Mary Bartlett sips her rosé and notices that a certain L.A.-made gin isn’t on the restaurant’s back bar… yet. That gin would of course be Future Gin, founded by a quartet of Los Angeles F&B all-stars: Bartlett, the National Beverage Director for ArcLight Cinemas; Amy Atwood, who produces OENO Wines and owns Amy Atwood Selections, a wine import and distribution company; and Coolhaus co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller. Production is helmed by Morgan McLachlan, co-founder and head distiller at The Spirit Guild in the Arts District.
Clocking in at 90 proof, the citrus-forward Future Gin has SoCal in its soul, with 14 botanicals that include Meyer lemon and grapefruit peel; coriander, angelica, black peppercorn, cassia, honeysuckle, grape leaf, and avocado leaf.
I recently met up with Mary to catch up on the latest news about Future Gin, talk about her ArcLight gig, as well as look back at career highlights like Honeycut and the Ace Hotel in Downtown L.A.
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We told Morgan to manspread. She’s so good at it! Thanks @jonendow for finally capturing all five of us in the wild! It’s crazy to think that we have a collective 50+ years of experience in food and beverage. And perhaps Future Gin is an expression of those memories, hopes and dreams. Sorry, going deep on a Tuesday morning. We’re just happy you like our gin! #teamfuture #futuregin #womenspreading
The seeds for Future Gin were planted after Bartlett became the beverage director at the Ace Hotel and started working with Amy Atwood. The Ace was already buying wine from Atwood – as Bartlett explains, “Amy at that point only had five clients that she still saw because she has reps all over California. And she was still seeing the Ace as a client.”
“I already love wine and I also felt this big stress taking over an entire wine program. When I first got there – it was week two and I was like, ‘So um who picks the wines?’ There was a look and it was like, ‘That’s YOU.’ ‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. OK cool.’
Instead of buying wine for one cocktail bar, Bartlett was now buying wines for Upstairs at Ace, the hotel’s rooftop bar and pool; Michael Cimarusti’s Best Girl, formerly L.A. Chapter; special events, and the Theatre at Ace Hotel next door.
“So I need to learn how to buy wine. I really latched onto Amy and also immediately just wanted to be around her. She’s such a cool person and lovely and funny. She took me to Italy on a wine trip, probably so I would keep buying wine [from her] – it was so smart, because I fell so deeply in love with natural wine and specifically this Italian natural wine. Now I’m hooked, I want to hang out with you all the time Amy, teach me everything.”
As Bartlett describes it, after spending 11 days in a passenger van with someone, in a different time zone, on farms (“It sounds glamorous, but wine trips are not glamorous.”) – you really know that you can work with someone.
Right after they got back from Italy, Amy said to Mary, “I’ve been wanting to make a gin for years, do you want to make a gin?”
“Yeah, of course I want to make a gin! But didn’t really understand what that meant. Amy drinks wine and gin. I drink primarily wine and gin. I ended up in this whole industry because of gin. I got my first bar position [at Teardrop Lounge in Portland] talking about French 75s at Clyde Common. I’ve always been into gin.”
“It turned out she was serious.” [laughs] “I remember very clearly talking to her on the phone and she was giving me all these options for different distillers: ‘What do you think about this distiller,’ and ‘What do you think about this distiller?’
[pullquote]Oh my god, we’re hiring a distiller? We’re gonna do it?[/pullquote]
“Oh my god, we’re hiring a distiller? We’re gonna do it?”
“I was really scared. One of the things that’s so cool about this whole process is that every time I’ve been like, ‘Am I too scared for this?’ Someone else is not scared at that moment, so then we move forward.”
As Atwood was vetting distillers, she and Bartlett discussed how they wanted the business to look, and how they wanted set up their partnership. “She was asking me, do you want to consult on this project, do you want sweat equity, do you want to invest?”
Around this time, they started talking about bringing on Coolhaus co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller. Bartlett had previously worked with Estreller on Spritz, a short-lived RTD spritz created in collaboration with Proprietors LLC. “Honestly that spritz was ahead of its time, it was just in the wrong package – a 750ml bottle instead of cans, otherwise it would have been the Ramona.”
