communicate with each other online in the same ways we did when the Internet was new and the words “influencer marketing” were still lightyears away.

In a Zoom happy hour I attended the other week, someone posed the question to the 15-person group, “What are the small things you’re delighting in now?” Answers varied, but several pointed to a shared truth–people are connecting with friends, family members, and yes, even strangers, online in ways they would have never done pre-pandemic. I listened to stories of foregone friendships being revitalized, deep-seated sibling rivalries resolving themselves, strangers striking up real conversation on dating apps without any intent of meeting up in-person. Even friends I was already speaking with on a weekly basis have become daily fixtures in my quarantine life.

It seems that being relegated to communicating via screens alone has spurred people to communicate even more. In the absence of communal spaces, we have transformed the internet into our own dive bar, mom and pop shop, and Sunday breakfast spot, partaking in happy hours and virtual brunches with a regularity that rivals the lives we led pre-pandemic. The social rituals we once turned to for comfort in the “old world” have followed us into our homes and onto our screens. Happy hour has not been postponed–our meeting places have simply become digitized.

It may seem like a cheap substitute at first glance, gathering around our computer screens for a drink as opposed to the bar down the street. But truth be told, it’s something we have already been doing for quite some time now. In an increasingly global world, we lean on technology as a way to connect across cities, states, time zones. Long distance friendships and relationships have thrived and survived under this model. Searching for connection through our screens is not a particularly novel idea–it’s just that our desires to connect have been heightened and our traditional means to connect have been erased.

When this is all over, I’m sure we will return to our posts at the bars and restaurants where we once gathered, or at least what is left of them. IRL nights out will resume. We’ll revert, in some ways, to the lives we led pre-pandemic. But we’ll return with a newfound understanding that the ways we connect with each other and the restaurants and bars we patronize are less limited than we thought. Happy hour–or at least the connection to people and places it provides us with–is withstanding of circumstance.

How I Get Undone: Caitlin Zenisek

How I Get Undone: Caitlin Zenisek

We are constantly bombarded with productivity hacks – tips and tricks on how to cross everything off our to-do lists while also being a person/partner/colleague/parent. Here at AMASS, though, we are far more interested in how people get undone. We want to know the nightly rituals that happen after 5PM, from the cocktails drunk to the books read. To us, it’s those small moments behind the scenes that really count, because in them lies a glimpse into who we want to be.

To kick things off, we asked AMASS’ LA-based Marketing Coordinator, Caitlin Zenisek, to share the ways she’s taking her pleasure seriously off the clock.

With quarantine in place, how has your evening routine changed?

I think everyone is adjusting to a much slower pace of life in general right now, which is weird and bizarre but also a blessing. I’ve tried to take this as an opportunity to reflect the extra space and time we have on our hands back into myself. I’ve been cooking much more, which has always been very therapeutic for me, experimenting with fun cocktails and working my way through our wine supply, and checking in with friends and family. Before bed, I’ve dedicated much more time than I’d like to share to a pretty indulgent skin care routine, and I’m attempting to journal or meditate – even if it’s just five minutes – to really unwind and quiet my mind. I’m not quarantining alone, so giving myself a little pocket of time completely to myself every evening is vital - you can’t water flowers from an empty bucket, right?

What are you normally up to after working hours?

When I leave the office, if I don’t have an event or happy hour, I’m usually heading to dinner with my boyfriend or friends, or home to chill tf out. Making sure I allow myself to turn off after work is super important to me – whether I’m doing something active, creative, or mindless, my “after hours” time gives me the balance I need. I love being social and am such a foodie, so going out with friends and trying new restaurants is my jam, but I also can’t resist curling up on the couch with a glass of wine, ordering in (Vietnamese is my favorite), and binging Netflix. Totally depends on my mood!

What are the rituals you practice to decompress and take care of yourself after a particularly stressful day?

Exercising regularly has always been the most effective and reliable way to manage my stress and anxiety. I usually run in the mornings, when LA is still quiet and I can get some fresh air, to start my day on a positive and productive note. But if I’m really needing some TLC after work, nothing calms me down like a hot yoga class. By the time I’m home, I’m already so relaxed, I’ll light a candle (I love the AMASS Mateo candle) or burn some incense, take a long shower, tidy up my apartment (also super therapeutic for me), and then read before bed. These are the days I really try to leave my phone out of sight, so I’m not tempted to mindlessly scroll through social media! That part can be hard but makes a world of difference.

It's 7 PM, you're in PJ's on the couch—what are you drinking? Watching or reading? Eating?

If I’m not having an AMASS martini, I’m drinking a glass of skin contact white wine - the funkier the better. As of late, I’m either watching Ozark, Tiger King (because you can’t not), or any of the Oscar nom films I haven’t seen yet. I’m slowly working my way through Sapiens, which I will finish before quarantine is over. And if we’re really getting cozy, I’m probably waiting on delivery from Nong La or Night + Market.

Are there any at-home hobbies you've picked up or are hoping to try with all this newfound time on your hands?

I’ve been crocheting for years – my grandma taught me how when I was little – so I’ve finally had some free time to sit and work on a few projects I’ve had sitting around. I just finished a giant cardigan that conveniently feels like a blanket – perfect for wrapping up and snuggling in during this time. My grandma, who also happens to be a huge fan of an AMASS martini, has been calling to check on my work –  it’s really nice to have that family connection tied in as well :)

Meet Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan

Meet Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan

Morgan McLachlan grew up on the side of a mountain in Vancouver, a place so beautiful that when she visited Yosemite for the first time years ago she thought to herself, “Oh, this is just like where I grew up.” She spent most of her days under her grandparents’ watch, playing and hiking in the forest, forging what would become a lifelong relationship with plants.

It’s a childhood straight from the storybooks, and one that makes perfect sense once you know where Morgan is now: distilling spirits from botanicals growing in her Echo Park backyard here in Los Angeles. The most striking of the plants growing in her yard? The California Bay Leaf, a plant more commonly found in Northern California that somehow made its way down the coast, into Morgan’s backyard, and eventually into a bottle of AMASS Dry Gin.

Before she got her start as a distiller, Morgan followed in her father’s footsteps working in the film and television industry as a camera operator. At just 17-years-old, Morgan was the youngest person at the time working in IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and one of the only women. “It’s always interesting talking about gender issues if you just get into it by the numbers,” she says. “In IATSE, when I was in the union, it was five percent women.”

When she left the movie biz a decade later to pursue a career in distilling, she found herself yet again in the minority, although this time on her own terms. In 2012, Morgan co-founded The Spirit Guild, a DTLA-based distillery that specializes in making a variety of spirits from California’s diverse flora. Since founding the distillery, Morgan has helped build seven beverage brands, establishing herself as one of the leading independent distillers and, once again, one of the only women.

On why more women aren’t distillers, Morgan theorizes that most women are probably too intelligent for the job. “You’re basically a janitor,” she explains, citing the hours of cleaning and back-breaking labor as one of the reasons the industry has remained so male-dominated.

Morgan, though, is an exception to her own theory, proving that women–even and perhaps especially intelligent women–have a place in distilling. Growing up in British Columbia, Morgan knew what every plant was–which ones were poisonous, which were edible, the conditions they grew best in. So when she moved to Los Angeles over a decade ago, she sought to learn as much as she could about Southern California flora, striving to become a resident expert on the region’s lush terroir.

Morgan’s partner at the time came from an old California ranching family dating back to the 1860s, and Morgan’s knowledge of the area’s agriculture blossomed from that tie. She started experimenting with various botanicals, including citrus, something she thought couldn’t be distilled because she had never seen it done before. She went on to distill the first gin and vodka from clementines, an innovation that came from the simple question: “What would a spirit distilled in Southern California be made from?”

Unlike other distillers that prioritize experimentation above all else, Morgan knows that innovation can only follow knowledge. Distilling, much like filmmaking, relies heavily on craft, a now overused descriptor in the alcohol world that nonetheless remains the most precise, as it encompasses both technical skill and artistry. Morgan elucidates on the matter,

“You can be a really good technical distiller where the spirits you’re making are missing a certain je ne sais quoi. And then you can be a very artistic distiller, but if you don’t know the techniques or the traditions… you can make a very sloppy product… It’s sort of like art. You learn how to draw and then from there, once you know the aesthetic rules, if you break the rules you’re breaking them intentionally.”

Morgan certainly knows how to break the rules–she’s been doing it since she first started working in movies at 17. But she also understands that distilling tradition is rooted in historical context. Take bourbon, for example. Back in 1938, the Coopers Union Lobby prohibited the reusing of barrels in the production of bourbon in an effort to create jobs and spur the lagging timber industry. Now, nearly a century after the law was first put in place, we’ve become accustomed to the taste of New American, charred oak barrel bourbon. To discard the rules surrounding the production of bourbon would be to disrupt the unique, now-expected flavor of the liquor.

Trace back to the origins of most modern spirits and you’ll find a similar trajectory. What we eat and drink are reflective of the times before us, but also the times we live in now. And in order to be a thoughtful distiller, it’s important to understand the symbiotic relationship between what we make and who we are, not as individuals but as a collective.

Morgan is deeply concerned with this relationship, as is evidenced by her near encyclopedic knowledge on the history of distilling. And luckily for her, the times we live in now are a beautiful place to be on the spirits front. We’ve entered into an era of thoughtful consumption, with consumers caring deeply about what they’re putting into their bodies. The decentralization of distilling away from large industrial practices has freed makers from rigid spirits categories and allowed for unprecedented creativity and innovation. Our drinking traditions are evolving with our culture and taking us to places no one has thought to go before. The lines between non-alcoholic, low-alc, and traditional spirits are being blurred, giving consumers of all kinds an opportunity to connect.

That ability to connect over food and drink is what entices Morgan most. She tells me, “My family is Scottish, so we’re lucky if we get black pepper on our roast beef, maybe some horseradish [laughs]. If you look at the history of the spice trade, spices and botanicals were really the first thing people knew of other cultures. I think in general, food and beverage is a calling card of culture and is something everyone can appreciate and connect over.”

AMASS–a word that simply means “to gather”–celebrates the power drink has to bring people of all walks of life together. Here in Los Angeles, a multicultural city with a recently booming food and beverage scene, this rings especially true. So much of AMASS Dry Gin, AMASS’s premiere product and Morgan’s personal brainchild, is inspired by the natural terroir and diverse cultural landscape of LA. The city is felt in the spirit’s indigineous botanicals like California Bay and Cascara Sagrada, as well as in the worldy, vibrant flavors of hibiscus and cardamom. It’s not difficult to see the influence of place–it’s also not difficult to see the influence of Morgan.

Morgan never thought she’d become a distiller, nor did she ever think she’d live in Los Angeles. She tells me that on one trip to LA in her 20s, she met with a corporate psychic at 21st Century Fox, where her step-mother worked at the time. It was the early 2000s, and Morgan had big plans to move to Berlin and play in an art-rock band (on the keyboard, naturally), to which the psychic told her, “Oh honey, you’re not moving to Berlin. You’re moving to Los Angeles.” Morgan quickly disregarded the prediction: “I thought, well that’s funny, because I hate Los Angeles.” Within a few years, she was living here, sleeping on a friend’s couch, and attending parties in the Hills.  It’s a classic story of “little did she know…”, but I’d argue that it’s more than that–it’s a story of Morgan and her ongoing capacity to change, like a snake in the habit of shedding skins.

Since co-founding AMASS with CEO Mark Thomas Lynn in 2018, Morgan’s role has shifted several times over. Now AMASS’s Chief Product Officer and Master Distiller, Morgan is still in the business of distilling and developing spirits, but she now oversees larger business operations as well. It’s not an entirely new realm for her to inhabit–she learned the ins and outs of how to run a business when she first founded the Spirit Guild nearly a decade ago. Outside of the office, Morgan’s life is similarly in flux–she is expecting her first child this spring, to which she says,

“I don’t know what you’re supposed to do when you’re pregnant, but I’m just going to keep working.”

When I ask her about the new direction her life and career are taking, she responds earnestly, “I’m just really excited to do everything all the time.” And that’s the truth of it. It’s not that Morgan is striving to be the best–she knows better than to strive for such empty aspirations. Rather, it’s that she wants to be the most thoughtful distiller she can be.

Distilling, at its core, is about taking simple ingredients–herbs, spices, fruit–and transforming them into a conduit for the senses. And if there’s anyone well-suited for that job, it’s Morgan. She’s read all the books. She’s learned the hard lessons. And perhaps most importantly, she delights in creating quotidian pleasures through drink. It’s a passion that does not seem to be fading, even as AMASS continues to evolve. Morgan is currently in the process of developing an aperitivo, the brand’s first foray into the low-alc space. More products–including, eventually, a non-alcoholic one, as well as a line of botanic hand washes and lotions–are set to follow. Such tremendous change could overwhelm some, but Morgan remains nonplussed. In fact, it seems that this ongoing change is what excites her most, as in it lies the possibility to transform the way we connect.

Photos by Cara Robbins

Finding Ritual In The Age of Corona

Finding Ritual In The Age of Corona

We’re several weeks into quarantine, which means my supply of clean sweatpants is running low, tensions between family members are running high, and I’ve been drinking… a lot. I’m not the only one–in a New York Times article published last week, it was reported that Drizly, an alcohol-delivery service, has had its sales increase by 50 percent since news of COVID-19 began to spread.

I’ve seen similar trends within my immediate social circle–on a FaceTime call with a friend last week, we commiserated over our newfound lifestyle, with meal and drink time acting as an anchor for the otherwise mindless passing of days. I flipped the camera to display my ever-diminishing array of booze, an assortment of wine and liquor that had begun to overtake my rather large dining room table. An even more dismal sight was to be found in my recycling bin, which overfloweth with discarded bottles of pinot.

Pre-quarantine, I was maxxing out at 2–3 drinks per week–a glass of wine with dinner here, an after-work cocktail with a friend there. But about a week into work-from-home life, the ratio of days passed to drinks drank was inching closer to 1:1. It’s not that I was drinking as a way to dull the senses–although, yes, if there was ever a time to crave distraction, now was it. More than that though, I was reaching for a glass as a way to mark the hazy line between afternoon and night, work and play, weekday and weekend.

It’s something we do habitually–after hard days and in celebration of good ones, we drink to commemorate and signify a moment. It’s why happy hours exist, after all (which you can read more about here). If you want to and are able to, pouring a drink is not the worst way to maintain some semblance of normalcy during an unprecedented global pandemic. But there are other rituals to practice to stay sane (and safe) that don’t involve another trip to the liquor store…

1. Set the light

When you’re sitting in the same room day in and day out, mood lighting matters. Open up your blinds during the day and burn candles at night to keep the distinction between on and off crystal clear.

2. Put a pot on to boil

Whether you’re making pasta or a cup of tea, there is something about the gentle simmer and eventual bubbling of a pot of water that has the power to soothe. It’s a ritual I’ve found myself retreating to on days when it’s comfort I’m craving most.

3. Play some tunes

Instead of pouring a glass at the end of the day, put on a record or strum on a guitar. The effect is similar so long as you opt for smooth and easy music.

4. Read poetry aloud

When spoken, a poem can feel something like a prayer. Read to yourself, read to someone you love–read because the news is loud and the rest of the world feels a little too quiet right now.

5. Stretch, breathe

Get back in your body by touching your toes. It’s simple, but taking the time to slow down your breath and stretch your limbs can transport you to a calmer place.

6. Preserve your perishables

Make an afternoon out of pickling veggies and sauerkraut. It’s a meditative practice that’s good for salvaging any farmer’s market treasures you have hanging out in your crisper drawer.

7. Take sunset walks

With social distancing in mind, take walks down the side streets you don’t typically trek at the end of the workday.

8. Bubble a bath

Baths are the perfect way to escape–from your screens, from your roommate, from the messy corners of your home. Low light and soft sounds are key here.

9. Mindlessly play

Whether it’s watching Youtube videos or going deep into an Animal Crossing rabbit hole, give yourself permission to delight in the mindless pleasures you typically chide yourself for. In a time where so much of our headspace is being taken up by worry, granting yourself simple comforts is an essential practice.

A Letter From The AMASS Team On COVID-19

A Letter From The AMASS Team On COVID-19

In light of the ongoing spread of COVID-19, we have asked our team to practice social distancing and work remotely in an effort to protect the vulnerable and immunocompromised. While it pains us to see our industry navigate through these tough times, our first priority is the safety of our community.

Over the past year and a half, our crew of bartenders has stood steadfastly by AMASS. We understand that we wouldn’t be here without their ongoing support, and are committed to doing everything in our power to gather, create, and share resources to help mobilize the movers and shakers that make up this industry.

In March, we donated 10% of the proceeds of our botanic hand sanitizer to the United States Bartenders Guild Emergency Grants Program to assist bartenders whose livelihoods have been compromised by the sudden closures of bars and restaurants. We are now donating a portion of our hand sanitizer production to healthcare professionals on the front lines and nonprofit organizations working to protect and support at-risk populations nationwide.

AMASS means “to gather together,” and we’re grateful there are so many ways to do this digitally. As the situation continues to evolve, we’ll be providing important updates here as well as rolling out tips and tricks on how to shake up cocktails at home from our community of bartenders. In the meantime, we’ve listed some ways to support your local bars and restaurants below.

Now more than ever, we’re inspired and moved by the tenacity and generosity of this community. Thank you for being here–we're wishing that you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy.

How You Can Help

  • Purchase gift cards when available to be used once the crisis abates
  • Continue ordering from your favorite restaurants online and opting for no-contact delivery or pickup
  • Call your local bars and restaurants and ask to buy their perishable items
  • Donate when and if you can to supplement payroll for the servers, hosts, and bartenders that make up this community
  • Call your Representative and Senators and demand that employees in the hospitality sector (and small businesses in general) are part of the federal stimulus plan. You can be connected to the capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121
  • Buy merch and products (like jam, coffee, and hot sauce) from the restaurants you love


Cheers,

Team Amass

The Ultimate Cocktail Forecast of 2020

The Ultimate Cocktail Forecast of 2020

The 2010s were a decade of excess capped off with surprising thoughtfulness. They were a decade of canned concoctions and boozy brunches. They were, in a word, boundless. And as sad as we were to bid them farewell, we’re also thrilled to see more mindful trends make their way into the spotlight. So I talked with Robby Nelson, AMASS’ East Coast Sales Director and cocktail whiz whose personal resume reads like a who’s who of the New York food and beverage scene. Before joining the AMASS team, Robby served as the General Manager at Momofuku’s East Village bar, Booker and Dax, bartended at The Long Island Bar under Toby Cecchini, the much-lauded creator of the legendary Cosmopolitan, and worked at Pernod-Ricard first as the Brand Ambassador for Plymouth Gin and later as a Key Account Manager. Suffice it to say, Robby knows a thing or two about cocktails. So it should come as no surprise that when I asked him to share his bold predictions for the drink trends of 2020, he did not disappoint.

No Proof Cocktails

I have definitely noticed more and more bars/restaurants offering "No Proof" cocktails and devoting a section of their menu to them, not to mention taking the time during menu development to create some delicious drinks. Seedlip is, of course, a brand that I see more and more of, but bars have also been incredibly creative when developing non-alcoholic cocktails. For instance, Existing Conditions, which is over a year old now, launched with some truly incredible No Proof cocktails, employing all of their "scientific" and "molecular" techniques (I put those in quotes because they hate the term molecular, and probably wouldn't like scientific much either).

The Martini

I also think the martini is having a bit of a moment. A lot of cocktail bars have a house martini or a martini variation on the cocktail menu. My friends recently opened a restaurant called Anton's in the West Village, and they serve a pre-batched, pre-diluted, and chilled martini, as well as a Manhattan, which are both simple and delicious. That's another trend, too–prepared cocktails that are made better by being made ahead of time. Existing Conditions has an old school vending machine with three different bottled cocktails that you get by requesting a token from the bartender that you then use on the vending machine as if you're getting a Coke.

