Inspired by botanicals—from the Pacific Northwest of her childhood to her Los Angeles backyard and her morning cup of tea—Morgan McLachlan puts the essence from plants (and their places) into bottles. In 2018, she founded AMASS; the brand’s flagship dry gin was soon followed by a botanical vodka and the alcohol-free Riverine. Continuing to explore the spirit-free realm, McLachlan recently co-founded De Soi with musician Katy Perry, crafting a trio of aperitifs that emphasize the complex flavors and holistic benefits of botanicals. Dividing her time between the two companies, McLachlan offers an inside look at the multitude of tasks that fill her day.
I have a 2-year-old, so most mornings start with an early wake-up call, followed by a hot cup of tea. Tea is the original botanical beverage, and I find endless inspiration in it. In fact, all three flavors of our spirit-free aperitifs contain tea leaves—chamomile, jasmine, Earl Grey—to give them that tannic quality you’d expect in a fine wine.
When I tell people I make drinks for a living, they usually picture me in a lab coat mixing tinctures. But 80 percent of distilling is performing janitorial duties—cleaning tanks, rinsing tasting glasses, sanitizing hoses. But it can also be crafty: weighing out botanicals for the next distillation, tasting an experimental barrel here and there, checking the proof of distillates coming off the still, etc. There’s also math (lots and lots of math), like scaling formulas, and calculating proof gallons for TTB reports.
A lot of what I do is clerical. Most of the time I’m home in Los Angeles, where both De Soi and AMASS are based, conducting product research and strategizing our road map with the rest of the team. I head up product strategy for De Soi, which means my days very rarely look the same. Some weeks I’m up in Washington state overseeing a production run, which requires a lot of tasting and tinkering until the flavors come out just right. For instance, we might need to pull back on the gentian root if they’re leaning too bitter, or amp up the sherry vinegar to lend acidity and balance.
Nature is the most important thing to me, and it’s where I feel most at peace and comfortable. When developing the flavor profiles for each spirit, I’ve found inspiration in history and place. AMASS Dry Gin encapsulates the multicultural landscape of Los Angeles through its ingredient list of California botanicals like California bay leaf and cascara sagrada, while the alcohol-free Riverine draws botanical inspiration from the Canadian Pacific Northwest with ingredients like sumac and sorrel. Sourcing for both De Soi and AMASS varies from botanical to botanical. I work closely with an ethnobotanist to source the highest-quality fruit, herbs, and botanicals we can get our hands on, carefully considering each ingredient’s wellness properties and impacts on biodiversity.
As an over-functioning new mom, I like to have something to sip on in the evenings that promotes relaxation that isn’t alcohol. Katy [Perry] and I first met at the start of 2020, when we were both pregnant and looking for a way to unwind without booze. Our shared love for a spritz and desire for an elegant alternative to alcohol planted a seed for De Soi.
In a lot of ways, crafting a nonalcoholic beverage is much more difficult than crafting a spirit. Alcohol is a wonderful vehicle for flavor, and without it, all of your flavor comes directly from botanicals. This is especially true for De Soi, as the sparkling aperitifs aren’t intended to be mixed. With wine, a lot of the complexity you taste comes from the aging process. Storing wine in oak barrels, for instance, imparts a smoky, vanilla flavor. With De Soi, we used botanical extracts to achieve that effect—in Purple Lune, we blend oak chip and vanilla extracts to lend depth.
I often joke that my natural habitat is a bath. I love settling in with a spritz and soaking with some nice bath salts, maybe a candle burning. Between being a mom and running a business, I don’t have very much time to myself throughout the day. It’s important that I carve out that time to sit with my thoughts.