Amy was already friends with Natasha and Freya. “They started Coolhaus which is obviously doing well, by this time Freya is already working for [Tea Drops]. She was like, ‘I think we should bring them in.’ And I was like, ‘YES.'”
Case and Estreller would bring the expertise that comes from developing a powerhouse brand that’s available in 6,000 grocery stores, two storefronts and 10 mobile ice cream trucks. Bartlett says, “Amy has worked in wine for 20 years, she’s a distributor, so I had a distributor built in. And I know this part of the spirits stuff. We can do all the rest, but Coolhaus – that’s marketing, investors, really big stuff, as well as they’re professional tasters. So all four of us are professional tasters.”
The team then hired Morgan McLachlan. “We shopped around other people, but Morgan is awesome. She is such an amazing distiller. She again was someone I was peripherally around – we went to the same gym, the L.A. Athletic Club, there’s a bar there.” [laughs]
Work on the gin began in earnest. After playing around with different base spirits, they chose non-GMO corn. “We tried to make it grapes, because we thought it was a better story – ‘We’re going to make our gin from California wine and that is the story.’ And then we tried, and it was like, ‘This is fucking pisco with juniper!’ It just didn’t work. With a gin as big and bold as ours, we needed a really clean, neutral place to start.”
Bartlett was tasked with curating the botanicals that they would start playing with to create the gin. “That was such a freaky experience for me. I raise the stakes on things, so it’s hard for me to pull the trigger. But this was one thing where the stakes were that high, I was right.”
“I always wanted to do something with Meyer lemon. Devon [Tarby] and I used to joke around about making a California limoncello or a Meyer limoncello – ‘That would work! People would buy that.’ I didn’t know the whole story before – it’s actually lemon and Mandarin orange, which is why it’s so juicy. Everyone in L.A. loves a Meyer lemon, I love a Meyer lemon. Even though I want this gin to be a very traditional gin – overall, I want this to be GIN. There are other new gins that I love, but they’re kind of left of gin in my mind. So I didn’t want that.”
[pullquote]We are not London. London Dry Gin is delicious and perfect, but not as perfect as California.[/pullquote]
“We are not London. London Dry Gin is delicious and perfect, but not as perfect as California. [laughs] California doesn’t have bitter orange in its soul, it has juicy, sweet orange which is what I think you get out of Meyer lemon. So [Future Gin] has Meyer lemon and grapefruit.”
It was really important to Mary and the team to keep the juniper high. “Every time we were doing another iteration it would be like, ‘Ehh, should we raise the juniper? I think we should try raising the juniper.’ So we went back and forth, we played with all these different botanicals, and we did some versions that were a single distillate. We played with cucumber for a while, which did not end up in the gin. We did a single distillate for the avocado leaf just to really see what it was before we put it in there. We did whole batches of things just to try it out and tweak it.”
Aside from the individual flavor tests, Bartlett estimates they ended up with 12 different gins before they decided on Future Gin.
“The five of us sat at The Spirit Guild either every week or every other week for months and months just working on the formula. It was kind of a crazy experience, ’cause you’re sitting there drinking high proof, warm spirit that’s not quite gin. ‘Is this working? I like things about it.’ It’s a process I haven’t done before and gin can be so many different things.”
“There’d be a crazy idea – we have black pepper in there, and that was one where I was like, ‘Is that a stupid idea?’ Did I have a stupid ass idea on that one? Was that me being so white and thinking you just put black pepper on everything? And then we’d pull it out and then I was like, ‘No I liked the black pepper!’ It’s on the finish, it’s a clean finish with that.”
Future Gin is not filtered – when you look at it, it’s not quite clear. “It holds so much flavor. If we were going to be filtering it so that it’s 100% clear – which is what people are used to seeing with gin – we would be removing things that are adding to the flavor, and we didn’t want to do that.”
“[Filtering] uses a lot of electricity and a lot of water, so it’s better for the environment not to filter the gin. But honestly it didn’t even come to that question – are we doing this for the planet, because we just like it so much. And being a lover of things like natural wine, not filtering feels so right. This is a natural product. We have some ingredients that are macerated, the rest is in the basket.”