Classic Cocktails on Restaurant Menus

I have also been noticing that a lot of restaurants have decided they don't need to have a list of bespoke, house cocktails. They're happy to serve a short list of classic cocktails and do them well, which I am so happy about.

Glassware

Glassware—that's the new arms race. Gone are the days where everyone used the same Libbey 5.5 oz coupe glass. Now anyone with a serious cocktail program selects their own glassware because they want it to be beautiful and unique. Which I also love because I'm a sucker for glassware.

Mini Martinis & Vermouth Service

I was never a big fan of doing shots of Fernet, which used to be what every bartender would serve every industry person who walked through the door. Thankfully, this has largely disappeared.  Now, bars/restaurants have their own unique ways of saying hello/goodbye to a visiting industry person.  For instance, Dante usually pours tiny martinis (because they have them prepared) or they'll do a small version of their vermouth service, which is dry vermouth, a splash of bubbles, and a frozen grape. [The drinks are] delicious and low proof, so you're not staggering out of the bar after a full-blown shot of full proof spirit.

Thoughtful Consumption

Along the lines of what I said above about shots, I think consumers are also drinking with more care and intention. They want to understand and appreciate what they're drinking, not necessarily get wasted. Don't get me wrong, people also do that, and frequently. But it's like with food, people want to eat/drink something they enjoy, they can learn about, talk about, take a cute picture of, and engage with on a deeper level than just being full/drunk.

Written by Nicole Carullo & Robby Nelson

The Buzzy (and Boozy!) Drinks That Defined The 2010s

The Buzzy (and Boozy!) Drinks That Defined The 2010s

What we order at a bar says a lot about us. Our drink orders provide a portal into what we desire, of course, but also how we desire to be seen. And while we all have our old standbys (like my friend who continues to order Cosmopolitans everywhere he goes no matter how uncool they have become), most of us are at least somewhat concerned in appearing in-the-know. That’s why we here at AMASS rounded up the trendiest drinks of the past decade, as a glimpse into the cocktails and beers and shots we ordered and drank in an attempt to seem cooler than we actually are.

2010: The Four Loko

The decade started out with a bang with the rise of the now-infamous Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic beverage responsible for many a forgotten night out. Once beloved among college students for its potency and almost concerningly low price point of 3 bucks a can, the caffeine-and-sugar-laden concoction has since been banned (fair), but its legacy forever lives on.

2011: Pabst Blue Ribbon

Unlike its fellow cheap beer counterparts, in its prime PBR was beloved not among bro-y frat stars, but among the beanie-clad, handlebar mustached hipsters of the early 2010s. It was the beer you drank if you were in a band, and although it quickly became outshined by the emerging craft beer scene, for a fading moment it reigned supreme.

2012: Whiskey

With the popularity of Don Draper came a short-lived but nonetheless memorable Americana phase. Many an old fashioned and whiskey sour were drunk and The Avett Brothers were played loudly and often. In the words of a not-so-American writer, it was the best of times and it was the worst of the times.

2013: Negronis

Back in 2013, Campari launched Negroni Week in an effort to 1) celebrate the cocktail, 2) raise money for charities around the world and 3) sell a lot of Campari. It worked, and the classic cocktail became the drink du jour. (Of course, we’re partial to an AMASS Negroni, which you can shake up at home with our recipe here.)

2014: Over-the-top-Brunch-Cocktails

The advent of Instagram brought Instagram-friendly cocktails, and none were more extra than the Bloody Mary. Stacked with everything from fried chicken to cocktail shrimp to cheeseburger sliders, these savory cocktails were a lesson in excess.

2015: Fireball

While Fireball first had a surge of popularity in 2012, it wasn’t until 2015 that the cinnamon-flavored whiskey became the top-selling liqueur in the United States (and the one countless college freshman would cite as the reason they can’t stomach the taste of cinnamon anymore).

2016: Frosé

The moment has passed, but the “frosé all day” tee shirts still remain. The unofficial white girl drink of 2016, frosé, or frozen rose, is like a grown-up slushie made with pink wine and fresh strawberries. It’s best drunk poolside, ideally with one of those pizza or donut-shaped pool floats nearby.

2017: Natural Wine

Natural wine, or wine that is made with fewer additives and sulfites, became popularized in France back in the ‘60s, but it took some time (over 50 years, to be exact) for the movement to gain traction stateside.  Made with the principle that “nothing is added and nothing is taken away,” natural wine’s growing popularity mirrored consumers’ growing concern about what they were putting into their bodies.

2018: The Aperol Spritz

Ah yes, the cocktail that spurred countless Instagram posts and a hotly-debated New York Times think piece. Aperol, the part sweet, part bitter Italian aperitivo, has been around since the ‘50s, but it wasn’t until an intense marketing campaign led by Campari that the drink became a stateside sensation. The buzz has since mellowed a bit, but expect to still see the orange-hued cocktail on your feed come June.

2019: Low ABV Alternatives

While consumers at the beginning of the decade were primarily concerned with how to get drunk fast (hence the popularity of Four Loko), we’ve since entered into an era of low ABV and more thoughtfully sourced ingredients. It’s why hard kombucha and mocktails (and yes, even White Claws) have hit their stride now, and is a trend we’ll continue to see as we bid the 2010s adieu.

How Pinochle and Pinot Brought a Family Together

How Pinochle and Pinot Brought a Family Together

After my grandmother died, my family went into a holding period. We boxed up the contents of her attic, sorted through troves of old photographs and jewelry, argued who among us would inherit her wedding ring. And then we retreated to our separate homes for a while, unsure of how or where to reconvene without this central matriarch.

In most cultures, the grandmother is the primary figurehead, the person through which all of the family recipes and traditions are passed through. She is the grounding force that keeps family returning home, for holidays and birthdays and funerals, no matter how far away everyone may live.

My grandmother was no exception to this. Her house was a place that felt warm, even in the dead of winter. Booze flowed plentifully there and food even more so. There were card games and cartoons, ‘Nilla wafers eaten at the kitchen counter. It smelled like...mothballs, and meatballs, and her. So when she died, it felt like the death of something much larger than a person.

But in the months that followed my grandmother’s passing, my aunt bought her house and moved in, replacing the decor but keeping a place for family to come and gather. So we did, slowly at first, uneasy to embrace my grandmother’s house as a place separate from her. Doing so felt something like betrayal. But over time, and out of simple necessity, we began showing up there for holidays, gifts and drinks and food in tow, ready, finally, to celebrate with each other.

On the first Christmas after my grandmother’s death, we pulled out a deck of cards and played Pinochle–my grandmother’s game–for the first time in a long time. My dad and his three sisters sat around the kitchen table and played under yellow light while I perched myself beside them, trying my best to learn a game in which the rules constantly seemed to be in flux. Snow piled outside as they drank freely, and I watched their grins grow bigger and bigger until their cheeks dappled red like the wine.

I don’t know if it was the booze or the game or the simple fact that we were together after a period of separation, but I noticed a shift in us that night. My dad brought out old tape recordings from when he and his sisters were kids, and we listened to the crackly voices of a much younger family. There were my dad and his sisters excitedly talking about school and sleepovers–kid things–and then there was my grandmother, her tongue sharp and biting, a looming figure even on tape.

It was a portal into a version of my family I did not recognize, or at least had not seen in quite some time, and I wanted to linger in their shared history for a while. We laughed a lot, listening to those tapes. I cried a little, too.

From that night forward, we were a family bound by alcohol and a deck of cards, these simple, human things that somehow allowed us to discover each other again. My grandmother’s old house became marked as a place where we could continue in her absence–I could keep trying and failing to learn the rules to Pinochle, the wine could keep flowing, and, most importantly, we could keep coming together again.

The Ways We Celebrate (And Don't Celebrate) Thanksgiving

The Ways We Celebrate (And Don't Celebrate) Thanksgiving

There are a lot of reasons I love Thanksgiving. I love that the holiday spurs people to come together, gather around a table, and give thanks. I love eating pie and drinking wine and laying on the couch wearing sweatpants and socks while the Cowboys play on the television. I love the pride a family can have over a dish of sweet potatoes, how a bowl of cranberry sauce can be so much more than a bowl of cranberry sauce. It’s a day that aligns so strongly with my core values (family and food, namely) that I feel the temptation to ignore the rest. It’s easy to pretend Thanksgiving is devoid of problems when, up until pretty recently, there was little to no public discourse saying otherwise.

For a long time, the story of the first Thanksgiving has failed to acknowledge the very real story of colonization and massacre. It has glossed over the unpleasant realities and instead painted a picture of turkey and camaraderie, of a false friendship between the Pilgrims and the Native American people they displaced. And I feel a growing hesitancy to continue pretending that Thanksgiving is a day about coming together and holding hands when I can see, quite plainly now, all the ways it’s not that.

This growing hesitancy to celebrate Thanksgiving is a collective one, as evidenced by the general decline in young people taking part in holiday traditions. Even here at AMASS, with a team that loves nothing more than gathering together over food and drink, several members of our team have chosen to opt out of traditional Thanksgiving festivities, citing the holiday’s problematic history as the predominant reason. One member of our team spends the day making an assortment of dishes from all over the world, while another simply takes advantage of the time off work to visit her family in Northern California.

But for those of us who do celebrate, whether that be because of familial obligation or a genuine desire to spend a day giving thanks, how are we supposed to reconcile Thanksgiving’s gruesome history with our own passed-down traditions? And more importantly: is doing so even possible?

Having a day to gather with loved ones and reflect on what we’re thankful for is not, at its essence, a bad thing. In fact, it’s an essential practice, regardless of whether that moment of reflection takes place on the last Thursday of November or any other day. But if we are going to use Thanksgiving as a day to eat, drink, and give thanks with the people we love, it’s our responsibility to do so in a way that respects and acknowledges the pain felt by many in the Native community.

I’ve found through articles like this one and conversations with friends that there are actually many ways to acknowledge the problematic history of Thanksgiving. By remembering and talking about the first Thanksgiving as it really happened, taking the time to not only give thanks but to reflect on the lives lost, and donating to indigenous-rights organizations like these, we can work to reframe the narrative of Thanksgiving.

The Case Against Meal Prep

The Case Against Meal Prep

I grew up in a house where my dad cooked dinner almost every night. He worked full-time and the meals he made for us were not particularly groundbreaking (read: meatloaf was often on the menu). He did not plan elaborate grocery lists or shop from artisanal stores or cull recipes from cookbooks written by esteemed chefs. He just cooked, simply, with the intent of eating food that would curb both hunger and cravings, every day.

Most nights when I get home from work, I make myself a meal and pour myself a drink. It’s nothing revolutionary, but in a cultural moment where cooking often means an assembly-line-style Sunday meal prep, making a single, thoughtful meal on a Tuesday feels like a small act of rebellion.

Sometimes the word “make” means cutting up a rotisserie chicken and placing it atop some rice and arugula, but there is still something important happening there, even if what I’m doing could barely be considered cooking.

As I stand over my kitchen counter, alone, for likely the first time after a busy workday, I feel something like release. The term “self-care” is overplayed at this point, but that is, to some extent at least, what I’m talking about here–the process of slowing down my mind and my body and making something to nourish myself with.

It’s not about the drinking or eating itself though–it’s all of the chopping and pouring and simmering that leads up to it. Lately, I’ve been making risotto, a dish that, in its very design, forces me to slow down. In fact, besides butter and rice and wine, that it is all it really asks of me–to slow myself and pay attention, to taste and smell and stir. It asks me to notice when the onions have softened and mellowed, when the rice is soft but not yet mush.

It’s a level of care that I think we are tempted to rush through. And that is a warranted temptation–we are all tired and overworked and at the end of a likely stressful day, we want to avoid, at any cost, taking on an additional, attention-demanding task. It is far easier to toss a bunch of ingredients in the oven on Sunday and call it a day.

But the act of creating something to be savored on a more regular basis, whether that be a martini or macaroni and cheese, is work that is, simply put, worth it.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to take a long time. The act of doing it at all is enough.

Prohibition Era Cocktails You Should Know

Prohibition Era Cocktails You Should Know

During Prohibition, the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was made illegal. Although liquor was against the law from 1920 to 1933, the consumption of alcohol did not disappear altogether. Instead it led to the rise of speakeasies where alcoholic beverages were secretly bootlegged and illegally sold, becoming a popular means of evading the law.

As a result, bootlegged alcohol quality may have suffered in many speakeasies; however, this point in history initiated a new age of creativity. The prohibition era has left its mark, as many speakeasy-inspired bars exist to this day. Thankfully we can now enjoy cocktails crafted with top quality liquors like AMASS Dry Gin instead of the homemade spirits of the 1920s. Here is a list of recipes from the prohibition era you should know:

The Last Word

This cocktail was invented just before the Prohibition era in 1915 by Frank Fogharty, and first served at the Detroit Athletic Club. It’s the perfect blend of gin, chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice.

INGREDIENTS
¾ oz AMASS Dry Gin
¾ oz Chartreuse
¾ oz Maraschino Liqueur
¾ oz lime juice
1 brandied cherry, for garnish

RECIPE
Combine gin, chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake and then strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Bee’s Knees

This classic gin, lemon, and honey cocktail just got an upgrade from bathtub gin to AMASS Dry Gin. The citrus and floral notes in our gin will make you say “this is the bee’s knees.”

INGREDIENTS
2 oz AMASS Dry Gin
¾ oz lemon juice
½ oz honey syrup
Lemon twist, for garnish

RECIPE
Combine gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Monkey Gland

Created by bar owner Harry MacEhlone in the 1920’s, this French prohibition era cocktail originated in Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Although this cocktail has an odd name, its mix of gin, orange, grenadine, and absinthe make it surprisingly delicious.

INGREDIENTS
1½ oz AMASS Dry Gin
1½ oz orange juice
1 tsp grenadine
1 tsp simple syrup
1 tsp absinthe

RECIPE
Combine gin, orange juice, grenadine, simple syrup and absinthe in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Scent Stories

Scent Stories

AMASS is known for our signature scents. Inspired by nature and brought to life by our Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan, each AMASS scent is meticulously crafted using a blend of natural botanicals to evoke a feeling and spark joy in your day. Explore the story behind each of our four core scents here:

FOUR THIEVES

CINNAMON · ALLSPICE · CLOVE · EUCALYPTUS

Our Four Thieves scent is inspired by a blend of botanicals once believed to prevent the spread of the plague in medieval Europe. Named after a band of thieves who used the tincture to protect themselves from disease as they robbed the dead, the Four Thieves recipe is an age-old remedy that we’ve reimagined for modern life. Cinnamon, allspice, clove, and eucalyptus create a warm, spicy aroma.

PSEUDO CITRINE

LEMON · GINGER · GRAPEFRUIT · LAVENDER

In Kyoto, reverence hangs thick in the air. Glimmering summer sun reflects onto the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, itself mirrored onto the glassy surface of the Kyōko-chi. Sheathed in gold leaf, the Temple ripples in the water under towering limonene pines. Is what we’re seeing real, or a reflection of a reflection?

Inspired by the yellow gemstone citrine, Pseudo Citrine evokes a lemon-fresh scent while offering an energizing ritual. Lemon, ginger, grapefruit, and lavender join for a light, refreshing citrus scent.

BASILISK BREATH

BASIL · PEPPERMINT · ROSEMARY · SAGE · THYME

Inspired by the Greek myth of the basilisk, a deadly serpent, our Basilisk Breath scent features sweet basil, a botanical once considered to be a protective charm against the basilisk’s fatal stare and breath. In following the long occult tradition of naming antidotes for their poison, Basilisk Breath enlivens basil’s mythological roots while delivering a bright, refreshing clean. Basil, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and thyme blend to create an invigorating herbal scent.

FOREST BATH

SPRUCE · AMBER · PETRICHOR

On the coast overlooking the Salish Sea, salt and rain entwine in the trees. In a psychosomatic forest escape, soak in the atmospheric hush through the senses. The shimmer of water hitting stone lingers on the skin, as the cool crisp of petrichor and cedar warms with the butterscotch sweetness of amber musk. Ozonic top notes spring from the shore for a boreal bath that cleanses the soul. Spruce, amber, and petrichor build a dense woodland aroma.

The History of Friday the 13th

The History of Friday the 13th

At AMASS, we’re not superstitious – you can regularly find members of our team strolling under ladders and petting stray black cats. But we do have a proclivity for indulging in all things occult, and that means when Friday the 13th rolls around, we’re on high alert. But where do superstitions around the day come from, and are we right to be weary?

In Western cultures, the number 12 is often a marker that something is whole. There are 12 months, 12 zodiac signs, 12 days of Christmas. But continue counting and the number that follows–the unlucky number 13–is tied up in all kinds of negative associations.

That goes back to 1307, when on October, Friday the 13th King Phillip IV of France arrested the Knights Templar, a military group formed to protect the Holy Land. Hundreds of Templars were wrongfully imprisoned and later executed, all because the King wanted access to their financial resources. And the blame was pushed onto unlucky number 13, a pattern that would follow for the next millennia.

That’s because bad things did continue to happen on Friday the 13th. A lot of them, actually. There was the bombing of Buckingham Palace, a deadly cyclone in Bangladesh, the death of Tupac. And that’s just to name a few tragedies that just so happened to take place on Friday the 13th.

And so, the 13th floor was eradicated from hotel elevators, an empty space between 12 and 14 resting ominously. Having 13 guests at a table became a bad omen, and so an extra person was tacked onto the dinner party to dissolve any fears of bad luck. In our own ways, we found a way to avoid the number 13 entirely. It’s why every Friday the 13th there’s a dip in air travel, millions of dollars lost in business across industries as people hide out in their homes until the 14th rolls around.

The same isn’t true though across other cultures and countries. In Greece and several Spanish-speaking countries, for instance, it’s Tuesday the 13th, the day Constantinople fell, that incites panic. The fact that Tuesday is the third day of the week only adds fuel to the fire, as bad luck is said “to come in threes.” Meanwhile, in Italy, Friday the 17th is the day of bad luck, with many Italians considering the number 13 to actually be particularly lucky.

All that to say, the days we consider ‘unlucky’ or ‘lucky’ have little to do with cold hard facts and more to do with our own cultural and historical associations with the day. So, in the spirit of kicking superstition, cheers to staying safe and celebrating with a glass of AMASS come Saturday.

History of the Cocktail

History of the Cocktail

Before there were cocktails, there was punch.

In 18th century England, big bowls full of booze, juice, and spices were served in punch houses across the country, the Age of Enlightenment equivalent of Jungle Juice. Then a more civilized way to imbibe was devised, and the sling was born, a mix of sugar, water, and liquor served neat at room temperature.

It wasn’t until 1806 that bitters got in the mix and the cocktail was formally introduced in The Balance and Columbian Repository, where it was defined as a “stimulating liquor composed of any kind of sugar, water, and bitters.” As you can imagine, the lack of acid from lemons and limes made these pre-Prohibition potations incredibly sweet, and the lack of ice at the time made them tepid at best.

The Age of Enlightenment equivalent of Jungle Juice.

Over time though, the cocktail got better. Jerry Thomas, the writer behind The Bartender’s Guide, had a lot to do with that. His book became an encyclopedia of sorts, with recipes to classic cocktails like a mint julep to an eclectic mix of now antiquated drinks, including Balaklava Nectar, made with claret, soda water, champagne, and lemon, and the Locomotive, a whiskey cocktail with lemon and Cointreau.

Then, in 1920, Prohibition abruptly halted the growing cocktail movement. People were still drinking, sure, but the secrecy of that drinking often meant moonshine in basements, not martinis in parlors. Many talented bartenders left to work abroad, and when the 18th amendment was repealed in 1933, people were ready to drink their spirits straight, cocktails be damned.

Of course, over time, cocktail culture picked back up. The Mad Men of the ‘50s and ‘60s, with their copious Old Fashioneds and Manhattans and Martinis, made sure of it. And while there was a brief hiatus in the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, where cannabis culture took over, by the ‘90s another cocktail renaissance was underway.

Cranberry juice became popular due to its purported health benefits, and the earliest iteration of the Cosmopolitan began to pop up around gay bars in San Francisco. In 1988, the Cosmo landed in the capable hands of Toby Cecchini, owner of Long Island Bar in New York, who modernized the saccharine drink by swapping Rose’s lime and grenadine with Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and of course, cranberry juice.

Other decidedly ‘90s cocktails include the Espresso Martini, the Appletini, and the Bramble, a gin cocktail made with Giffard Crème de Mûre. These days, drinking trends have evolved in favor of classic cocktails with a subtle twist (think: a martini washed with olive oil). But despite the Cosmo no longer being the drink du jour it once was, we still love the power cocktails have to serve as a portal to the past.

Curious about the story of cocktails past? Read up on the history of happy hour, or take a deep dive into aperitivo culture.

History of Mother's Day Flowers

History of Mother's Day Flowers

A bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day is the oldest trick in the book, next to maybe breakfast in bed or a hand-drawn card. But where does the tradition stem from, and what flowers are associated with the holiday?

It all started with a woman named Anna Jarvis. Born in West Virginia in 1864, Anna would go on to found Mother’s Day in 1908, three years after her own mother’s death. It would be a few years later, in 1914, that President Woodrow Wilson would formally declare the second Sunday of May Mother’s Day (it wasn’t until 1972 that Father’s Day became a national holiday, if you’re keeping track).

What started as a way to commemorate Anna’s own mother quickly became a way to recognize mothers everywhere. In celebration of the first memorial, Anna gave the events’ attendants 500 white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower.The flower became an important symbol of the holiday, as Anna explained,

The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts.

Over time, the floral industry commodified the flower, even introducing red carnations to meet growing demand. Prices went up, and Anna’s original symbolism behind the carnation faded, instead taking on a new meaning; the red carnation was gifted to mothers, while the white carnation was used to honor mothers who had recently passed, placed on their gravestones as a tribute.

It wasn’t just the symbolism that changed; aware that Mother’s Day was quickly becoming a cash cow, greeting card and confection companies quickly hopped on board as well, creating their own product lines gearing toward celebrating moms everywhere.

Anna, fed up with the the commercialization of a day founded on altruistic grounds, boldly spoke out about the trivialization of the day, at one point saying, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

In 1923, Anna went so far as to stop the day’s festivities by disturbing white carnation sellers, though she was shortly arrested for her public order violation. Her attempts to have the holiday formally rescinded also failed. And despite her best efforts, Anna’s unwillingness to adapt to the times led to her own economic hardship; when she died in 1948, it was the floral and greeting card companies that paid for her medical bills.

Fast forward to today, when Mother’s Day is still widely celebrated, remaining one of the biggest days of sales in the floral and greeting card industries.The most common gift? Flowers, though the carnation isn’t the only popular pick; tulips, daisies, lilies are all common choices, though your mom’s favorite flowers is always the best bet in our book.

Fascinated by flora? Read up on the history of the L.A. flower district, or dive deeper into the origins of the poinsettia.

The Color Green and Its Power to Soothe

The Color Green and Its Power to Soothe

This past year, the color green has been in. From the uptick in houseplants to the cultural phenomenon that was Dakota Johnson’s Alligator Alley-colored kitchen in her now-infamous Architectural Digest tour (IYKYK), it’s clear the verdant hue has overtaken our homes. And it makes sense: in a year where we’re glued to our screens and so much is unknown, of course we want to swath ourselves in the cool, relaxing color of nature. But why, exactly, does the color green have the power to soothe us?

Color therapy, also known as chromotherapy, is a therapeutic remedy that uses color and light to treat physical and mental health and balance the body’s chakras. If that sounds woo-woo, rest assured that the principle has been backed up by research; in one small experiment, researchers at the Aalborg University of Copenhagen monitored the brain activity of subjects and exposed them to different colors of light. Their brains were notably more active when exposed to red and blue light, while green light led to an overall feeling of ease and relaxation.

This isn’t a new phenomenon; in the early 1900s, a New York psychiatric hospital had a color ward to treat patients. There was a black room to soothe manic patients, a red room for those dealing with feelings of melancholy, a violet room for treating insanity, and then a green room for the boisterous. While we now know that purple walls are no cure for insanity, the idea that the shades of our surroundings can affect our mood still holds.

The Japanese concept of forest bathing, known as shinrin-yoku, speaks to this very premise; surrounding yourself in lush green spaces reduces stress, improves focus, and can even have positive effects on your physical well-being, from boosting your immune system to lowering heart rate and blood pressure. And yes, it can even help you from being too boisterous, if that’s a particular problem you face.

Looking to self-soothe by enveloping yourself in the color green? Paint your living room a deep emerald. Outfit your space with Monsteras galore. Or perhaps the simplest way: green-ify your bar cart with a bottle of Riverine, our non-alcoholic spirit packed with verdant botanicals like rosemary, mint, and cucumber.

The Science Of Bubbles

The Science Of Bubbles

Gin and tonic, hard seltzer, champagne; here at AMASS, we love an effervescent drink. But within the world of carbonation, countless types of bubbles abound. Here’s the science behind the bubbles, explained.

Put simply, carbonation is what happens when carbon dioxide is added to liquid. This can happen manually by forcefully dissolving CO2 in water, as is often done in mass-produced sparkling waters and sodas. Or, it can occur naturally.

Certain mineral springs around the world produce naturally-carbonated water. In Soda Springs, Idaho, there are thousands of these carbonated springs, which have arisen thanks to past volcanic activity in the region. The residual geothermal activity hundreds of feet below ground heats water and mixes in carbon dioxide, resulting in naturally carbonated water.

Another form of natural carbonation can be achieved through the process of fermentation, as is sometimes the case with alcohol, like beer, champagne, and even kombucha. For kombucha, this happens during secondary fermentation when the kombucha is flavored, bottled, and left to ferment for longer. As it sits, the bacteria in the kombucha is reactivated by the sugars in the flavoring, causing it to release gas for a slightly fizzy drink.

Across all these bubbly beverages, carbonation levels vary somewhat dramatically. Soda is more carbonated than beer, seltzer and mineral waters are on par with soda, and champagne is as bubbly as they come, with roughly 1.5 times as much carbonation as an average soda. Despite all this variance, each of these beverages has one thing in common: they all are made up of thousands of bubbles. What distinguishes one bubble from the next though? Usually, it’s the size.

Think about your favorite tonic water. While some prefer the harsh carbonation of a traditional soda, others opt for brands like Fever Tree, which has small champagne bubbles that create a softer mouthfeel. This distinction between bubble size is a key factor in the experience of a beverage, but there are other variables to consider when it comes to effervescent drinks.

One of those variables is the water itself. Some waters are hard, some are soft, and the taste difference is palpable. For instance, BallyGowan, our Co-Founder and Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan’s favorite still mineral water that hails from Northern Ireland, is incredibly soft due to the limestone in the terrain. Meanwhile, Vichy Catalan, a Spanish mineral water that’s another one of Morgan’s faves, has such a high total dissolved solids content that some people actually feel stimulated by it. It’s also incredibly salty; one liter of the stuff has a whopping one gram of sodium.

And that’s another important factor when it comes to your favorite sparkling waters: salinity. Club soda has some salt added, which is a big reason why bartenders love it so much. A splash of soda in your Tom Collins does more than just refresh; the salt content adds necessary balance, offsetting the sweetness of simple syrup and the bracing acidity of a heavy squeeze of lemon. It’s the same reason why flaky Maldon salt is so delicious on top of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, or why a margarita with a heavily salted rim is irresistible. Is it any wonder why salt + water + bubbles is a winning combo?

Now that you’re sufficiently parched, enjoy some tongue-tingling cocktails, like a Negroni Royale made with a splash of sparkling wine and a Malibu Mule featuring our Botanic Hard Seltzer.

History of Bathing

History of Bathing

Bathing has always been about much more than getting clean. The act of slowing down for a soak is synonymous with self-care, and that’s been true since humans first had the thought, what if we sat in some hot water?

The history of tub time starts in ancient India, where the daily ritual of bathing first began. In Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine, water is a purifying force thought to cleanse not only the body, but the mind and the soul. That’s why the vedas and puranas recommend bathing not once, but three times a day, an elaborate hygiene practice that was first recorded in the Grihya Sutra, a Hindu text detailing the samskaras, or ceremonies, that guide a person’s life.

While the ritual or regular bathing was first devised in India, the bathtub itself dates back to around 1500 BCE in Crete. Alabaster bathtubs excavated in Santorini and the frequent appearance of the Greek word for bathtub in Homer’s literature suggests that bathing was not just a hygienic practice for the Greeks, but a way of life.

The same was true in ancient Rome, where a network of aqueducts was developed to supply water to all large towns. The advent of the aqueduct brought with it thermae, or Roman public baths. What was once a private affair very quickly became a public spectacle, and these cathedrals of cleansing became a place to converse, learn, and quite literally blow off some steam. Within their walls stretched lecture halls, Greek and Latin libraries, and baths at every temperature.

Public bathing quickly became a part of life in other parts of the world as well. Dating back to 1266, the earliest iterations of Japanese bathhouses were built into natural caves or stone vaults, which were heated by burning wood before seawater was poured over the rocks to create steam. The entryways to these bathhouses were made intentionally small so as to slow the escape of heat. Because of this small opening and a lack of windows, the inside of these bathhouses was pitch dark, meaning users would have to clear their throats to announce their arrival. The combination of nudity and dim lighting meant that sexual shenanigans often arose, and in time these public bathhouses would come into disrepute on moral grounds.

Morality wasn’t the only thing to bring an end to public bathing. Disease, unsurprisingly, ran rampant in these bathhouses, which without soap or other germ-killing agents became cesspools of sorts. With health concerns looming, private baths grew in popularity and became increasingly accessible to the working class. As cleanliness became more and more correlated with social standing, soap became all the rage, too.

The rise of the private bath has brought with it new bathing rituals. Complete with bath salts and bubbles, the tub has become a place to take care of yourself and indulge in some alone time. It’s a decidedly different approach to bathing than the Romans had with their amphitheatre-like bathhouses, but the principle still stands: bathing has always and will always be about much more than getting clean.

We Miss Bars

We Miss Bars

Do you remember the last bar you went to?

Maybe it was small, cramped, dim with the warm glow of tea lights on tables. Tucked away in some hidden alleyway in Los Feliz. The kind of bar that feels like a secret, until 9pm rolls around and you realize the rest of the neighborhood is already in on it.

Or maybe it was a cathedral of cocktails, all high ceilings and echoing conversation and some serious R&D going on behind the bar. Rooms leading into rooms, staircases unfolding into unknown worlds.

Or maybe it was a tiki type of joint, with heavy pours of rum and banana leaf wallpaper. An institution of celebratory cocktails you wouldn’t dare make at home; piña coladas and daiquiris and drinks that require a heavy shake.

Since bars closed last March, we’ve thought a lot about the simple pleasures that come with a night out on the town. The pre-game playlist, the squeak of vinyl seats when you sidle up to the bar, the dizzying array of bottles on the back bar. The glimmering ruby hue of a perfect Negroni.

It’s a sensory experience we find ourselves craving even more now that our sights and sounds have been relegated to the same four walls for nearly a year.

And perhaps the part we miss most? Chatting with our local bartenders, the friendly faces behind the bar that dole out advice like the hospitality industry’s unofficial therapists and churn out drinks at a clip that any at-home cocktail shaker could never match.

Over the past year, bars have taken on many forms: cocktail outposts serving martinis in mason jars, sidewalk patio spectacles, even indoor shells of what they once were, set at 10% max capacity with distanced tables. Through all this shapeshifting, the bartenders and bar backs that make up the industry have remained committed to upholding what has always kept hospitality together at the seams: a sense of community.

Now it’s our turn to take care of them. Here’s how you can continue to help:

1. Order takeout straight from the source.

You’ve probably heard by now that the big delivery apps like Grubhub, UberEats, and Doordash are predatory to independent bars and restaurants. Instead of ordering through them, call up your local haunts and place your order directly, or order through a more ethical platform like ChowNow.

2. Donate to community organizations.

We love Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, a nonprofit created by and for restaurant workers dedicated to making the hospitality industry more hospitable to everyone.

3. Stay safe and tip big.

We’re itching to get back to bars, but the best way to keep our hospitality community safe is by staying home when you can, ordering often, and continuing to tip at least 20%.

Behind the Bottle: How We Made a Non-Alc Spirit

Behind the Bottle: How We Made a Non-Alc Spirit

When AMASS Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan set out to design our latest spirit, Riverine, the process began with botanicals, just as it always does. Then she went rogue, ditching the alcohol in favor of something a little lighter: water vapor.

Traditional spirits, like our Gin and Vodka, undergo a distillation process in which alcohol is used to extract oils from a blend of botanicals. With our Gin, that process begins with brighter botanicals, like citrus and California bay leaf, which go into our botanical basket. Meanwhile, earthier, richer botanicals, like Reishi mushroom and juniper, are macerated in alcohol for 18 hours.

From there, we place our spirit base in the kettle of a hybrid Carl pot still, and then run a long, lower-heat distillation where alcohol vapor is passed through a rectification column to soften flavors before joining the remaining botanicals in the botanical basket.

With Riverine, we did things differently. Each of our 14 botanicals is individually distilled in a proprietary hydrosteam distillation process. There, water vapor, instead of alcohol, is used to extract essential oils for a crisp, evergreen flavor profile. The result is a spirit that captures the freshness of the Pacific Northwest, the region where Morgan first forged her passion for plants.

Without the addition of alcohol, all the flavor comes directly from plants. Vibrant botanicals like sumac, sorrel, lemon, and apple are carefully layered along with earthy juniper and parsley. What you get is a complex spirit that is devoid of the dizzying effects that come with drinking a high-proof spirit. There’s none of the harsh burn you’d get from cheap alcohol, either. Instead, it’s smooth, nuanced, herbaceous, and endlessly mixable.

Basically, we took the best of booze and brought it to a non-alcoholic bottle.

Before you dive in, put our tasting tips to good use and learn a bit about the British Columbia island that inspired our first non-alcoholic spirit.

A Brief History of Vancouver Island

A Brief History of Vancouver Island

When AMASS Co-Founder and Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan was a child, she spent summers deep in the coniferous forests and alongside the rushing rivers of Vancouver Island.

“It was like Avalon,” she describes the terrain now, alive with flora and fauna such as elk, black bears, and mountain goats.

In that picturesque stretch of land plopped in the Pacific, Morgan became enamored with plants and the unique microclimates of the region she called home.

Vancouver Island, unlike the mainland of British Columbia with its harsh winters and frequent snow, has a mild climate. It's one of the warmest areas in Canada, and Mediterranean crops like olives and lemons thrive there because of it, as do sun-loving botanicals like sumac and sorrel.

The island’s rich, plentiful natural resources are why indigineous peoples have lived there for thousands and thousands of years. The Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and various Coast Salish peoples all still reside on the island, and their cultures are deeply entwined with the bountiful nature the region has to offer.

Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw oral history says their ancestors came in the forms of animals. Origin myths tell the tale of seagulls, grizzly bears, and orcas emerging from the sea and forest before transforming into their human form. The Coast Salish peoples, too, have their own stories of shapeshifting between animal and human spirits. This profound connection to the natural appears in their cultures in other ways, too, like fishing, which historically was central to both the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw and Nuu-chah-nulth economy.

Today, nature remains at the forefront of social, spiritual, and commercial life on Vancouver Island. The 12,407 square miles of terrain that make up the island is broken up into seven regions, each with their own unique microclimate. South Island, which sits at the southernmost point of Vancouver Island, is a commercial hub home to British Columbia’s vibrant capital, Victoria. Other regions offer more quiet respite, like North Central Island with its alpine mountains and running rivers.

The Pacific Rim, which sits on the central western coast of Vancouver Island, is home to a temperate rainforest and boasts the largest rainfall in North America. The tallest recorded Douglas firs were found in this stretch of forest, swaying in the canopy alongside dozens of other species of coniferous “big trees” like western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and yellow cedar.

It was this particular microclimate that inspired our Co-Founder Morgan to develop Forest Bath. Craving the sensory comforts of her home province, she sought to capture the essence of Vancouver Island in a bath salt blend. The crisp salt of the Pacific pairs with the soothing scent of rain drizzling on the treetops of the island’s coastal forests for an immersive soak that transports you to the Pacific Northwest’s lush landscape.

Read more about how Morgan self-soothes with a long soak here, and then take a trip to Vancouver Island from your tub.

P.S. Stay tuned for another PNW-inspired product, dropping later this month.

Origins of the Poinsettia

Origins of the Poinsettia

Aside from the Christmas tree, the poinsettia – a red and green plant belonging to the Euphorbiaceae family – is December’s star botanical. And it looks like a star too, with its pointed crimson bracts that fan out in a distinct celestial shape.

The poinsettia is rooted, like most other botanicals, in lore and legend. The story goes like this: in 16th-century Mexico, a girl by the name of Pepita was too poor to afford a gift for the yearly Christmas celebration. Inspired by an angel, she gathered weeds from the roadside and placed them in front of the church altar. Poinsettias blossomed, and from the 17th century onward the plant was prized in Mexican Christmas festivities, its star-shaped foliage said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and its crimson color the blood of Christ.

It took several centuries for the plant to be officially recognized as a new species, until 1834 when it was listed by German scientist Johann Friedrich Klotzsch as the “Mexican flame flower” or “painted leaf.” It wasn’t until Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and the first US Minister to Mexico, began shipping the plant back from Mexico to his greenhouses in South Carolina that it earned its lasting name: the poinsettia.

Since the early 19th century when cultivation of the poinsettia first began in the US, the industry has blossomed. That’s been in large part because of the marketing efforts led by Albert Ecke. In 1900, Ecke opened a dairy and orchard in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles and began selling poinsettias from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke, developed a technique in which two varieties of poinsettias are grafted together to produce a denser, fuller plant. Things really took off when Paul Ecke Jr., the third generation of the Ecke family, led an extensive marketing campaign to promote poinsettias during the holiday season.

He sent poinsettias to television stations to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and appeared on programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope’s Christmas specials. These publicity efforts coupled with the Ecke’s proprietary production methods allowed the Ecke family to effectively monopolize the plant and turn it into something that looks, well, very little like a naturally-occurring poinsettia.

In the ‘80s, university researcher John Dole discovered Ecke’s unique production methods and published them, allowing competitors to stand a fighting chance and adopt the same money-making practices. Despite this leveling of the playing field, the Eckes still serve 70 percent of the domestic market and 50 percent internationally, accounting for a large portion of the some 70 million poinsettias sold in the US alone every year.

These days, poinsettia production is a $25 million industry, a staggering number for a plant that’s only sold six weeks out of the year.

Plant curiosity piqued? Learn about the history of the Los Angeles Flower District here, or get to know the bad boy of botany Nicholas Culpeper.

History of the LA Flower District

History of the LA Flower District

At the corner of Wall and 8th streets in Downtown LA sits the heart of the Los Angeles Flower District. The perennial institution has been the standard supplier of fresh-cut stems for Angelenos everywhere since the early 20th century.

Available only to those up and awake in the sunrise hours between 5am and noon, this botanical cornucopia offers every commercially available cut flower under the sun, from snapdragons to marigolds. That, coupled with the low cost of admission ($2 on weekdays, $1 on weekends) spurs everyone from earnest lovers seeking Valentine’s Day roses to Instagram influencers in pursuit of anything deemed aesthetic to flock here in droves.