[pullquote]There’s no fucking way, as a Martini drinker, that I’m making a gin that doesn’t make a damn good Martini.[/pullquote]
“It’s 90 proof because that’s what gin is supposed to be. I brought vermouth in anytime we were near the end of a process, because it was really important to me that it mixed with vermouth. There’s no fucking way, as a Martini drinker, that I’m making a gin that doesn’t make a damn good Martini. It was just a happy coincidence that it makes a really good Gimlet, too. ‘Wow, if it works with citrus and it works with vermouth, it’s probably done.'”
“It is consciously in a very simple bottle, because I’m a bartender and gins are usually in terrible bottles to pick up – which is so stupid because gin is in cocktails, so you know they’re going to be pouring it like that and it sucks to pour. It’s in the lightest weight bottle I could find, which is good for the planet and good for our shoulders. It’s also in a bottle that’s really easy to repurpose – you can take that label off, you could put lime juice in your well in it. It’s a really lightweight, really basic 750 so you can use it.”
The eye-catching Future Gin label is designed by Benjamin Blascoe, who met the team through Marissa Ross, author of Wine. All the Time. and the wine editor at Bon Appétit. “[The label] was inspired by a vintage suntan lotion bottle, and it moved away from that in some ways but I really love how it turned out. It looks like L.A., a little bit like Palm Springs.”
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Our Friday evening tasting event this week presents Future Gin, from Amy Atwood Selections! This lovely gin was created by four women who love spirits and L.A., and the whole outfit is woman owned and operated. We think it's nicely dry, with clear Southland flavors of Meyer lemon, honeysuckle, and grape leaf. Your host Mary will pour tasting samples of the gin on its own. She will also be offering tiny sampler sized Martinis and Gimlets, so you can see how the gin works in cocktails! . Bottles will be available for purchase during the event at a special discount. (We'll be happy to honor the discount price on your special order if we happen to sell out.) Come by and say hi this Friday, March 22, 6-8pm! . . . #barkeepersilverlake #tastingroom #tastingevent #spiritstasting #futuregin #gin #LosAngeles #madebywomen #womanowned #womanoperated #womanownedandoperated #amyatwoodselections #amyatwoodwine #amyatwood
So where can thirsty imbibers like yours truly enjoy a Future Gin cocktail in L.A.? “There’s so many [bars] it’s hard to keep track, we have been very supported. Botanica is one of the places I love to go.” There’s also The NoMad, Ace Hotel, Bar Franca, The Mermaid, Normandie Club, Hippo, Gold Line, 6th & La Brea, Bibo Ergo Sum, Night Market in WeHo, and more.
And for the home enthusiast, locally you’ll find Future Gin at Bar Keeper, Silverlake Wine, K&L, Domaine LA, and Bar & Garden.
After the jump, we find out how French 75s got Mary into the industry, her thoughts on the Honeycut legacy, and what’s next for Future Gin.
After briefly meeting Mary during Portland Cocktail Week in October 2012, I was more formally introduced to her at the second annual Art Beyond the Glass, which was literally her first or second day in L.A. Mary says that ABTG actually changed her moving date, thanks to a conversation with our mutual friend Ron Dollete.
“I was supposed to move to L.A. a week after [ABTG], and I was talking to Ron and Ron was like, ‘Yeah I know you’re moving then, but if you could come a week earlier you could come to this event and all of the L.A. bar scene will be there.’ So I actually moved to L.A. a week earlier for your event.”
Mary’s younger brother Mark, currently a bartender at The NoMad in DTLA, was the catalyst for Mary’s move to L.A. (Full disclosure, I sit in front of Mark at least once a week.) “Mark graduated from Fullerton – I was in Portland but I was already ready to leave. I’d been talking about other cities, I needed something bigger, I needed a new place.” Mark asked Mary to move to L.A.
“He was in that moment right after college when you’re struggling – he was having a hard time getting a job [in L.A.] and just didn’t know anyone.”
Born in Huntington Beach, Mary was raised in Fresno, “…which I think is a big connection to produce that I have – I’m really into farming and particularly healthy farming, whether that’s organic or biodynamic or any of that. But I think it’s because I grew up in a place where conventional farming was everywhere and I think it’s really harmful and I saw it and I think it’s really serious.”