Like most Los Angeles stories, the LA Flower District has a young yet rich history, one that starts –  and truthfully, ends – with immigrants seeking to bring something beautiful, human, true to this desert city by the sea.

In the early 20th century, LA-area flower farmers drove their horse-drawn wagons into DTLA every morning to sell their flowers. The scene was starkly different than what it looks like now: the blaring horns and headlights that fill the 101 replaced with dirt and dust. There was no Eastern Columbia Building gilded and glimmering in the aquamarine light, telling time. And the Flower District that is now a sprawling mecca of buds and blossoms was just a couple wagons lined up along the side of the road.

A prominent carnation grower based out of Santa Monica named James Vaweter established the first dedicated flower market in 1905. It was on Spring Street, the west side. It would take a few years for the floral business to make its way East into the derelict streets of downtown, where it would stay and flourish for the next century.

The Southern California Flower Market, organized by local Japanese-American farmers, was the first to settle there. In a few years, European immigrants would set up their own shop down the street, called the Los Angeles Flower Market. In due time, both markets would relocate to the 700 block of South Wall Street, where they would expand and modernize.

Over time and out of simple necessity, these two standalone shops that were seemingly at odds came to be part of a mosaic of florists and nurseries that called DTLA home. Through the ‘90s, dozens of smaller flower shops migrated downtown to do business near the historic Los Angeles Flower District, blooming alongside these towering cathedrals of chrysanthemums. A ragtag community quickly formed, and today more than 50 vendors make up the largest wholesale flower district in the US.

Regardless of whether you’re outfitting an entire wedding reception or simply looking for a single pink peony to sit on your kitchen counter, the Los Angeles Flower District is the kind of place special enough to set your alarm for. Carve out a few hours to aimlessly stroll through its stalls, bargaining with vendors and getting lost in the sea of blossoms. Just a PSA: don’t forget to bring cash.

History of Aperitivo Culture

History of Aperitivo Culture

Conjure up an image in your head of Rome or Paris and it will likely look something like this: impossibly chic women wearing large hats, dining al fresco at sidewalk cafes, smoking cigarettes and sipping candy-colored tipples out of shrunken glasses.

What are they drinking, you ask? Allow us to explain.

The aperitivo – a bittersweet alcoholic beverage thought to stimulate your appetite pre-dinner – is, in many countries and cultures, a way of life. Known as aperitif in French, the word comes from the Latin amperire, meaning “to open up.” And that’s exactly what these low-ABV beverages do; they warm up your taste buds and prep your digestive system for a decadent meal.

Digestivi fall in the same camp, the after-dinner counterpart to aperitivi purported to settle your stomach after an especially indulgent feast. Much of this effect comes down to alcohol. As anyone who has ever had a drunken hankering for a late night bite can tell you, alcohol stimulates the appetite, meaning when you’re full and you drink, you will begin to crave food again. 

Aperitivi and digestivi couple that power of booze with good old fashioned herbal medicine. Most spirits, whether labelled as a digestivo or otherwise, began as elixirs. Stomach-soothing botanicals like ginger and cardamom were added to drinks to aid in digestion, and tavern keepers kept up with the tradition by lacing liquor with flowers and herbs to ease any adverse effects from a stiff drink.

The prevalence of these spirits has now stretched so far that it’s seeped into European drinking culture. Entire books, like Marissa Huff’s Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy have been dedicated to the subject, and for good reason. Peruse any given sidestreet in Milan around golden hour and you’ll see cafes lined with people gathering for the liquid precursor to dinner. Come by a little later and you’ll see a similar scene, but with plates cleaned and votives and moonlight dappling the digestivi.

And that’s not even getting started on the sheer amount of varieties that abound in the dizzying world of aperitivi. There are the brands you know and love, like Aperol, Campari, and Lillet. These are the classic bottles that make their way into your summer spritzes and winter negronis, adding a delightful dose of something bitter, something sweet. And then there are others, like Fernet and Port, best taken neat as a post-meal potation.

The process of picking your poison, so to speak, is one that should not be rushed. It’s a deeply personal choice, and we’re not here to complicate matters by offering our opinions. So instead we’ll just sit here, sipping our AMASS negroni in peace. Cin cin.

Meet Lucy Rose Mallory, The Greatest Woman In America

Meet Lucy Rose Mallory, The Greatest Woman In America

At AMASS, we have a bit of a preoccupation with the occult. After all, our Chief Product Officer and Master Distiller is a practicing witch with a penchant for herbal remedies. So, when we heard about the Progressive Era witchy weirdos that were hanging around Portland in the 19th century, we needed to know more.

There are certain characters that the history books forget, women whose stories are buried under centuries and centuries of men in suits. Lucy Rose Mallory was one of those women.

Born in 1843, Lucy Rose Mallory was a psychic, a suffragist, a vegetarian, a devotee of metaphysical experiences – the kind of woman Portland Monthly once called “an internationally respected good vibes factory.” She was, in a word, an icon, and was born in Michigan before moving west with her father into the unbroken wilderness of mid-19th century Oregon. The Roses settled in a city in the Umpqua River Valley that would later be named Roseburg in honor of them.

As an adult, Lucy was probably known best as the wife of Oregon congressman Rufus Mallory. But her work – as a writer and editor, namely – has endured. For 30 years, she ran two periodicals printed under one cover – The World’s Advanced Thought and the Universal Republic. She wrote passionately on a myriad of topics: a small spider she had befriended, the power of collective positive thinking, her experience with astral projection as a child. Of the spider, Lucy wrote upon feeding it a dead fly,

 

“It soon became very friendly, and it would eat from my hand, and run all over my head and face, and it appeared to love me.” Life, it seemed, Lucy experienced as one big out-of-body experience.

Leo Tolstoy was such an ardent admirer of Lucy’s monthly magazine that he swiftly declared her the “greatest woman in America.” This was not an unpopular opinion. Across Portland, Lucy attracted the attention of advanced thinkers and workers, who were devoted readers of her magazine and attendees of her twice-weekly parlor meetings in which she led séances. What Lucy spoke became gospel, her musings on New Thought – the simple belief of mind over matter – championed by her league of loyal followers. She was the psychic friend to the city’s social elite, and the first to establish and maintain a free reading room in the city. For 30 years, she opened its doors to anyone and everyone who wanted to enjoy the rare books on spiritualism and philosophy that lined its shelves.

Her commitment to her community did not stop there. Back in 1874, the old slavery prejudice ran so strong in Oregon that 45 Black children were forbidden from attending the Salem public schools, as no white teachers would teach them. Lucy volunteered to instruct them for the three years it took for the opposition to end and for the children to be admitted into the public school system. The money she made sat in the bank, as she had no use for it.

In her free time, Lucy sat on the boards of associations and clubs like the Oregon Vegetarian Society and the Association of Artists and Authors. She was, perhaps most importantly, a lifelong member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and fought for the right to vote just as she fought for the right to education. She died in September of 1920, just one week after the ratification of the 19th amendment and two months before eight million women would rush to the polls for the very first time.

100 years later, the story of Lucy Rose Mallory, an otherwise forgotten figure, is important to remember and retell. She  was a woman of the people, an active advocate and celebrated psychic, a friend to both Tolstoy and spiders. If there’s a moral to her story, it’s this: be more like Lucy (and don’t forget to cast your vote tomorrow).

Why We Say Cheers

Why We Say Cheers

Traditional rules of etiquette have, for the most part, been retired. It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than my grandmother caring which fork I use, how I fold a napkin, whether or not I excuse myself from the table after dinner. But when it comes to drinking, there are certain rites and rituals that never faded out of style. Raise a glass. Share a toast. Clink. Maintain eye contact. Say cheers, and do it with feeling.

These are the things we do and have done for centuries, millenia, forever. But why? What is their cultural significance?

While the ritual of clinking glasses has evolved to become a means of connection among friends, it started, like most things do, as an act of self-preservation. The custom of touching glasses arose from concerns about poisoning, as clinking coupes and steins together jubilantly would cause each drink to slosh and spill over into the others’. Over time, as fears of contaminated cocktails waned, the ritual took on a new meaning.

According to the International Handbook of Alcohol and Culture, toasting “is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words 'long life!' or 'to your health!'"

So the next time you’re at a wedding and some drunken groomsmen stumbles up to the microphone to toast to the bride and groom, think of it this way: it’s not about how your cousin Steve was a total legend in college as much as it is a sacrificial libation to the gods.

Saying “cheers,” similarly, holds a deeper meaning. The phrase originates from the old French word chiere meaning “face” or “head.” By the 18th century, it was used as a way to express happiness and encouragement. Today, the phrase is entirely symbolic, a practice of camaraderie that is so routine it’s almost second nature. As the round of drinks hits the table, it’s expected before taking your first sip that you raise your glass, lock eyes, and clink clink clink.

It’s a tradition that transcends language and culture. Salute in Italian, skol in Danish, sante in French, cheers in English all mean roughly the same thing: I’m happy to be here, in this moment, with you. And even when our meeting places are digitized and we can’t share a drink IRL, these small acts of communion remain.

Cheers to that.

Dirty or With a Twist: Why We Put Olives In Martinis

Dirty or With a Twist: Why We Put Olives In Martinis

When you think of martinis, chances are you think of olives. With the exception of the lemon twist, olives are the quintessential garnish for the booziest of classic gin cocktails. And varieties abound. Manzanillas and Spanish Queens are the standard fare, though I’m personally partial to the neon green Castelvetrano variety with its mild sweetness and buttery texture.

But when it comes to martinis, perhaps the more interesting question isn’t “how,” but “why?”

Why, dear reader, do we put olives in our martinis? Who was the first salt-crazed scoundrel to splash some OJ (olive juice, baby) into a glass of gin and take a swig? How — and again, why — does it somehow work?

We don’t add olives to our martinis for the aesthetics alone, though the glimmering green orbs do invite a sense of reverie when bobbing up and down in a vermouth-washed coupe.



Rather, the savory olives act as a pleasant foil for the bright botanicals in our gin and vodka and help settle the drink’s intense booziness. They add a certain je ne sais quoi, a briny oceanic bite of salinity that mixes and melds nicely with botanicals like lemon, angelica, ginger, cardamom, and yes, juniper. And of course: they offer a built-in snack, too.

While the dirty martini has become a standard iteration, the OG martini skewed more sweet than savory. Cherries, among other fruits, were added to the drink alongside syrups and bitters, and often with a heavy pour of sweet vermouth.

These days, the modern martini is served very, very dry, but that wasn’t the norm at their advent. In the 19th century, martinis were served either upside down with more vermouth than gin, or as a 50/50 with equal parts of both. Sometimes absinthe got in the mix, other times not. But gin and dry vermouth – the major players in the martinis we stir, sip, and love today – were often an afterthought. Olives had not yet made their way to the party.

That all changed at the turn of the 20th century, when James Bond sipped a shaken, not stirred martini on screen and FDR brought the dirty tini to the masses. At a dinner party, President Franklin D. Roosevelt infamously shook up a dirty martini for martini aficionado Winston Churchill, who later described FDR as “an enthusiastic but sloppy mixer.” Later, in 1943, FDR insisted on shaking up his signature drink for none other than Joseph Stalin, who remarked that “it was cold on the stomach,” but not unpleasant. And with two out of two less than rave reviews, one by a Soviet dictator, the dirty martini entered into the popular imagination.

Unlike FDR, there are a lot of bartenders and at-home mixologists these days getting the martini right. From EVOO washed vespers to versions spiked with pickled veggie juice, there’s a martini out there for the dirtiest among us.

And if you made it to the end of this article while having an aversion to olives? Bravo to you. Here’s a 50/50 for your troubles.

Ode to Olfaction

Ode to Olfaction

Freshly squeezed Florida oranges. A cedar closet. Gasoline. The whiff of your grandmother’s perfume, musked with age. Sweat mixed with cut grass. Sauce on the stove. Leather. The candy sweetness of waffle cones in an ice cream shop. A scent you can’t place but can feel coursing through you like a lightning bolt of recognition. A summer storm.

Smell – the good, the bad, the cloying, the intoxicating – is intrinsically linked to memory. It’s a romantic notion with scientific implications, as the reason we hold on so tightly to scent-fueled moments is simply because of our brain’s anatomy.

Scent starts out simple. Odor molecules travel up and through the nostrils, binding to receptors in the nose and transmitting a signal through the olfactory system. From here, things get more complicated. The main olfactory bulb transmits pulses to both mitral and tufted cells, which help determine odor concentration based on the time certain neuron clusters fire. These cells work hard to differentiate between similar scents, such as a lemon versus a grapefruit, and hold onto that data for future recognition. The amygdala, a part of the limbic system responsible for processing memory and emotion, also processes pheromone and allomone signals. These include everything from bodily excretions (sexy) to the smell of flowers.

So when I say smell is tied to memory, I’m not being corny; it’s a cold hard fact, backed and approved by cold hard science. And our olfactory impressions begin early.

In the womb, smell is the only fully developed sense a fetus has. In fact, it continues to be the most developed sense in a child until the tender age of 10, when sight takes over. It’s the reason so many of our childhood memories are linked to scent.

Even as the vision of my grandmother fades, I can still vividly remember the soap she used, how her clothes always smelled like mothballs, the way fresh garden basil seemed to linger in her kitchen.

Taste, similarly, takes on a heightened nostalgia. If you’ve ever been instructed to pinch your nose when glugging down a dose of cough syrup, you know that without smell, taste is a rather empty sense. When you eat, food molecules make their way back to the nasal epithelium, meaning the majority of spices and flavors we savor are actually being processed through our sense of smell, not taste. Is there any wonder why then, for so many of us, our sense of home is so tightly tied to the foods we ate and the scents we smelled?

Because smell is processed by the amygdala, smell and emotion are stored as one memory. A positive association with the smell of gasoline as a child translates into a lifelong love of the scent. A close encounter with a bonfire means you likely won’t be keen to smoky scents later in life.

Proustian memory, a concept that comes from Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, speaks to this very phenomenon – with just a quick whiff or taste, we can instantaneously be transported back to another moment in time. It’s a powerful kind of time travel, and one that unwittingly guides our days.

A stranger’s cologne on a too-crowded subway car, sharp with vetiver and pine, can make us yearn for a grandfatherly kind of love. Thick steam swirling out of a Taiwanese restaurant can transport you to childhood days spent dawdling around while your dad worked the line, the hot spatter of fryer oil perfuming his clothes. Far less pleasant smells – menthol cigarettes, New York sewers, the chemical clean of pool chlorine – can have a similarly transformative effect.

This superpower is one we can wield intentionally, too.

When I was a kid, my mom applied lotion to my back every night. In dim purple light, she would put a dollop on my spine, the cold cream at once startling and then like home. It smelled like lavender, vanilla, her. And so now, on nights when I can’t sleep, I reach for the bottle. It lives on my nightstand, for ease in time travel. I can’t reach my own back, so instead I rub it in slow circles at the base of my neck until my stress has melted entirely and I am 10 years old again, sitting at the foot end of my mother’s bed.

That’s the power scent has; to transcend space and time and land us in a moment that feels like an embrace. It’s perhaps the simplest, most time-effective way to make our day-to-day lives feel a little more beautiful, our in-between moments a little more sacred. A ritual, if you will.

And the best part? It’s only a spray away.

A Storied History of the Post-Work Drink

A Storied History of the Post-Work Drink

Since the advent of alcohol, imbibing has gone hand-in-hand with unwinding. We mark the end of a day with a twist of a cap, the pour of a drink, the clink of ice in a glass. Happy hour, in particular, has become a designated time for us to meet up with friends and colleagues over drinks and half-priced appetizers and forget about the meetings, the deadlines, the banality of the workday. It wasn’t always like that though.

The term “happy hour” comes from American Naval slang dating back to World War I. In its conception, it referred to an allotted time on the ship when sailors could let loose, so to speak, competing in boxing matches and other foolhardy pursuits. Alcohol was not yet intrinsically linked to happy hour–the term instead referred, quite literally, to the one hour a day sailors got to kick back and make happy.

During Prohibition, the phrase was picked up to describe the underground speakeasy gatherings that often took place. Opinions differ on how the term became introduced into mainstream vernacular–some say it was a Saturday Evening Post article from 1959 that mentioned happy hour in regards to military life, while others cite a 1961 Providence Journal article referencing Newport policemen “deprived of their happy hour at the cocktail bar.” Regardless of how the expression rose in popularity, it was quickly co-opted by the service industry in the ’70s and ’80s as a way to draw in customers before the daily dinner rush.

The idea stuck, and now nearly 50 years later you can stroll into any chain restaurant on a Wednesday and order a $1 Mai Tai, so long as you show up before 6 pm. It’s a uniquely American sensation, the notion of getting drunker for less. But happy hour, despite its popularity among deal-loving Westerners, is not a universal phenomenon. In some places, offering discounted drinks is even prohibited by law.

“Colleagues are drinking as a means to understand and connect with each other. They’re searching for a deeper truth that is harder to come by within the confines of a cubicle, and the ritual of after-work nomikai gives them the time and space to do that.”

Imbibing in a post-work drink is not just about snagging a deal, though. In Japan, drinking is deeply ingrained in corporate culture, a way of breaking down barriers between bosses and employees outside of the daily 9 to 5. Nomikai, which loosely translates in English to “gathering to drink,” is a recreational aspect of work, but to say it is entirely optional would be to write off the intense pressures present in many Japanese workplaces. This attitude is slowly changing, thanks in large part to a drunk driving law that was stiffened in Japan in 2007 to prohibit driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0%. The advent of non-alcoholic beer and spirits shortly followed. But the desire to indulge in a post-work drink speaks to a larger social yearning that doesn’t seem to be fading, even as non-alcoholic options replace the standard boozy fare.

The term nommunication, a combination of the Japanese word nomu, meaning drink, and the English word communication, describes the phenomenon best–colleagues are drinking as a means to understand and connect with each other. They’re searching for a deeper truth that is harder to come by within the confines of a cubicle, and the ritual of after-work nomikai gives them the time and space to do that.

Drinking after work is not narrowly defined by a trip to the bar, however. At-home cocktail culture has been on the rise for quite some time now, with stylized bar carts becoming a fixture in living and dining rooms across the world. The uptick of craft distilleries and breweries has ignited a passion for drinking–and drinking well. It’s not just “cracking open a cold one” after a long day at the office–consumers are sipping natural wines, shaking up premium cocktails, and enjoying low-alc and even non-alcoholic spirits and aperitifs at the end of the workday.

For many, the intent to get drunk has escaped the equation and instead has been replaced with a desire to slow down and delight in the pleasure of drinking. At the end of the day, people crave that ritual, whether as a means to human connection or simply to feel connected to themselves. And despite a rather storied and sometimes complicated past, the tradition of the post-work drink is rooted in that connection.

A Witchy Winter Solstice

A Witchy Winter Solstice

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re just a couple weeks away from the Winter Solstice. While the Solstice is commonly understood to be the shortest day of the year, it’s actually a singular moment in which one of Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the sun. In Pagan tradition, that moment is commemorated with a twelve-day long celebration called Yule that begins on December 21st and continues on through the lengthening of days.

Many Christmas traditions, like decorating an evergreen tree, hanging mistletoe, and burning a Yule log, originally stem from Yule customs. And like with Christmas, food historically played a large role in Yule celebration, as the Winter Solstice signified the last big feast before deep winter began and famine set in. Most wine and beer was ready for drinking at this time and cattle were slaughtered so they wouldn’t have to be fed through the scarcer months, leading to a surplus of fresh meat. It was a time of excess followed by pronounced scarcity, and while the Winter Solstice is no longer the foreboder of harder days to come, it is still celebrated by many.

These days, many modern witches skip the Yule log and twelve-day feast and instead partake in other festivities on the 21st. Forms of celebration vary and include (but are of course not limited to) the following: burning rosemary or incense, adorning the home with sacred herbs, reading tarot cards, building an altar, and taking salt baths to release toxins. AMASS’s self-proclaimed “gin witch” and Chief Product Officer, Morgan McLachlan, personally celebrates the seasonal shift by attending the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival with her family in her hometown of Vancouver. The festival, a community-based, nondenominational celebration for all ages, is intended to “illuminate the darkest night of the year with lanterns, fire, singing, drumming, music, storytelling, and dancing.” There are light-based art installations and a self-guided meditation ceremony in which participants silently walk through a labyrinth of light in order to release old attachments and envision new possibilities. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the lengthening of days to come, and gives members of the community a reason to come together and party during the darkest, coldest time of the year.

Since prehistory, the Winter Solstice has marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun, which is why for many it’s an apt time to reflect and start anew. When McLachlan is unable to make it home to Vancouver for the Solstice, she celebrates here in Los Angeles by hosting a “casual coven” party with her fellow witches in which they light candles and meditate, focusing on the theme of rebirth and new beginnings. Regardless of ritual, that is the governing principle of the Winter Solstice for most who celebrate–to let go of any darkness from the previous year and set intentions for the lengthening of days to come.

Types of Vodka

Types of Vodka

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

This time we’re talking about vodka, a spirit most of us first encountered in someone else’s basement (likely paired with fruit punch). But to dismiss vodka as a drink best suited for frat parties would be to miss the point, as distillers like our very own Lasse Öznek are crafting vodka that is thoughtfully considered and imbued with fresh citrus and layered florals.

Vodka is often divided into two general categories: flavored and unflavored. But within these rather broad classifications are more nuanced distinctions, like its base, country of origin, and proof. Here we’ve laid out three of the most popular vodka brands (among Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials, respectively) in an earnest attempt to answer the long-debated question: what distinguishes one vodka from the next?

Boomers

First up: Ketel One. This brand has been kicking since 1691, when Nolet Distillery was first founded in the Netherlands. Since then, Ketel One has come stateside, where it’s found popularity among Boomers, a generation that seems to favor brands with a healthy dose of history (this is, after all, the same generation that once accused millennials of killing the diamond industry–we think it’s safe to say tradition is something they value). The vodka is distilled through a coal-fired copper pot still called Distilleerketel #1, a technique that removes impurities and gives the spirit a clean and crisp taste. Because Ketel One is distilled from wheat, it tastes lighter and smoother than other brands.

Gen X'ers

Next: Belvedere. The drink of choice among Gen X’ers, this Polish vodka has a much stronger flavor profile than Ketel One. Because it’s distilled from rye (a commonly used grain in Polish vodka), Belvedere tastes bolder and denser than its wheat-based counterparts, in the same way that rye bread has a bit more bite than wheat. Since the flavor of the grain is so pronounced, the spirit is distilled four times to help mellow it a bit.

Millenials

Last: Tito’s. Beloved among Millennials, Tito’s is a corn-based vodka, which means it has a slightly sweeter finish and a smooth mouthfeel. It’s distilled in Austin, Texas and, compared to historic brands like Ketel One and Belvedere, hasn’t been around all that long–the brand was founded in 1995, making it something of a teenager in the liquor world. However, what Tito’s lacks in history it makes up for in curb appeal–the brand’s no-nonsense approach and under-dog origin story makes it a clear favorite among the younger generation.

What's Next

So, where does a newcomer like AMASS fit into this rather eclectic mix? Like Ketel One, AMASS is distilled from wheat, but that’s pretty much where the similarities between the two brands end. Unlike most vodkas, our vodka is distilled in the tradition of the Scandinavian liquor, Aquavit. Botanicals (like marigold, chamomile, and lemon zest) are distilled on an Aquavit still to create a subtle, floral flavor. It’s a technique that sets us apart, for sure, but one that still relies heavily upon age-old vodka-making tradition, because somewhere between convention and innovation is where we feel most at home.

What Even Is Vodka?

What Even Is Vodka?

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

This time we’re talking about vodka, a spirit most of us first encountered in someone else’s basement (likely paired with fruit punch). But to dismiss vodka as a drink best suited for frat parties would be to miss the point, as distillers like our very own Lasse Öznek are crafting vodka that is thoughtfully considered and imbued with fresh citrus and layered florals.

What is Vodka?

So what is vodka, exactly? Perhaps it’s best here to start with what it is not: vodka is not aged, for starters, which means it doesn’t take on any color. Unlike most other spirits, it is not particularly flavorful or fragrant. And despite popular misconceptions that vodka is made from potatoes, in reality, vodka can be made from a laundry list of ingredients–cereal grains, fruits, sugars, beets, and, yes, potatoes, can all serve as a base for the spirit.

But if vodka is “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color,” as per US law, what distinguishes one bottle from the next? The answer lies in the distilling process. Most vodka is distilled a minimum of three times in order to filter out any impurities. The degree to which vodka is “flavorless,” or smooth and clean in taste, largely depends on how many rounds of distilling it underwent.

The albeit subtle flavor you’re left with after distilling depends on both the base and the additional flavors added to the spirit. In the early days of vodka when the spirit was predominantly used for medicinal purposes, producers would often add spices to mask any remaining impurities. Today though, any addition of flavors is much more about enhancing or embellishing the natural taste of the spirit than it is about covering anything up. We’ve moved long past treating vodka as a cure for the common cold, is what I’m saying.

Instead, modern-day distillers like AMASS’ own Lasse Öznek are challenging the conventions of vodka by carefully distilling beautiful botanicals like marigold petals, chamomile flowers, and lemon zest into the spirit. The ingredient list is short, but high impact, especially for a drink that was long supposed to taste like nothing.

Types of Gin

Types of Gin

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

Do you know what type of gin you’re drinking? If not, you’re in good company – many of us here at AMASS HQ couldn’t tell you the difference between a London Dry and a Dutch Genever when we first joined. And the answer that follows doesn’t exactly simplify it. Gins can be classified by a range of factors including, but not limited to: how they are distilled, what additives are included in the final product, concentration, geographical origins…  there are even categories based on original distillation vs. redistillation. For the purposes of this article, however, we are going to focus on four popular types: Dutch Genever, London Dry, Old Tom, and Modern.

Dutch Genever

The first — and OG – style of gin is the Dutch Genever (also referred to as Dutch Gin or Holland Gin). And it seems that there are many ways to spell it: Jenever, genever, Geneva, Dutch gin… the list goes on. Rather than starting with a neutral grain spirit, a genever starts its life cycle much like whiskey, with a malted grain blend of malted barley, rye, and corn. This grain mix is mashed down and fermented to create the gin’s base. The soft yellow spirit is then macerated with botanicals – most importantly juniper, but also the occasional hit of fennel which increases the spirit’s darker tones. This particular process lends itself well to barrel-aging, as opposed to English gins, which undergo a very quick distillation process. The resulting spirit has many similar characteristics to vodka, albeit with more earthy and malty notes.

London Dry Gin

This is the gin that probably is in your liquor cabinet. If you drink Hendrick’s or Beefeater, you’ve got a London Dry Gin in your glass. This style is the most familiar as “gin” and most widely available is a style called London Dry Gin. Curiously, a London Dry does not have to be made in London; instead it’s defined by getting its juniper flavor from neutral spirits (grain alcohol) re-distilled with botanicals. London Dry Gin must contain only natural ingredients and only a very small amount of sugar; no additional flavorings or colorings may be added after the distillation process.

Old Tom

First created in England in the 18th century, Old Toms are characterized by sugar in the re-distillation process that makes this style of gin sweeter than a London Dry. Old Tom Gin is often referred to as the missing link between Dutch style Genever (or Jenever) and London Gin. Lighter and less intense than Genever, Old Tom gins are on the sweeter side and get their flavors from malts or added sugar. Old Tom Gin waned in popularity and production over the years, but the recent cocktail renaissance has led to its revival, as independent producers have delved into the history of gin and rediscovered its long-lost recipes. One of the most elusive gin styles, Old Tom is an excellent gin for whiskey drinkers who crave heavier undertones in their liquors.

Modern Gin (AKA Western Style or New Western)

Modern Gin (also called New Western Style Gin) can be made anywhere in the world. It downplays the inclusion of juniper berries in favor of a variety of other botanicals including citrus peels, coriander and even rose, cucumber and lavender. This fresher, experiment-driven category appeals to drinkers who previously avoided the gin category because of juniper’s piney notes. Because of its wide variety of aromas and flavors, modern gin has been a popular option for modern craft cocktails and helped support the spirit’s recent revival.

Early Gin History

Early Gin History

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

From Genever to Gin

Although ‘gin’ is said to have been invented around 1650 by Dr. Franciscus Sylvius in the Netherlands, this early iteration still would have been classified as genever (which literally translates to ‘juniper’) – not gin as we know it today. Gin has its origins in Dutch genever (also known as Holland Gin or Dutch Gin) which was originally created by distilling malt wine and adding herbs to make the harsh tasting beverage a little more palatable.

The date that genever was renamed to gin is unclear, but the first written reference of the actual word ‘gin’ was in 1714 in Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees; in the book, ‘gin shops’ had already been proliferous and gin had become a part of the fabric of culture at the time. By the mid-17th century genever production was widespread in the Netherlands and Flanders.

Though the spirit originates in the Netherlands, its reputation today is that of a very proper English drink. Dutch Jenever became popular in England during the late 1700s, after Dutch king William of Orange took the English throne in 1688. The British government allowed gin to be distilled without a licence around that time, and as a result Gin became more popular than beer with over half of all the drinking shops in London serving mostly gin – leading to a Gin Craze so disastrous, it was referred to as ‘Mother’s Ruin.’

Mother's Ruin

Once gin crossed the Channel into England, it quickly became the drink of choice for the very poor. The average person could not afford French wine or brandy, so gin became the poor man’s drink with some works receiving gin as part of their wages. Gin consumption (and often, overconsumption) rapidly increased; in London alone, there were more than 7,000 dram shops and 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled annually in the capital.

The government decided that the tax must be raised on gin but, as any casual student of history might predict, the tax had the opposite of its intended effect. The implementation of the tax put many reputable sellers out of business and cleared the way for bootleggers, who sold their wares under such fancy names as Cuckold’s Comfort, Ladies Delight and Knock Me Down. Overnight, gin sales went underground with dealers, pushers and runners selling their illegal hooch into a black market.

In 1736 a Gin Act was passed which forbade anyone to sell ‘distilled spirituous liquor’ without first taking out a licence costing £50. This in turn led to a surge in various social problems, to which the government responded by passing a series of Gin Acts which imposed higher taxes on producers and retailers. In the seven years following 1736, only three £50 licences were taken out but the black market continued to thrive.

The government was forced, once again, to confront the perpetual drunkenness and debauchery in the capital. The new Gin Act raised the duty on drink and forbade distillers, grocers, jails and workhouses from selling the popular spirit. The new act proved effective in curtailing gin sales and consumption fell dramatically through the rest of the eighteenth century.

What Even Is Gin?

What Even Is Gin?

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person?” Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

What is gin?

So what is gin? Who is she? At its most general, European law defines gin as: “... A juniper-flavored spirit drink produced by flavoring organoleptically suitable ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with juniper berries.” Here in the U.S., the government defines gin as, “A product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by re-distillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof.” So yeah. It’s a lot.

Legal definitions aside, what all gins must have in common is the juniper berry. However, it’s important to note that there is no specific ratio or amount of juniper that is required by law. The definition merely states “predominant flavor of juniper,” which leaves plenty of room for other fun greens. Other common botanicals favored by distillers include coriander, citrus peels (bitter orange, lemon, grapefruit), angelica root and seed, licorice, orris root, nutmeg, and anise, to name a few. AMASS Gin, as you may already know, contains 29 botanicals that represent the city of Los Angeles from a structural (palate) and philosophical (sociocultural) argument.

In the simplest terms, gin is made by infusing a neutral spirit with a variety of botanicals (which must legally include juniper berries). The specific variety and proportion of these other botanicals is often what distinguishes gin brands and their flavors from one another. While gin typically has a higher proof than vodka, its complex flavor profile (which can be herbal, floral, citrus or a mix of them) make it an accommodating cocktail base.

If you forget anything we mention in this article, remember this: A spirit can only be called gin if it contains juniper.

After Hours with Genevieve Patterson

After Hours with Genevieve Patterson

I had two jobs when everything got locked down. One place we converted into a market, so I was fully quarantined for about a month and a half. Then I slowly started popping up to Kensho, the bar that I work at, and helping do whatever we could think of. I’m sure a lot of people will relate to this, but it was really like every two weeks we were trying something completely different from what we had ever done before. We were selling market goods and hosting picnics and making jello shots. [The jello shots] were good – every once in a while, we would put AMASS in them, which felt so ostentatious because you don’t want to cover that up as a flavor and add a bunch of stuff to it. But it was really fun.

It was just this weird cycle of constantly reinventing ourselves and taking things from all of our previous jobs and trying to figure out what we could do. We kind of had a “let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. There was definitely a silver lining in that Kensho had been a place that was a destination – there were lots of dates and maybe some foodies. Over quarantine though, we really got to know all of our neighbors. We got to know who our people were and have more of a sense of community up there, which was not what I was expecting. Being a bartender, I already have a thing where I really like to talk to people and get their stories. I started to notice that when people would come in to pick something up and get back in their car, oftentimes we’d get to standing and talking. People would say, “Well, I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this.” There was no small talk, because what are you going to talk about? People would either come in and be very skittish, like “Wow, I’m sure I haven’t talked to anyone new in like three months and you haven’t either.” Or everything would come out – politics, the state of the world, people’s trauma, just everything. You never knew what you were going to get. It was a funny, special time up there with people being very sincere and us getting to know some of the people around town. We felt super supported by the people that came in and decided to buy pasta from us. You know, those small things are so meaningful in such a rough time.

People would say, “Well, I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this.”

Then outdoor dining was allowed again. I think we are lucky up there [at Kensho] in that there is a lot of space, so it felt like something we were comfortable offering. Oddly, we got very busy for a while. Granted, we were very limiting of how many people could come in, but we were still turning people away. It was a weirdly busy summer and fall, and now I’m back to hanging out [laughs]. There are a lot of unknowns, but it’s a little nice to have a break.

I think one thing that people who have been working through the pandemic might feel is that you are doing what you used to do with so many less people. You’re doing a lot more jobs. When we got locked down again, we basically had three employees including the owner. We pulled in different people to help, but it’s not this crazy big team, which I think makes it easier to be so adaptable and to make things happen in such a crazy time.

I moved during the pandemic, but for a long time I was really an Echo Park kid. So many new places opened in 2019. I was working at El Prado and would always sneak over to Spirit House. First of all, any bar with a fish tank, I’m sold. It’s kind of the perfect size there where, because a lot of my friends are bartenders, if we all got off work at the same time, we could sneak over there and just feel like we were having our own little private party. I definitely was there on New Years Eve for a minute just acting like an ass. That’s one place I've thought about a lot. Oh man, it would just be so nice to pop in there and hang out. I was so stuck in Echo Park that, [when I went out], the question wouldn’t even be, “What bar do I want to go to?”, but “Who’s bartending? I’m going to go see them because they’re the best.”

My birthday was right before the first shutdown and I got to go to Bar Restaurant and hang out with my friend Sarah Hoffman, who is an excellent bartender there. We drank some perfect gimlets and hung out. The food is incredible and their wine list… I was looking at their wine list for so long that they asked, “Do you want wine?” “Oh no no, I’m not drinking wine tonight, I just need to read your entire menu.”

Ototo in Echo Park is usually really busy, but it’s not filled with Echo Park people. Their sake program is nuts and so fun. I was talking about sake with my boyfriend as we were going there, and then I saw their menu and was like, “Oh! I don’t have to explain anything. This is a perfect demonstration of what sake is and how you make it.” I have my places that I love to go, but I’ll probably run into too many people and be out too long. Those are always the places where we say, “Let’s just sneak in for one drink.”

I think that people have gotten to the point, especially in LA, where there are so many places that do a cocktail program really well, or the food is going to be solid. I think to me, something that I don’t see people take into account as much is really catering to a certain community. There are times when you look into a place and it seems like everybody got really dressed up, is sitting at their one table, and no one’s talking to each other. Everybody’s there, taking pictures, and then they go home. That’s my least favorite kind of bar. I like places where you might feel comfortable starting to talk to the person next to you. You might make a new friend there, and by the end everyone is intermingling. Honestly, the layout of certain bars just lends themselves better to people connecting and mingling. It’s so funny how subconscious it is too. There are just certain places where I walk in and I look down and it just feels intimidating. And I’m a barfly – I love hanging out at bars, so they’re not an uncomfortable place for me. There’s a lot to do with the bartender, too. That’s another funny thing about COVID. Normally, I really want people to interact with each other. I want strangers to be friends. Sometimes, I try and set people up that come in. You’re just watching everybody and suddenly you’re like, “I think you should sit here.” All summer, I had all these people that I was slowly getting to know [at Kensho]. I just thought, “They would all be friends with each other, but that’s just definitely not what we’re doing right now.”

Everybody’s there, taking pictures, and then they go home. That’s my least favorite kind of bar.

I always like to do that – anything that breaks up the normal and makes people feel a little more willing to take a chance and play around. Especially in a town like LA where people can be a little closed off or a little serious. El Prado, where I used to bartend, was one of those bars that could be really busy or it could be really mellow, and you never know which it was going to be. It was starting to get consistently solid, but you still had some nights where it would be a Monday and you’d be hanging out. There was a deck of cards there, and sometimes I would just play blackjack with people. The piano player, Jay, and the owner, Nick, both play poker pretty competitively, so I’m not going to try and mess with them on that, but I would play them for paper clips. Then someone would come up and get involved. Simple things, like decks of cards or the music you play or the shape of the bar itself, can really lead people to engaging more. I often like to go to bars to observe people and sit in the corner and read and not talk to anyone, but a lot of other people come in because they’re lonely and want to hang out with somebody.

I have been lucky in that I moved in June, and I’m in the Mount Washington area now. All of my neighbors are very sweet. You get the “How’s it going?” from across the fence sort of thing, and that’s really nice. I have been at work here and there, which is helpful because I feel like I have two speeds: I can be completely in my own world like an introvert where even if a few days go by, I get so in my own head that I become a little nonverbal and afraid of the outside world. Then I have the speed that is very connective and wants to spend time with people. Even since I’ve moved to Los Angeles, I’ve always been somebody who made friends through work. I don’t know what it is, but that’s just always been a big part of my social circle. There are a lot of people who, when I’m busy with my normal life, I don’t really get to connect with. [Through the pandemic], we’ve all been talking.

[At home], I drink a good amount of wine – that’s kind of been my love affair for the last few years now. In Denver, [where I used to live], there’s no such thing as a cocktail bar. Everyone has a liquor license, so that’s just every single bar. I had never really worked in just beer and wine, and ended up always finding my way into beer and wine bars in LA. There are certain things like “The World’s Best Whiskey,” you know, where I don’t know if I ever need to drink that much whiskey ever again because I did that for so long in Colorado. I totally had my time. Even when I have liquor at home, I usually like to drink spirits by themselves, either in a highball or I’ll do gin on ice with lemon. I try to make myself sound like less of a psycho by saying, “It’s a mixed drink, there’s ice!”