Bartlett attended a theatre school and then moved to Portland, where she was working in a coffee shop and going to school. “Teardrop was two blocks from my coffee shop when I turned 21, so I started going in – I would get off the shift and that’s right when it opened, before it was busy. That’s when Dave Chenaut and Evan Zimmerman worked there. They’re epic – my mentors, even though we’re friends I can’t get over. I walked in as a 21-year-old, ‘I don’t know what I like but I like gin.’ And they were like, ‘You can sit down now, this is where you live.’
“So I fell in love with a bar. That was THE cocktail bar that changed things there, you know? It was such a big deal. I don’t want to speak for them, but you’re getting into a new market that is still ‘Vodka, vodka, vodka.’ ‘No, we do gin here.’ I think having any sort of guest that’s like, ‘What do you do?’ Instead of having to sell yourself, you immediately become a favorite and get a lot of attention. Plus I was a 21 year old girl. [laughs] They taught me things, I was excited, and I started learning.
French 75s FTW
Bartlett wasn’t considering working at Teardrop or even trying to find a bar job, but she was reading about alcohol, going to different bars and drinking French 75s. During one of those excursions, she went to Clyde Common and sat down next to Teardrop owner Daniel Shoemaker.
“I didn’t know him very well, I knew his staff. And he said, ‘Hey, do you want my drink?’ And I was like, ‘What?’ ‘No I didn’t drink it, I ordered it but I saw they had this whiskey so do you want my drink?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah but I want to try your whiskey, what is it?’ And it turned out it was Pappy [Van Winkle] and I didn’t know what Pappy was. He let me taste the whiskey and I was like, ‘Ooh that tastes like blah blah’ – I don’t remember what I said, but he was like, ‘Yeah totally.'”
“I’ve been drinking French 75s and here they put them in a Collins glass but everywhere else they put them up and I think Collins is more traditional but I actually think I like up better. And he looked at me – it was one of those ‘What’s wrong with you and who are you?’ moments. [laughs] He had a server leaving so he offered me the position.”
“Of course it turns out the reason the French 75s at Clyde Common were in the Collins glass was because Jeffrey Morgenthaler had recently taken over that program, and [lowers voice] ‘This is how this is done.’ French 75s in a Collins glass even though everyone tries to send it back.”
Thanks to those idiosyncratic French 75s, Bartlett started working at Teardrop Lounge as a cocktail server. “It was very, very tough. I was working with the best of the best and my clientele knew more than I did, so I had to really work hard to even know what I was talking about. It was amazing. And really, really hard. I got to bartend for a little bit before I left, but I worked really hard to get behind that bar.”
After working as a cocktail server for six months, Bartlett started bartending at another bar down the street. “I would close Saturday night at Teardrop and then open brunch at the other place on Sunday – it was a nightmare. I was young but it was still a nightmare. I did that for a while – I worked six or seven days a week for a few years, which has been pretty common for me.”
During her first week in L.A., Bartlett met Dave Kaplan and Alex Day when they were planning the mighty Honeycut. “We had an informal interview at their office, I didn’t even know really what I was getting into.” Mary landed the Honeycut gig – during its buildout they gave her a couple of shifts at The Parish, which closed on the day of her first shift at Honeycut in October 2013.
“Honeycut was so big for me. The people, the opportunity, also I came here – no one in L.A. knew who the hell I was, I got hired at Honeycut and then I was all their boss, you know? That bar had the Who’s Who of all of L.A. on staff and they were like, ‘We don’t even know your name, why are you telling me what to do?’ [laughs] No, they were lovely, but it was insane.
“It was also a crazy era, because even though we had social media it wasn’t like it is now. When I moved to L.A. I knew a few names – Lindsay Nader, Eric Alperin – I didn’t know who the hell anyone was. So I start working at this bar with everyone, and everyone came to, and I was just SO new to town. It was such a good introduction.”
“It’s weird because people think of Portland – I think, based on what I’ve heard – as this liberal, you can do whatever you want sort of place. And my experience in bars and restaurants there was not that. It was so by the book. It is a boys club, it seems like it’s changing right now, but it was – you have up to one girl behind your bar, this is what bars are like, this is what food is like, this is how things go. I was taught if you want to succeed you play by the rules.