Oftentimes though, I just really love wine. I’m kind of a cider nerd. I feel like it’s an unsung hero, because you can have ciders that are very classic, but there are some fantastic natural ciders out there that have crazy texture or are really dry, or floral. They have such a range. I love a cloudier, more textured cider. The other day, I had a cider from up in California that had rhubarb and apples. So good! The good old Basque ciders that you pour from really high are fun too. So I’m a natural wine and cider person for the last while. But then whenever I go back and hang with my liquor bartender friends, I try not to do too many shots with them. When I was working in liquor bars, I could hang with that. I was making negronis up at Kensho for awhile with AMASS which was really fun. We were doing bottled negronis to go. We usually just drink wine up there and it’s fine, but then we had those around and there were definitely some nights where we just forgot. You get used to wine and then once you’re going on the negroni train, you're fucked up.

I definitely love a lot of the herbal, bitter things that bartenders love and that normal people don’t. Suze is one of my favorites. I'd drink that by itself, and people are like, “You’re so weird and gross.” I think it’s delicious with the gentian root, and the color is amazing. I’ve been working on a few different scotch cocktails over the last little while, just because I love scotch, and I also try to take it away from this old funny dude. I love playing around with things like Amaro Nonino – it’s one of my favorite amaros. It's so delicate and beautiful. We just got a canning machine up at Kensho, so I might be playing around with a sherry and Nonino cocktail, maybe with some chestnuts, some sort of syrup… we’ll see where we’re going. I love things like that.

I talked my way into a very rigorous bar job in Denver when I was just starting out bartending. I worked at this crazy free pouring David Lynch bar, and then started working at this place that now has a James Beard award. The bar manager and his best friend were both chefs that had opened restaurants as cooks and had then decided to become bartenders because it’s way easier and the money is better. The drink list was ridiculous. It was just so technical and leaned on so much cooking knowledge. I stuck it out there and I learned a lot, and eventually they were like, “Oh, we weren’t sure about you, but you came through.” Sometimes I get wild hairs from that stuff, because we would do crazy things like make our own pistachio orgeat. I love the craftsmanship of that, but I tend to like cocktails with very few ingredients, where there’s a cleverness to something, but everything is still very cohesive. I try not to let myself use more than four ingredients, five tops.

I tend to like cocktails with very few ingredients, where there’s a cleverness to something, but everything is still very cohesive.

Once everything opens up, I’m going to want to go get tiki drinks and go buckwild and run around. I also love any New Orleans drink. At El Prado, we did this staff trip to Musso & Frank’s, and I just had a gin fizz for breakfast and was like, “This is awesome.” Sloe gin is also something I think more people need to be playing around with, because that’s delicious. I think tiki drinks feel the most celebratory though, like we’re going to get into trouble.

I’ve had friends before say, “Oh you bartend, can we just make piña coladas tonight?” It’s like, okay, but we have to go buy six bottles dude. I’m super down, but you have to think. You’ve got to want to be drinking piña coladas for a month or two. You have to make quite a few things to pull that off. I always end up instead with a daiquiri or a gimlet or something with nice bitters in it to make it fun.

[For the future], I think I have hopes rather than predictions. I think we’re all looking at the hardest winter that probably any restaurateurs have looked at in a long time. I think it’s hard to see that and to know how many people’s livelihoods are intertwined. It’s a scary time, and it’s scary to watch people start to expand and grow and then just get hit with unprecedented things. I’m trying to focus on the positive, because my prediction is that a lot of places are going to shut down this winter. Probably by mid-summer things will start to be close to opening up. It’s so hard to even imagine some sense of normalcy returning, because I feel like we’re all in the mindset that this is the new normal. My only other prediction is that as things are fully opened, people are going to go fucking crazy. I think it’s going to be like Carnivale for like six months. Everyone is just going to lose their minds. My mom made the point that, while the lost generation probably had a lot to do with World War I, they also went through the Influenza. And they were like, “We survived! Let’s go crazy.” I think people are going to be making up for lost time. I know for a lot of us it’s felt like, “This year didn’t happen,” but I think there’s going to be one more year like that, just because everyone is going to be raging. I’m like, I’ll be chill. But then I’m like, no I won’t, I know myself – I’m going to get caught up in the celebratory atmosphere. God help us.

After Hours with Blake Cole

After Hours with Blake Cole

[At the start of COVID], we were in a very specific situation, because we did not get to officially open before the pandemic. We got final inspection the day that shelter in place hit. Before, we had been delayed because of East Bay Mud, so as restaurant openings [often] go, we had a series of bad luck. Truly everything is just out of your control and nothing can be done – you just have to sit and wait. The entire concept of the bar changed because of COVID. There’s good and bad with that. Because we never really opened, people didn’t have an expectation of what we were or who we were, so we had an easier time adapting the concept because we never got to execute our original one.

The number one easy, go-to spot I think for most of us in Oakland was Starline, which is one of the biggest casualties of COVID, at least in the East Bay. Starline was the kind of place that you could always rely on. Even if you were going out alone, you were going to run into someone maybe. It was a staple go-to in the East Bay. As far as the city goes, El Rio was for sure a spot of mine, The Stud was one we’d go to a lot for casual beers and hangs. There are lots of little places I miss all the time. I totally miss Lone Palm, which I think is one of the best dive bars in San Francisco. But it’s not even a dive. Oh man. There are so many spots.

The number one thing that brings me back to a place, and something that we always want for Friends and Family to emulate, is really a sense of community and belonging and safety, which I think ultimately is what all neighborhood bars want to be. Or the good ones do. The feeling of connectedness and belonging is definitely the most attractive quality in those spots. And that comes down to the staff, and the kind of folks they serve and cater to. That’s a big one. Then there are those places that just feel really special to be at – they aesthetically feel really special. I’m always a sucker for classic, old school places. My favorite places to go eat in the city were Tadich or Swan Oyster Depot; places that have a lot of history to them. They feel very grounded. I’ve always kind of loved that sentimental feeling.

The number one thing that brings me back to a place... is really a sense of community and belonging and safety.

It’s funny because, even before COVID, I’ve never been one to make cocktails at home. I'm definitely a bottle of wine and beer person at home, because I make cocktails at work all day long. But you know, for the cocktail program at the bar which I collaborated on with our bar partner, Kim, previously from Trick Dog, something that she and I have always agreed upon is I really love simplicity and takes on classics – cleaner flavors, not trying to do anything too over the top. So for me, when it comes to having cocktails for myself, a mezcal margarita or a gin gimlet are my go-tos. For our bar program this summer, we made a drink with AMASS Gin that was our take on a white negroni. I called it “San Michelle My Belle,” which was inspired by the tiny little hotel I stayed at in Italy a few years ago, which was called the San Michele. It just felt like exactly what I would drink if I were there again, and I think I was mentally trying to go back there. We infused the AMASS Gin with melon, and then there was Cocchi Americano and Dolin dry vermouth with a grapefruit peel. That was for sure a cocktail that made you sit down and sip it and enjoy it, and just breathe in a different kind of memory than what you are currently experiencing.

Our initial intention with the cocktail program was to have a two-part menu. One was a family menu, and one was a friends menu. So all of the cocktails were meant to be inspired by our friends and our family and the people in our lives. All of the family cocktails we have on there are really classic cocktails, but done in the style of how that family member enjoyed them. So, we have the Grandma Standard on our menu, which is a Plymouth gin martini with a twist and a side glass of ice, which is exactly how my grandma [took hers]. It was the only martini she would drink. So that’s our house martini. Our friends menu we use as an opportunity to be a little more creative. There was always a component of each cocktail that was inspired by a person in our life. So it’s either our friend particularly loved a type of cocktail, or I traveled to a place with a friend and it’s a sense memory from that place with them, but it’s always rooted in somebody that we know.

The whole motivation for me to open a bar to begin with was just, I think that eating out and sharing a drink with somebody is the most human experience that we can share. Everything that I planned in terms of the buildout of the bar led to that. We wanted the bar to be curved in a certain way so every single person sitting there could see everybody. We wanted the lighting to be right, we wanted it to feel like this is catering to you and people meeting in a way that feels organic and cohesive. Adapting that to this has been really, really weird. I think ultimately it just comes down to kindness and attention to detail and making every little opportunity for a human connection possible. People just order on their phones; the servers don’t even take orders from guests. It’s definitely a much more isolated experience, but we try to bring a little personality and playfulness to everything, whether it’s a garnish or plating or a little note that we write; something so it feels like you’re getting a sense of us, and that you’re worth that little acknowledgement, you know?

Honestly, social media is the number one reason we’re in business, because we’ve been able to connect with a customer base that we literally never got to meet in person. Being able to utilize that has for sure given us a sense of community and a loyalty with people by just having direct communication with them online.

I just want people to sweat and dance and be sloppy. I can’t wait for people to be funnily sloppy again, which is really hilarious because that’s the most annoying thing for most bartenders, but I just want people to goof around and be free and let their inhibitions down a little bit. That seems like it might never happen again. But for sure dancing, and for sure people hugging, and truly meeting somebody at a bar; not knowing them and connections being formed. I’m very much looking forward to being a spectator to all that.

I just want people to sweat and dance and be sloppy.

I have positive and negative feelings. Before the pandemic, it’s always been in the back of my mind to one day be able to provide healthcare to all of our staff and figure out a way to make that happen. I always had an intention of adding a surcharge to put that cost on the guest to help pay for that healthcare, because the reality is as a small business, and especially a restaurant, we would be out of business in a month if we gave everybody healthcare. It’s just impossible, it’s so expensive. So when COVID first started and we were opening up a little bit and people started to go out for the very first time, you really got a sense that people understood the privilege of going out and the responsibility of it, and how much work it takes and how much it costs. People were showing that they were willing to pay for it, and pay a little more for that experience. I’m excited about the prospect of people having a deeper and better understanding of what a privilege it is to go out and what actually is involved in making your meal or making your drink, and hopefully being able to put your money where your mouth is and help pay for healthcare for employees. That’s the number one thought. I’m a little apprehensive and negative about it, because I can already see as people get used to going back out, the tips start going down more and they’re a little more comfortable and they’re adjusting to complaining about things again. So we’ll see. But I really, really hope that when we do open up again, like full scale, that you have the opportunity to implement things like a healthcare surcharge without extreme pushback from people.

People say all the time, “Oh, you guys look like you’re crushing it” because of the way we put things out on social media, but that’s just not the truth. Everybody is still struggling major. The only thing that we know is that we know nothing and nothing is promised. Each day is definitely a battle to get through. Just coming and supporting is literally life or death for restaurants and for businesses right now. We're definitely not out of the woods by any means. When one place looks like it’s thriving and another place looks like it’s about to shut down, it doesn’t mean that somebody did it wrong or people didn’t adapt right. Those things have become irrelevant very quickly. I’m happy for each day that we’re open and grateful I get to do this at all.

Photos by Lindsay Shea

After Hours with Fanny Chu

After Hours with Fanny Chu

What drew me to bartending initially was making a lot of money in a short amount of time and being around the nightlife scene. I was having a good time with my friends and meeting new people all the time while making money. That was when I first started bartending in gay dive bars, though. Then my perspective of bartending changed when I walked into Donna Cocktail Club for the first time and saw Jeremy Oertel and Matt Belanger bartending.  They were using these funny apparatuses called jiggers instead of free pouring. I was like, whoa, the way they moved with the jiggers, shaking and stirring, there is an art to this! Cocktails that are measured and taste like how the menu describes it? A drink that is not all booze with a splash of soda, tonic, or ginger ale? A creative aspect and art form of bartending? Yes! I want in!

First time I had a classic cocktail was a daiquiri at Death & Co. NYC. I was like pump the brakes, this is what a proper daiquiri is supposed to taste like?  Not those slushy things that are full of sugar and made with Rose’s lime?  Good God Rose’s lime, that was so long ago and yeah, that was some horrible shit. A daiquiri made with fresh lime juice, simple syrup, good white rum and proper dilution goes a long way. Nowadays, whenever anyone asks me what my favorite classic cocktail is, I say a daiquiri. They usually look at me with a puzzled face and say really? That sugary stuff? And I’ll ask them if they have had a classic daiquiri and will make them a little snaiquiri [Ed. note: a tiny Daiquiri meant to be taken as a shot] and they are usually blown away. I have had returning guests switch from whatever the fuck they usually drink to ordering a daiquiri with me, or they will say surprise me and I’ll make them whatever I feel like.

Whenever I go out, I’ll watch bartenders shake. I’ll listen to what’s being ordered and I’ll watch how they build their rounds if I want to order a classic cocktail, but most of the time I’ll stick to wine, beer, or a neat pour of amaro. Honestly, 95% of the time I don’t drink. But yeah, I do that, I am that snob, because if I’m going to have a cocktail, I want it made properly from someone who knows what they’re doing and looks like they know what they’re doing. I am that person who watches to see if the bartender has that awesome shake and if there’s head on a daiquiri. It is important to me. I’ll also watch bartenders on their techniques to getting out of the weeds. Lauren Corriveau was really incredible and patient about teaching me the art of choreography, like being ambidextrous when it comes to jiggering and pouring. I feel that it is important to show how you bartend fluidly. People sit in front of you for that reason. The bar is your stage and you put on that show for them. Make their night magical. Bartending is like dance choreography. If you have ever had the chance to see Natasha David and Lauren bartend, it is phenomenal. I always strive to be as smooth as them and just as fast. One of these days!


Health is wealth and working out is absolutely important to me.  Not only for my physical health but for my mental well-being. When I work out, it releases so much stress that my body goes through and it helps with my endurance for long ass shifts. My reasoning is if I’m healthy physically and mentally, I won’t have to call out sick and I’m 1000% at my job. Bartending is physically and mentally grueling, so you have to be at your healthiest at all times. You need the endurance, especially when you’re behind the bar at a place like Donna. You’re going to be shaking a fuck ton of margaritas and daiquiris. It is no joke! We are shaking all the damn time, so working out helps with my endurance.

I am always learning new things and exercising my brain and body. I feel it is our duty as a bartender to be in the know with what’s going on in the world. People come to bars to engage with you; whether they are having a good or bad day, they are there for some kind of release and attention. They want to tell you their day – a bartender is also a therapist.

The reason I applied for the Wine Empowered: Empowering Women and Minorities class was to learn about wine. It is a non-profit organization seeking to diversify the hospitality industry through formal wine education. I do not know much about wine other than the fact that when I was eight or nine years old, my parents had a lot of wine and never drank it. So I would have some [laughs]. I don’t think they know this about me. They also had a lot of cognac and I snuck some of that, too. Anyway, I do not know the language of wine and how to speak or describe wine. Most of the time when I’m tasting, including spirits, I have a hard time describing what I’m tasting and I just want to learn the lingo and the history behind it. I figure if I can do that with wine, I can also translate when I’m chatting about spirits as well. There is a gap, a disconnect, between wine and spirits and I want to connect and bridge it my way. I see a lot of times you’re either drinking wine or you’re drinking spirits and there’s not a lot of people out there that can talk about both. I wanted to be able to chat with and educate our guests on both, so that’s why I wanted to do this incredible program that was created by the boss ladies of Cote.

These three amazing Sommeliers created a free program so that people like me, a 44 year old, queer, Asian bartender could learn about wine. I still can’t believe that I am one of 23 people that got in out of hundreds that applied. Yay me! I feel so much pressure to do well because I want to represent the spirit world. There is an overwhelming amount to learn about different regions and grape varieties. Viticulture and vinification are similar to that of agave and sugarcane distillates that we have at Donna. I find it very fascinating. The more applied knowledge you learn, the more you can grow as a bartender and as a person, and relate to your guests. That’s why some people go out to drink, right? It is to connect. Everyone is so into their social media these days. Behind their computers, their phones. They’re not looking up and looking at each others’ faces to connect. Being a bartender, you’re able to have that connection with people.

It is also humbling to serve and to make mistakes in front of people.

I used to be so scared of failing, and now I take every failure as a learning experience. I mean, I failed my first wine test and cried my eyes out about it. My fiancée, Natasha, was like, if you knew all of this, why would you be taking the class? So with that in mind, I accept that I am going to fail and that’s okay. It is how you bounce back from failing.

[When you mess up an order], APOLOGIZE PROFUSELY! Give them free shit! People LOVE free shit!  I usually like to send a round of something special, be it a snaiquiri or something fun. Light shit on fire [laughs].

Sometimes, I feel like I’m spread so thin and ALWAYS working so much that there’s no way for me to get inspiration, but there’s inspiration everywhere. It’s New York FUCKING CITY! If you’re a creative person, you can find inspiration anywhere. For example, the first time I tasted Estancia Raicilla, I was like whoa, I got a lot of cheese like lactic acid and tropical notes. It reminded me of this incredible empanada I had that was filled with guava and cheese. I knew that I was going to make a cocktail inspired by this fucking empanada.  So there’s a cocktail at Donna that has Raicilla, Cognac, Mexican rum, guava, lime,  and a dash of Giffard Mente Pastille. I called it Battle of Puebla, because it’s when Mexico got their independence from France. The name made sense to me because of the French and Mexican spirits that go so yummy together. 

I LOVE a slightly dirty AMASS 50/50! I make it with AMASS Dry Gin, Manzanilla sherry, blanc vermouth, and a dabble of dirty olive juice. I call it “the shift drink” and it is my go to. Sometimes when I have a lot of time on my hands I will make my own Gibson onions and do a little 50/50 with that yummy juice.>

I’m going to be working on a sommelier’s certification so that I can try to bridge spirits and wine together.  The dream is to do more cocktail styling for photo shoots, travel more and bartend while I travel, maybe put Donna on the map. I think the end game is to live bicoastal and maybe live in another country?  Share and learn cultures and views with people. I mean, that’s the way of life, right?

Photos by Shannon Strugis
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

After Hours with Derek Stilmann

After Hours with Derek Stilmann

[With going out], I’m pretty eclectic in that sense… it really kind of depends on the night. It’s like asking what’s your favorite cocktail? It depends on what time of day it is and how I feel. Some of my favorite Miami staple spots that I float around are Better Days–if you want to get your party on, that place is always a good time, always fun. In that same area, you know, you have Jaguar Sun, which is super cool–just like eclectic music and really well-balanced cocktails. If I go up north a little bit to Valentino’s spot Le Sirenuse, and I go to the beach, you know [The Broken] Shaker and Sweet Liberty. But I mean there's so many great places now and it’s hard to just pick one.

What draws me into a bar is the authenticity... Going to a bar and knowing that someone cares.

There are dive bars I love because it’s great hospitality. There are fine dining cocktail bars that also have exemplary hospitality. To me, it’s just I wanna feel… what a bar should do is take me away from regular day life.

There’s so many interesting cocktails out these days. At Sylvester, we are working on a fermented sangria. We use all of our oxidized juices and oxidized wine, and then we basically ferment that for a month with honey. Then we are cutting it back with some fresh citrus and some spirit, typical sangria style, and it’s just fun. It’s weird. It’s delicious. We wanted something that would reuse products that would just have gotten thrown away. If it’s another bar, that’s something really fun and interesting… I really have enjoyed Valentino’s three version martini, which has those three different paints giving it three different experiences of a martini. It’s a fun interpretation of a classic martini, or in this case classics.

I mean to me, I think everyone’s opinion is important. When testing out a new cocktail, I like to give it to a variety of people to get their opinions and to see what they think. What I’m looking for isn’t a universal opinion that it’s a great drink, but more that they appreciate it or find it interesting. Hopefully, someone will love it. Everyone is uniquely different with their palate, but  I think cocktails that are well-made are universally appreciated to some degree.

[To get inspired,] I like to go and walk on the beach… no [laughs]. For inspiration, I don’t know man, anything that gets me jazzed. It’s more of a feeling. I wish I had a place I could just go into and be like, “Oh, I feel it.” But outdoors for sure. The ocean is something that inherently is important to me, that I feel a connection to. I’m a Miami boy, you know–I’ve been born and raised on the water. But for me inspiration is a vast thing. I get it from music. I get it from art. I get it from food. I get it from people. I get it from culture.

My whole competition I just finished up with was about this symbiosis of anthropology culture and microbial culture and how the two are connected from the beginning of time to now, how those lineages stretch over our existence, and how important they are. They give weight to things that are valuable in my life. And that’s been really big for me, because that has been the main inspiration that I drive from which is... it’s vast. You know, that is everything. But on another level it’s also [laughs], funny enough, it’s microbial… it’s very small. You can really hone into those things and that thing can be a very singular aspect of it. It just depends on how close you want to put that microscope.

I mean when it comes to travelling, culture is in your face… you get to experience things that you don’t see on a day-to-day basis. You get to almost live another life. Everytime I come back from travelling, I'm a different person. I absorb new identities that are, you know, found in different cultures around the world. And that may be cuisine, that may be music, may be rituals. And I think those things are important.

These things to me are important and are exciting in life, because I find value in things that have been created over time by other people and that have a ritual to them. They have weight.

I think the idea that your cocktail has to be so complex [is overhyped]. I think simplicity is something that’s coming back. I think the idea that you need to have eight ingredients in your cocktail is unnecessary these days. And I'm a garnish guy. I love garnishes. I love garnishes. Because I think they can be fun, they can be playful, but they need to have purpose. And I think a lot of the time they aren’t used as such and are more of a novelty thing. Which can be good too, but I think that gets overused.

I’m excited to see more… well, two things: one, fermentation, because culture and I love it. I just love fermentation. I think that it’s the future. I think it’s where we come from and I think it’s where we’re going back to. And the other thing is, I think I want to see more chef-driven [drinks], in the sense that it comes from the culinary aspect of bartending and that is an understanding of your product and what you’re using. I think a lot of us don’t get enough value and understanding of the produce that we’re working with and how to use it… It’s like, if you’re a chef, make me eggs and make me chicken. Can you do that well? And it’s like, I guess we have the daiquiri. Well let’s talk about the lime, you know? How are we squeezing that? What kind of limes are we getting? But as chefs say, “Shit in, shit out.” I’d like to see more care and understanding of the ingredients being put into the cocktail. And in turn, this will allow us to make better tasting cocktails without having to throw the kitchen sink at it.

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

After Hours with Jodi Calderon

After Hours with Jodi Calderon

I’m always invested in bars. Like 14 days of the month, it’s just intense training and intense logistics work of making the bar successful. We spend the beginning just creating a bar template, making sure it’s cohesive with the city itself and what the client wants. And then I go in and kind of do the techy stuff making sure that there are no typos in the menus… making our infusions, teaching the bartenders the bar mechanics.

When I come back home, I’m usually at the gym. I really enjoy going to the beach and spending time with friends. I think that’s the thing right now. [When you’re spending] 14 days on the road, you realize that you need to spend time with your friends and your family… But, I think if I were to indulge or imbibe in drinks and food, I really like going to the Normandie Club, because duh! It’s always home base. Death and Co LA, too–it’s super intimate, really sexy. It’s a nice vibe to really connect with people. Republique for food. It’s unreal–the food and beverage program over there are so connected as far as the kitchen is really communicating with the bar team. And when there’s really good food and really good drinks, I think it just makes your soul feel good. Because you’re not picking one or the other–you’re enjoying both at the same time. Also pizza. I’m a sucker for Domino’s. Domino’s thin crust [laughs].

I’m usually an observer, and just really like to absorb my surroundings. So [what really gets me is] if I see an atmosphere where there’s just really nice dim lighting, great music, the space is full but not too loud where I’m screaming just to get my order in. But it’s connecting with the bartenders as well–just seeing what they like, what they’re into, what fuels them. And especially if it’s a place with food… I’m a bear at heart, so I love to eat all the time. I will never say no to good food and a good cocktail… There’s a lot of amazing talent and amazing atmosphere out there where it’s like an oasis… Like Death and Co–you just kind of forget you’re in LA for that hour that you’re there. I had that same moment when I was in Fort Collins, Colorado during my recent trip for work. I really felt like it wasn’t snowing outside or negative 5 degrees. It just felt really warm. There was so much hospitality–really genuine, good service… That’s how we grow and connect our personal experience to what is there physically.

I just recently made a Martinez with AMASS–that’s my absolute favorite because I feel like that’s me in a drink. Just equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and a little bit of maraschino. Stirred in a Nick and Nora with a lemon twist is my absolute favorite. Nice and silky, very robust, but also savory at the same time. So that’s a stirred cocktail. If I were to be a shaken cocktail, it’d be a daiquiri, hands down. Aged rum, lime, and like, sugar. Done. Super easy. So I’m a little bit of both–it just depends. And then there's a moment, too, where it's like, okay it's Sunday—

I’m going to have a High Life and a shot of Cognac if I’m really in the mood for that.

As far as mocktails go, I really love me a nice ginger beer. The Normandie Club has a really good one where it’s just fresh ginger juice with a little bit of sugar cut with lime and topped with a nice seltzer water. It’s really nice and robust and effervescent and bubbly. I’m really into the spicy citrus mocktails. I mean, also doing something like a Piña Colada without any of the spirits. Something like Coco Lopez with a little coconut water. Maybe a little coffee and cinnamon over crushed ice. Okay, I’m going to have to get one now… Just kidding [laughs].

My guinea pigs are probably a few of my friends who are not really into the cocktail scene. I feel like they have a pretty wide range of palates and go to a lot of different bars–they’re very versatile, very open. So if they do the nod where they sip and go “Ooh, yeah,” then I’m like tight, it’s cool, it’s going to reach the masses. If I’m really getting critical, I usually go to my colleagues at Proprietors because we R&D [research and develop] all the time. After this, I’m going to R&D and help develop a menu. I mean, that’s kind of the range, where you have people that taste very critically and then you also have people, like friends, family, whoever it might be, who just taste to enjoy. Which is the main focus, right? When we create cocktails, I taste critically so everyone can enjoy them, no matter if you’re into gin, scotch, mezcal, just to kind of see.

Lately, with my position now at Proprietors, I’ve become more of a prep person. I really treat it as a culinary background, so just going to farms, even farmers markets, to be hands on really sets the produce as important. I think that’s where I’m really drawing all the inspiration from. If I’m doing an infusion, or even creating a cocktail, [I have to ask] what time is it, what season is it, how am I feeling, and how do I want to execute it. It’s really going back to the basics of just respecting the fruit… Doing infusions with things like cinnamon and fruit, just to alter the produce a little bit without breaking it apart… That’s always my philosophy when teaching other people or other bartenders–respect the fruit, respect the produce, respect the prep. Because without the prep, you can’t make drinks.

We do a grandfather of cocktails at the Normandie Club, which is my most recent bartending job. The thing I’m most proud of–that was a banger a couple of summers ago–would be the Collins, where it was a tequila base with just a little bit of pineapple gum, which is a rich pineapple syrup, and salted tamarind. And then a little bit of lime and soda water and a rim of Tajin. The inspiration for that cocktail is that I’m from Inglewood. Me being Filipino, I was pretty much raised by the Hispanic community, and I wanted to honor that… Creating that cocktail just helped me translate that so I can share it with people in K-Town. To this day, people are like “Hey, can you make this?” And I’m like “Ohhh I’m so sorry, we don’t have tamarind! [laughs].”

At the moment, I’m really pulling from who I am. I’m Filipino, so I really like ingredients that are tropical, savory… Using smoked banana leaves or rice… I’m pretty sure if you were to cut me open, I’d taste like a coconut and a mango [laughs]. Food and beverage really brings everybody together and bridges those gaps. And we also need that to sustain ourselves and fuel ourselves to get through the next hour or two.

For me personally, I'm super vulnerable in the industry. If you're having a bad day, you have to ask for help. You can't do it alone... You have a team."

You have barbacks, you have other bartenders, you have your manager. You have to ask for help. So that’s what I’m seeing now. Bartenders are really taking care of themselves… That’s why I kind of stopped drinking. Or not really stopped drinking, but started drinking in moderation. Because it’s my choice, it’s my body. And like yeah, I can enjoy this, but there has to be a reason. Like I want to celebrate us, I want to celebrate this connection that we’re having.

I think the thing that keeps me into it all the time is that being in a bar is one the last few places where you can connect with other people that are strangers. The coffee shops used to be like that, but everyone’s on their laptop, always on their phone. But at the bar, there’s always one person standing behind the bar and someone new will always come in–a guest, [someone who’s] never been there before. And you have the ability in that moment to get to know them and give them what they need. It’s really about connection–also intuition as well. There’s so many times where I’m so grateful if I’m on the opposite side of the bar and maybe a bartender kind of senses that I’ve had a tough day or they sense that I’m quiet, so they’re really trying to pull that extrovert out of me. And I'm like dang, you really broke me–I’m going to talk to you now. Because, respect–I like your vibe, I like your energy. So good on you, you know. And that’s what it’s about.

You know, what’s crazy is I can’t even imagine myself doing anything else.

Like I can’t. I think about it all the time. You wake up every day feeling fired up and you’re like… Let’s get it. I mean, it’s either this or the military. I think the true validation happened on the last day at the  Normandie Club. My whole family came out for my last day for my final last call and they stayed until 2 am–my parents are freaking old, like 65 plus… And when I finally called last call at like 1:30 and I saw my family I was like dang… I did it. That’s when I knew that I couldn’t even think about anything else. My parents were telling all kinds of stories about me and I was like, “Stop talking about me! Don’t tell them that story!” It was really nice to put two worlds together. I don’t think my family ever saw me behind a bar. You kind of explain to them what you do, but they don’t really understand what you do until you show them.

I think in our society today we’re just so all about the self, which is true–we should really look inward. But also, when someone is coming into a bar and they’re asking me for a vodka soda–just like straight up where they’re like “Vodka soda”–I’m like, “Hey, how are you? How are you doing today?” Kind of like slowing it down a little bit. It’s just one of those things where… You came to a bar to really connect. I’m down to give you what you want, but also I’m like “Hey what's up, give me a high five. It’s okay. Like you want a hug? You seem like you need a hug. And a vodka soda, so I’d be happy to give you both.” I think that’s probably the only pet peeve… We’re all living in the same fish bowl. Like, chill. It’s okay. Your friends aren’t even here yet. I’ll give you a vodka soda after this hug.

When I first started bartending, it was just paying for college. And then just making sure everyone was having a good time. When I got older, I saw it so differently… Now I just want to make really good cocktails and make sure everyone’s drinking responsibly, that they’re knowing their limits, that they’re just in the moment and super present.  I just feel like I kind of grew up overnight. Like, yesterday [laughs]. You start to appreciate all the little things… I always tell people you have to have fun first and then safety second. Because if you’re doing safety first, no one is having fun [laughs].

I mean all we have is now. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, as cliche as that sounds. If you’re going to do something, do it with commitment and love and honesty and awareness.

Photos by Ian Flanigan at The Normandie Club in Los Angeles

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

After Hours with Amy Kovalchick

After Hours with Amy Kovalchick

My girlfriend and I, as soon as we both tried AMASS–you know, of course I’m not going to fake it as something I like just because I’m friends with Robby [editor’s note: Robby is AMASS’s East Coast Sales Director]–but to be honest we really did enjoy it very much. We love the packaging, we love the taste, we love the story behind it... It’s great. We tell all of our peeps that come into where I work the same thing [laughs].

My lovely lady Pam who lives with me–who knows Robby–we’ve been together now 7 years. She’s also in the industry, but she does the finance side of things. So we’re both in the industry but totally different realms of it. We’re homebodies, for sure, because for being in this business, I mean I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit older. I’m turning 45 this year and I’m proud of it. So being in this industry, and I’ve been in it now for 20+ years here in New York, back in the day I’d have to tell you that I love to go out to where all the cool kids go–you know, you want to go to
the place to go. But now on days off, we always want to seek the new spots, the new restaurants, what’s fun. But honestly my nights off are weekends, and I’m one of the very rare bartenders that has weekends off.

I feel like taking Saturday and Sunday off back-to-back in this industry is definitely harder to do and it takes some time to do that, but I do enjoy my weekends.  And [Pam and I] usually go to a local neighborhood spot. There’s a place actually where we met Robby that used to be called Prime Meats. Now it’s still owned by the same group but is called Frank. They serve good Italian food, have a natural wine list, a great bar program–they’re just very neighborhoody. Honestly it’s the kind of place I could just roll out of bed, be there in 5 minutes, and have a good meal. You know, it’s usually knowing who’s behind the bar.

That’s what I look for, to go somewhere where I can feel like I’m at home.

Where I work, we’ll do our daily lineup meetings where a lot of the times our manager will ask [what we look for in a bar or restaurant]. We just like to talk and see if any of us ate anything new, explored any new restaurants, and honestly the staff 9 times out of 10 will say that we’ll go back to a restaurant because of the atmosphere or the staff, and how we feel when we’re there. And even if the food was not exceptional or was subpar, we’ll still go back because the experience was so good.

I like where I work because we’re geared towards wine and beverage, but we’re geared towards food as well, so we get a very big dinner crowd. It’s nice because we’re usually calling “last call” at midnight–long gone are the days for me of 2 to 3 AM [laughs]. We had a couple of guests that came in last night and it was amazing. My eyes locked with theirs and vice versa–we
really looked at each other–and they hadn’t been in since last year because they live in Charleston. And they said, “Oh my god, I’m so happy you’re here. We remember you from last year!” And I remember them too, so we had this huge hug and everybody was introducing everybody and they stayed and it was fun. So when they said that it meant so much, like I’m doing something at least a little okay because we had that connection.

I’m a fan of cocktails that put twists on the classics, where you don’t play around too much with it. Most recently I was with my girlfriend Pam at [this place]—sorry, I’m blanking on the name—and they had a gin martini, pretty much a normal martini, probably like 2:1 or 3:1. They used dry vermouth, but they balanced it with olive oil. And it was amazing. Like, dee-licious. So we’re going to go back because it stuck out in my girlfriend’s head. She’s a big martini drinker, as am I, but she is a bit more. And I’m being honest, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’d never had a cocktail with olive oil. It was very unique. And it worked. It worked very, very well. It gave [the martini] a subtle savory note to it and just balanced everything out so well. It looked cool on the top too because it was olive oil, so it was floating. We should all have one. We should have one with AMASS Gin. AMASS is so botanical, so I think it would be very good with olive oil. I’ll try it.

Where I work], we had our fall/winter cocktail list that went up probably late September. Obviously you’re always playing with stuff you have behind your bar—it’s great to have a lot of things there so you can test and sample. And the first thing I do [when I’m coming up with a new cocktail] is I stick to a classic cocktail and try to think outside of the box. You want to try and figure in where you’re working too. I work in a very small restaurant called Fedora in the West Village of New York, [which is] a very central location. So we get a big neighborhood crowd and we get the occasional tourist, so you’re getting a big mix of everyone. And the neighborhood crowd is very geared toward the classic cocktail, while the tourist crowd, you know, they like variations on things and different creations. So that’s the first thing that I think of when it’s time to make a new drink. I’m like, what is a guest going to want, what is the neighborhood looking for? I get a feel for what everyone’s been ordering, like maybe the prior month before, and then I go out, for instance, to the neighborhood spot I was telling you that Pam and I go to for dinner.

Mind you, I’m not at all ripping off their recipes. But that’s what bartenders do–you’re looking around seeing what everybody’s making and then you’re trying to make it your own or maybe just get influenced. So I start with that first. Then, Pam and I have a nice little mini-bar here in our home, so I’ll sometimes play around and make mini shots of what I’m making and she’ll taste it and say “Yeaaah, maybe add this. “ For instance, last year we went to Miami for my birthday—a nice surprise from my lady, let me tell you—and Pam and I actually came up with [this drink] that can maybe fall into one of those interesting cocktails we were talking about. I didn’t want to say it because it was mine and I thought that was weird. I didn’t want to sound like I was trying to be this egotistical, but a lot of guests that came into the Fedora thought it was interesting and fun. When we were in Miami, my boss Ted–he’s our general manager–really wanted me to come up with a variation on a daiquiri. I was like, well okay let’s do this. The Hemingway Daiquiri obviously is the classic, so I thought “I’m not even going to touch that.”  And my girlfriend and I, we were sitting by the pool, which I wish I was right now, and it was so cute because Pam, who is very into savory things and loves herbs,  looked at me and said, “Honey, what if you infused the rum with oregano?” I was like “What?!” And I’ll be damned, we go home, we have rum (we used a light rum), and we infuse it overnight, probably for a good 12 hours. All I did was use the infused rum and just the same specs–we did simple [syrup], we did lime, and it was like...guests loved it. We were infusing oregano rum every day [laughs]. And it was fun, it was a lot of fun. It was really good. We named it “Meet Me in Miami” because that’s where we thought of it.

[After I come up with a drink], what we’ll do is I’ll go into work and make it for some of my coworkers. We’ll all taste it together and give each other feedback. I love where I work because we’re really a small, tight-knit family. And none of us care to give each other opinions, which is why, to this day,  even if I come up with a cocktail that’s mine, quote unquote, on the menu, I always give credit to everybody around me because everybody is helping each other. Our final, go-to person is Nick, our beverage director, because he has to deal with things that we don’t think about. He has to deal with, “Okay, maybe we can’t use this rum for that cocktail because it costs a lot to get.”  That’s why Nick is our final go-to because he then can help us find a way to figure out what to order, what not to order, and how to keep the costs down for our restaurant. It’s a fun process–I love creating cocktails.

I’ve been lucky. I moved here and stumbled into hospitality by accident, which I think a lot of people do. And then you learn to grow how much you love it.

Like I told you, I’m turning 45 this year and I’m not at all embarrassed to say I’m a bartender. It’s a pretty awesome spot, you know, in the West Village in New York City, because it’s a great job. And 20 years ago I never would have thought I’d be sitting here having a conversation with a lovely human on the West Coast about AMASS gin and working in the industry. I just never would have thought my life would have ended up here. I work with a lot of people that are younger... there’s one girl who I think I could actually be her mother [laughs]. But it’s fun because some of the crew around me looks to me for advice and they have questions because they know I’ve been able to see how the industry has changed so much. I mean, when I moved here to New York, I was pouring Jack and Cokes. Like that’s what I got. This whole wave of mixology and craft beer and natural wine...it all just started to blow up.

I actually had this conversation with Robby recently. I thought that I was losing my stuff because I felt like people 20 years younger than me were ahead of me because they came up with all these wonderful spirits and knowledge. And 20 years ago I was pouring a shot of Jameson and a Guinness. It’s been a lot of fun because I had so many fun teachers and guidance and just the crews. 20 years ago, from my first bartending job, I kid you not, probably 3 of the girls I worked with I’m still extremely close with now. That’s why I stuck around—it’s just so much fun meeting new people every night. Your job is never boring. Of course you have those days where you don’t want to be there. I mean, of course. You know, “I don’t feel like mixing this drink tonight.” We all do it. I’m sure you didn’t really want to call me at 8 am. But it’s like, you know you just have to do it and then after it’s over, you’re like, “Oh, that was pretty amazing.” You get something good out of it. It’s been a fun road, I have to say. I could talk to you for hours and tell you some stories.

Photos by Shannon Sturgis at Fedora in New York City
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

After Hours with Will Thompson

After Hours with Will Thompson

On nights when I go out, I like to eat and drink at mom-and-pop type places in the neighborhood. Small Cuban spots, Puerto Rican spots. I like going to Beaker and Grey a lot on my time off. I hang out the most at my bar, unfortunately, but I like going to places like Mama Tried, The Sylvester, and Blackbird. With most of the spots I go to, it’s just about the vibe and the people. Not even necessarily the people running it, but just the people working there. A perfect spot like that is La Trova. Tons of hospitality, man. Those guys over there are amazing.