“Honeycut – Dave Kaplan specifically, and then later [Dave] Fernie – taught me, ‘Oh no, I can be myself. I don’t have to pretend to be like you guys, and I don’t have to dress like a boy, and I can do this shit that I’m passionate about and I need to dig in, I need to get good, but I don’t have to be like everyone to be successful.’ It was such a huge, liberating time.”
[pullquote]We ended up changing things in the beverage world by doing Honeycut. I absolutely believe that.[/pullquote]
“When I reflect on it and I think of all these different, crazy things we did, I’m really proud. We failed a lot, and we succeeded more, I think. It’s scary to have the spotlight on you and to try things and not have them work, and keep trying crazy shit – not crazy to be crazy, but just crazy because it hasn’t been done before. It’s really, really hard. I’m proud of us, because we were brave.
“We ended up changing things in the beverage world by doing Honeycut. I absolutely believe that.”
Ace Hotel DTLA
While she was at Honeycut, Bartlett also did consulting for Proprietors LLC on other projects. Then came the opportunity at the Ace. “[The Ace Hotel] was definitely the next step I needed. I was ready to take on more and it WAS more. It was great, it was a huge growth opportunity. But it was also the first time I got to work with a team of women. The men I had worked for in the past were awesome, but I think that a lot of times men take for granted they get to work with other men. I had never worked on a management team with more than one woman. So I got to Ace – my boss, my F&B director, the general manager of the restaurant, the GM of Upstairs, and my floor managers were all women. It was so cool. Things get done differently.”
With Future Gin finished and ramping up for production, Mary was ready for something new. “I met Tait [Forman] when he was first engaging Proprietors for work on [Bibo Ergo Sum]. I left Ace and kind of needed to figure out what I wanted to do. I felt like inertia was making my decisions. I finished the gin – it took some time, I was doing the boring stuff like finding bottles. And then once that was done I was like, ‘OK what do I want to do?'”
Bartlett realized almost immediately that she didn’t want to be a consultant, which is what she thought she might want to do. “I interviewed with a bunch of people, I talked to a bunch of people, I tried some different stuff out. ArcLight was just really intriguing. I love ArcLight, that’s where I go see movies, although I don’t now because I work there.” [laughs]
“I love a challenge, it’s one of the qualities that I really hate about myself sometimes because I take on really big projects. It’s great for growth, it helps me grow. But it hurts!”
“Luckily Proprietors did a lot of the heavy lifting – [they] put in these awesome cocktail bars and trained all these people. Their training is so spot on that I have worked with the bartenders they had trained a year and a half ago, taught to be bartenders, and I’m like, ‘Your technique and execution is better than people who have been bartending for a decade.'”
“Now I’m just working on running bars for a really big company, training people that haven’t worked in food & beverage before in a traditional sense – they do work in food & beverage – how to oversee their bars. I love being in that part of L.A., I love that I get to reach a different guest than would normally seek us out. And we have some spots across the country so it’s the right amount of travel for me – not all the time but occasionally. It certainly fills my days.” [laughs]
The Future of Future Gin
Future Gin will eventually expand, but for now the focus is on their key markets. “We’re in the middle of our second run. We really just want to focus a little more on California and really support New York because we love New York, and feel like the New York and California connection is stronger than ever.”
[pullquote]I believe in this product, I think the quality is awesome, I think it’s something that people want.[/pullquote]
“We’re just trying to get in front of people who might like to try it and be a part of it. It’s weird – I’m selling a product and I think we can feel kind of weird about that, but the truth is I stand behind it – I believe in this product, I think the quality is awesome, I think it’s something that people want. It’s a nice part of people’s day to get to enjoy it.”
“I love drinking it, and I know I made it so of course I love drinking it, but I can’t believe that I’m still not tired of it. Every single time I go to taste it in a drink, I get a little bit of that nervous moment where I’m like, ‘Ooh is it still delicious? Do I still think it’s awesome? Am I still proud of this or do I have to play along?’ And every single time I taste it I’m like, ‘Good! That’s DELICIOUS.'”
“I just want more people to try it because if they love gin, if they love learning from the past and taking it with them into all of their choices, then I think they’ll like it.”