I don’t drink cocktails that often when I go out, but I drink a lot of classics—so earlier, I had a 50/50 martini. I think anything made by Derek Stillman at The Sylvester is interesting. That guy goes hard. I can’t put my finger on just one thing that’s interesting that he’s made because everything he makes for me is interesting.

I test out my cocktails on my staff—I make them suffer. They have to learn the hard way. Vanilla Sky says, “You can’t enjoy the sweet if you’ve never had the sour.” So they have all the sour ones first until they’re finally like, “Okay shit, this one’s good.” Honestly, I go back and forth with the staff a lot. I want them to learn, I want them to be creative. And if there’s anybody that I really want to taste my drinks so that I feel bad about how bad they are, it would be David Perez from Blackbird. He’ll definitely tell me the truth about my drinks, so I never ask him. That guy doesn’t give out compliments for anything. It’s the best and the worst.

I like bars that make you feel scared when you go into them.

If a normal human being feels like, “Man, I don’t think we should be here,” that’s where I feel most at home. I think, “This beer looks old... I want it.” I don’t know why. I just like places with character, so I get attracted to bars that seem like they have a story. They have a little soul to them.

When people say, “I’ll have a Long Island Iced Tea, but make it strong,” I tell them, “You know strong means expensive, means more money, means more booze? You get that, right?” and they say, “Come on man, hook it up.” So the way around that is I grab some Wray and Nephew, some overproof rum, and I’ll make their Long Island with that. I’m like, alright cool, you wanted it strong–be careful what you wish for. I’ll give them that and say, “Hey look, it’s tradition here to take a shot of this,” so now on top of that they’re going to get another shot of Wray and Nephew.

I look at chef books a lot for inspiration. I rely heavily on reading about the minds of chefs over the minds of bartenders–I like learning how and why it is that they pair food together and then I try to expand from there. Another thing that I look for when it comes to getting inspired to make something is whether it can be fun. I think for the most part people want something they can drink–they don’t want an experiment, they don’t want anything that’s too sweet or over the top. They want a place to come to lay back and they don’t want to have to overthink what they’re drinking. They just want to talk to somebody and have a good time while being able to enjoy what they’re sipping.

So if I can make something with a funny name that’s going to get them to talk about something and get their mind off of whatever it is they’re trying to get their mind off of, that works for me.

It’s not that I’m kissing ass or anything, but at the moment I’m feeling inspired by gin, especially old Tiki-style stuff–that has a ton of gin in it. I like stuff that’s bright and refreshing. Long drinks, ya know–Collins. I just want to try different things with simplicity. Lately, I’ve been wanting to use gin and rum because those two have a lot of oomph and flavor. You can find a lot of backbone in that stuff, and making something that’s easy and simple, that’ll go down 3-4 at a time, that’s where I want to go.

One trend I’ve noticed lately is right now, people for some reason are wanting to put these big ass rocks inside of coupe glasses. I don’t know why. It seems like a liability issue, like someone’s going to chip a tooth. If you’re going to make me anything on the rocks, put it in a rocks glass. And if you’re going to put anything in a coupe glass, I’ll enjoy my coupe with my pinky up. It’s like, how do I drink it? With a straw? I paid a lot for these teeth, man.

I think people in Miami are starting to care about quality, though. They’re starting to care about what is in their drink–they don’t just want something that’s sugary and is going to mask everything. And I think it’s great being a part of this renaissance where you have stuff that started off in Miami Beach with the Shaker Boys and the Regent–those guys were killing it back in the day and it just fluttered over to this side of the water.  Downtown, Brickell... Hell, Better Days... There was nothing around here really during that time. We’re lucky enough to be able to showcase that aspect of quality in an environment that’s laid back.

And then you have other amazing places like Blackbird and Mama Tried that are trying to boom in this culture. Mama Tried is a newer spot, and you can see that they’re making a difference and that people are going not just because it’s a cool vibe, but because they’re getting quality stuff. And it’s exciting to see in Miami, because clubs are great and it’s cool for everyone to go to them, but it’s also cool to see these local watering holes and people caring about what’s going on.

Photos by Celia Luna at Better Days in Brickell, Miami

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

After Hours with Peter Barriga

After Hours with Peter Barriga

I’m somewhere in between a creature of habit and someone that’s willing to experiment. If I hear about a new spot that has great tacos or fried chicken or sushi, I always want to try it. And by going to these places, I get the opportunity to think of new ideas for cocktails, for food pairings, for dinners. But other times, a night out for me is going to my local dive bar where the bartenders know exactly what I  want. I think because I’ve written so many menus and worked with so many people, I really love the simplicity of being in a dive bar, like La Cita. I love Bar Clacson. I mean, to me, they have the best cocktails in town. At least from what I remember. I don’t really drink cocktails that often anymore, though--I’m more of a Miller High Life and a shot of Fernet kind of person.

I think I don’t really have a typical night because I’m always in a new place. Here’s a good example: this Monday, I went up to [McGrath Family] Farm and got to talk to a lot of farmers that are producing food for more experimental chefs. They’re growing produce and herbs in a way that’s good for the environment—it’s regenerative—and they’re trying to take care of things. I’ve always thought the best cocktails and the best cocktail menus are ones that have stories behind them. Because you can gain a customer for the rest of your life simply by creating a memorable experience. That’s what I’m always after—having a good experience.

I’ve recently gotten more into cooking. I don’t make cocktails at home anymore, really. Instead, I have a very nice spice cabinet. I like to work with fresh ingredients and splurge on cheese and oils and dressings. I love getting up and cooking for myself and my kid. That’s really fun for me now. This year, I tried to master cracking eggs open with one hand. Being able to crack an egg and actually make a good, over-medium egg for my kid, because that’s how he likes his eggs, was important to me. I like to challenge myself constantly and try to be technical in cooking as well as bartending.

I don’t bartend constantly like I used to. I do guest spots, and I collaborate on menus and, if I have to step behind the bar, I can. But I don’t do shift work anymore, where I’m going in and clocking in at any place. People ask me all the time, “Why not start bartending again?” And the truth is, I’m close to being 40. I have a 12-year-old kid. There’s not a lot of people in our industry that have an almost-teen.

I’ve gone many, many years where I’d come home and be home for a couple minutes before I’d pass out, or I’d just eat dinner and go to sleep and wake up, be a dad for 15 minutes, get him to school, and then have to go back to work. I missed out on a couple years where I was doing 80-hour, 100-hour weeks to make sure that the bar was up and running.

It’s hard on almost every aspect of your life. It’s hard on your family life, hard on your social life. But some things are a little easier.

I hung out with some of my friends at work because they were at work. Sure, a lot of the time we were working, but we were also hanging out. It’s a lot easier to do that behind a bar than it is when you have a desk job.

Now, if I’m hanging out in DTLA, usually I’ll scroll through Mezcalero, because that’s where my pals are. In some cases, I’ve actually gotten friends jobs at bars I go to. I always like seeing people that I have brought up in the industry or taught to some degree. They teach me new things--I’m not as hip as I used to be, you know. So, that’s part of the draw for me. The other part is that I like being at bars that are busy. I like seeing how to make things more efficient, and I’m constantly looking at how bars can be better. Most times, if I go to any restaurant or bar, I want to watch the bartenders. I never comment, obviously, on how things could be improved. But when I get a new contract or account, I can implement what I saw into the new place.

Working as a bar consultant, I see a lot of trends coming and going. For example, there’s a big agave trend right now in DTLA. But that trend in DTLA is not the same one that is in Ventura County, or the Inland Empire, or Orange County, or San Diego—it’s very specific. I think that in cocktail culture right now, we’re all on the verge of being “mixologists.” And I hate that term. I think right now, making a basic drink taste good is almost more important than crafting a cocktail with 17 ingredients in it that most people aren’t going to taste. And not to mention, you have to keep a business up and running. We need to get drinks out quicker in order to keep people satisfied. Hospitality is a big part of it--it’s not all about the bartender that wants to put out a cocktail with over a dozen ingredients in it.

Whenever I would train bartenders, I was always looking for someone that wanted to be a “lifer,” someone that wanted this to be their career. You know, I went to school, I have two degrees and I don’t use either of them. I made a decision, a firm decision, that I wanted to be a barman, whatever that meant. Whether that was being a bar manager, a beverage director, a consultant, a brand ambassador--I wanted all of it. And I think that’s important. Can you make a cocktail and give people attention and have a conversation? Whenever I trained any bartender, I always told them, “Try to be their only bartender.” You only have one person that does your taxes. You only have one optometrist. You only have, hopefully, one lawyer. And that’s the person that you always go to. It’s not that your bartender pours a better shot of whiskey than someone else, but at least they know what kind of whiskey you like.

I really like teaching people, which inspires me to keep learning. It’s really hard to teach people something when you don’t know the ins and outs of it yourself, so I try to learn the differences in the spirits I like. Take gin for example. You have AMASS, a modern-style gin that is using so many different great ingredients that are, to some degree, California ingredients. It’s just a beautiful gin. But then, I also love a London Dry, like Ford’s Gin. It’s a different style of gin. Completely different. How do you explain that to someone?

I think what drives me is the fact that I don’t know everything.

I want to learn from the top chefs, I want to learn from the world-renowned bartenders, I want to learn from the local farmers. I want to meet the mezcalero and the distiller that is making the juice, making me a living, technically. I just don’t want to be mediocre.

This is a hard industry to be in and not stay stagnant. You have to find new ways to challenge yourself. I love it when people say I can’t do something. I’ll find a way.

Photos by Ian Flanigan at Mezcalero in Downtown Los Angeles

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

After Hours with Boo Hooligan

After Hours with Boo Hooligan

On my nights out, I try to focus on either new, fresh spots with fresh ingredients, going to shows of bands I love or want to check out, or hitting places with unique concepts I haven’t experienced yet. I like to go visit my industry friends wherever they work.  I never get to see anyone because I work so much so it serves as kind of a “tradesie boomerang” for them always coming to see me.

If I’m downtown, I’ll go to see the gang at Mezcalero, or go see my friend Christina at Wokcano, or I’ll head by to see the homie Trafton at ACE [Hotel] or ERB [Everson Royce Bar]. I also have always loved going to The EdisonLas PerlasBar Clacson and  Slipper Clutch... It’s Bar Clacson in the front and Slipper Clutch in the back. It’s awesome. My friends work in both of those bars. It’s in the back of the La Cita parking lot, in the Grayson building. Right where the Grayson sign is, is Bar Clacson. And if you go through the bar to the back door it’s Slipper Clutch. Clacson is craft cocktails and [Slipper Clutch] is a game bar – it’s punk rock, pinball and pool. Their thing over there is they do housemade sodas and their cocktails are on a gun system. Their old fashioneds are on a gun, their margaritas are on a gun... Even their jack and coke is one button. And their coke is not Coke, it’s their coke.

In Hollywood, my go to spots would probably be Burgundy RoomHarvard & StoneNo Vacancy, Frolic Room... but again, I love lots of places. Mark, Natta, and the amazing crew at Paper Tiger are amazing – it’s a super fun destination, and they really welcomed me in and supported me. Westside bars are cool like The BungalowMisfitBasement, and others depending on where we land and how much time we have.

I have some valley local favs as well such as The One UpIreland’s 32, Black Market, and Firefly. My boy Brad that works at Perch with me, also works atThe Sherman, but upstairs in The Attic. Sometimes we go to The Federal in North Hollywood or in LB. It just depends on my mood, appetite, location, the atmosphere we’re looking for.

As far as cocktails go… I’m pretty to the point and a simple, straight-up booze girl. Scotch, whiskey, tequila, mezcal, maybe wine or a beer here and there. I’m not one to really be demanding since I can relate to the job. Every once in a while I’ll enjoy a cocktail. I really love The Pistolero from The One Up and some of my mixologist friends make some of the best stuff so I indulge here and there.

Personally, I’m whiskey, tequila and mezcal. I love gin, I always have loved cocktailing gin, it’s super classic to me. I’m really glad that it’s coming back into the spectrum as one of the top spirits. I think that a lot of people – unless they were older and more traditional – were kind of scared of gin for a long time because they didn’t understand it and it is an acquired taste. But people, once they realized what you can do with things and the levels of options available… it’s so versatile. All gins have so many different ranges, where you can make 3 different AMASS cocktails with different ingredients and [have them] be completely different worlds. That’s what I love.

People are like, “Oh, I really just can’t drink tequila or mezcal or gin or...” Nobody ever says that about vodka, because… it’s vodka. When I hear that, I get excited and tell them,

“Well, I’m gonna make you something and try it. If you don’t like it, we’ll give you something else.”

Unless they tell me something like, “Gin makes me angry.” [laughs] [But] if it’s more a personalized palate thing… I love experimenting with that because I love opening up people to things that they feel closed off from for certain reasons. Maybe they weren’t exposed to it in the right way or they didn’t realize they could have it in ways where they actually could enjoy.

The martini that I did over the weekend for AMASS is a hot ticket. It’s called Empress. It’s muddled basil & cucumber, creme de peche, elderflower, AMASS, lemon, grapefruit, sparkling rosé and orange bitters. It’s super smooth, super tasty, and sooo yummy. It’s even better when I’m able to light it up and fire it with citrus oils.

I’ve been on my own since I was 13. The summer that I turned 15, I was throwing raves, booking entertainment, promoting, making art… just riding the wave and following my intuition. It was mad money, it’s how I paid my way through life and school at such an early age. I made some amazing friends then, many of which I still consider family, and it’s because of them I was able to find my way in this world to where and who I am now. That summer I was offered a chance to learn a craft and earned my full mixology creds. I loved it and I’ve been bartending and consulting ever since.

I love it all. I love trying new spirits, the creative aspect of it, of being able to make new things and customize them to people individually.

Plus I really just love people, the networking, and social aspect of it. Because I work all the time, pop ups and random invites are the primary ways that I get to socialize. After almost 23 years of bartending I feel extremely fortunate... I constantly get to meet people from all over the world and be revisited by them year after year regardless of what city I’m in. On their vacations, on their work trips, for their celebrations and their memorials, for some reason they always make sure to swing by and see me. People and creative freedom are my favorite parts of all of it, for sure.

L.A. is awesome in the fact that it’s a booming industry and it’s super ambitious. I love that L.A. is the most ambitious city that I’ve ever lived in. At the same time, it’s completely different from the East Coast. On the East Coast, they bring back roots and they discover things and then they work really hard at mastering it... In New York City, people put a lot of passion into their craft… They’re a little bit more meticulous about it on the East Coast.

On the West Coast, it’s a little bit looser and more about who you know. I feel like the West Coast is so involved in [the] discovery of new things. I think that’s equally as important. Here, it’s like, ‘try this new thing’ and it’s awesome because you get variety and you get a chance to experience things that you have never experienced before. The spirits industry is so crazy right now because everybody is jumping on board with distillation and cordials and making their own spirits, so everything is new and a sort of different kind of competition all the time. It never gets boring, it never gets old, and it’s always advancing. I love this city and I’m thankful to be here.

Photos by Ian Flanigan at Paper Tiger in Koreatown, Los Angeles
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

After Hours with Edwin Diaz

After Hours with Edwin Diaz

I live and work in Highland Park so I sometimes stay in that little bubble. I’ve started to branch out and go more into downtown and the west side. I just recently went to Bestia for the first time and that was insane. It was a bunch of delicious food. It was great. One [dish] that stood out because we would eat it when we were growing up – I didn’t even know it was called this – gizzards? Have you ever had gizzards before? My mom just used to boil them and then we’d eat them with salt and lemon. It was pretty simple. [At Bestia] they had a dish like that… it was like, "This is what these are supposed to taste like." My mom wasn't known for her cooking.

I like Hippo and Sonny’s a lot. Hippo’s got some great food, they’ve never disappointed. And their cocktail program is really on point. Clare Ward does a great job over there. Sonny’s is a hidden gem that is waiting to be put on the scene. Jon Navasartian over there has been a big influence to me personally. I would go there after work and just hang out and pick his brain. He was able to do a bunch of things all at once. I’d be like, “
Oh! This is a bartender."  That’s always fun, to go over there and hang with those guys.

I know how to tell if I want to get a cocktail there or not… As simple as looking at the back bar and seeing what’s back there. And also just reading beforehand, if enough people say that it’s a good cocktail program, then maybe give it a chance. If I’m going to a place for the first time ever, I’ll always try different cocktails to see what they’re doing. Or if it’s a new menu or a new bar program, give it a shot.

There’s cool stuff all over the place, even in Hollywood. You think of Hollywood as a tourist trap, but there’s some really cool stuff out there. A couple of the hotels, off of Hudson where No Vacancy is. You’d think it’s just gonna be a bunch of kids – and to a certain extent, yeah – but they’re still doing quality, high-volume stuff. It’s really impressive to see that execution.

I went to Cafe Birdie the other day, it’s on the same block as Gold Line. They have an Aquavit cocktail. Not a lot of people do that. The presentation was great, it had this really nice green hue to it. It’s a very spring cocktail. It was refreshing, it was light, very well balanced. It had a slight vegetal [quality] to it. The main thing was that it found a way to incorporate yuzu and snap pea… That was the one where I was like, “Oh shit, that was well done, chef.

Especially here in Southern California, you see everybody going for a mezcal or a tequila cocktail. Even at Gold Line, the number one selling cocktail is a mezcal-based cocktail. Mezcal has finally become approachable, where in previous times, you’d be like,

Oh, mezcal? That’s gross. That’s like Scotch.” People aren’t necessarily gung-ho about Scotch, right?

I spend enough time making cocktails that I don’t really drink them too much. Pretty easy right now, I’ll just sip on a glass of wine and call it a day. But every once in a while, I’ll try something new just to see what people are doing. There’s some stuff out there that people are doing that are really creative and really different. Even with garnishes, something as simple as that. Personally, I don’t hate garnishes but I hate coming up with them. That’s one of those things that never really clicked for me, like, “Oh, this would be super cool and cute,” or whatever. That’s one aspect of my cocktail creation process that I’m not completely in line with.

The first cocktail – it’s called Orbit – that one took about a month for me to really nail it. And even after that month, I had to change it to make it easy to execute at Gold Line. In contrast, the second mezcal cocktail is Spa Water. That took a week. Initially it took one try and I was like, “Oh yeah, this is great.” And then I tried it with one different ingredient, tweaked the specs one week later and was like, “Oh, this is so much better.” And now it’s done. Now I’m not gonna fool around with it. It’s a completed project. It’s over. On to the next one.

I have a handful of people, I respect their palates. They have the same high standards for the cocktail creation process. I know they’re gonna give me an honest answer, instead of just like, “Oh yeah it’s good,”, then turn around and spit it out. It’s always kind of fun to R&D on guests as well because they’re ultimately the people that are going to be drinking them. If somebody tells me it’s too sweet, especially if it’s a guest that’s telling me that, I’m like, “Oh damn, I better dial that down.” With my palate nowadays, I mostly get that it’s too bitter or too dry. That’s what I love, what my palate likes these days.  I’ll have to put a little more sweetness to round it out. It’s kind of like with food, if you oversalt it then the dish is caput. But you can always add more salt. That’s how I approach sweetness. You can always add more sweetness, instead of trying to add some other flavor to cut down on the sweetness.

Sometimes these things come together very easily and that’s great when it happens. But then sometimes you find yourself in a pickle… I have a vodka cocktail now that’s taken me about a month and a half to nail down all the specs and get it ready to be on a menu. I can put it on a menu as is but then it’s gonna speak for the program… I don’t want the impression to be, “Oh yeah, there’s one that’s really good and then there are 8 shit cocktails.” If every single [cocktail] can hit every mark and be really great, that’s hopefully what people will get from it. That’s my goal. Especially because we don’t have food, the cocktails better be able to stand by themselves.

Photos by Ian Flanigan at Gold Line Bar in Highland Park, Los Angeles

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

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