The Quality Makers: Matthew Alper of Mulholland Distilling

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I still remember, a few years back, when I started seeing the name "Mulholland" on every cocktail menu in town – anywhere you went, a gin drinker like me was quick to find out it was the bartender's choice. Once I tried it, it was easy to see why. Mulholland Distilling makes gins, vodkas and whiskeys that are unique but approachable, with aromatic riffs like Persian lime and sweet corn that still deliver familiar pleasures. For their efforts, they've won Double Gold at the World Spirits Competition, and made devoted fans among cocktailer makers and straight sippers alike.

Like the best celebrity-founded brands, the product speaks for itself – in fact, I had no idea until recently that the co-founders were creatives I was familiar with in their own right. The brand is a partnership between Walton Goggins – an actor who's stolen scenes in everything from The Hateful Eight to The Righteous Gemstones – and the accomplished photographer Matthew Alper, who came together to make a love letter to the city that raised them. Below, Alper details how their shared hometown and artistic backgrounds helped make Mulholland the success that it is.

Photo credit: Mulholland Distilling​

Let’s start with the name. Mulholland Drive is one of the most iconic roads in Los Angeles — really, in the country — and you and Walton are both Angelenos yourselves. What makes your brand distinctly of L.A.?

MA: “It all began, really, with trying to understand what Los Angeles was and is. I grew up here, my parents grew up here – I remember hearing stories from my grandmother about riding the streetcar down Venice Blvd when she was a little girl and seeing a woman in the front yard of her house milking her cow.

When I was trying to think of what L.A. really means to me, it always comes down to the idea of creating something out of nothing. It's a place where people seem to gravitate to express themselves, recreate themselves or just feel the freedom to evolve in whatever way they want. For me, the spine of that connection is Mulholland Drive, that famous road that rides above Los Angeles with the city on one side and the San Fernando Valley on the other. Two parts of this amazing metropolis; so different but with a common heritage.

And from Mulholland Dr., you can see into that past, to the present and into the future. For me, that's quintessentially what L.A. is. This connection of people to their past and to their future as they create something wonderful.”

How did you and Walton come to collaborate on this, and how has it been navigating a two-hander partnership?

MA: “That's a great question, and I don't know that there's one answer to it. Like any great partnership, it's evolved over time. I'm not going to say there haven't been bumps along the way, but beginning as good friends and both respecting each other's strengths and talents – and accepting the fact that we couldn't build what we've built or create what we've created without each other – is the glue that holds it all together. We need each other to make Mulholland what it is. There's no question about Walton’s talent, his humanity, and his strength. Sometimes, if I’m being honest, I feel like I'm the lucky one in this partnership.”

Photo credit: Mulholland Distilling

Coming from a creative/entertainment industry background, what was the learning curve with diving into the world of spirits?

MA: “Film is a collaborative endeavor: creative people banding together in the service of a common goal.When I left the film business, I was a little nervous about stepping into this very unique world that I had limited knowledge of. Lucky for me, it's one of those unique businesses where it's full of creative, talented, wild weirdos that band together under the umbrella of hospitality and the longer I've been in it, the more I feel at home among this new tribe.”

Were there any existing brands that inspired you, whether in the world of distilling or not, with an ethos or approach to their product?

MA: “In the beginning, not really. I was more influenced by the world around me here in L.A. at the time. But as we moved forward, I would keep my radar on for anything that might help guide me along the way. Then, I stumbled across an old TED Talk by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action. It really caught me. What Sinek had posited was that people don't buy what we do, they buy what we believe.

I hadn’t been able to articulate what I was trying to do until that moment. Because I didn't want to just make vodka or gin or whiskey. I wanted to create something that would embody all the things that I found great about my city, about my friendship with Walton, about the time we were living in and the world as I was experiencing it. More than anything, that way of looking at what we were doing – at what we’re still doing – inspires the way the brand has evolved and the ways it continues to evolve.”  

You have three flagship spirits as of now — a gin, a vodka, and a whiskey. Talk to me about the difference in conceiving and producing those three.

MA: “It really began with tasting spirits from all over and trying to define what worked for us. I'm no expert in the world of spirits and I think that's a real advantage because I approach it as someone who just loves to imbibe. I've always loved whiskey, a vodka martini is my go-to drink, and gin was something that I’ve always been fascinated by. So I began this journey by searching for spirits that I connected with, that really turned my head and then experimented with ways to put our spin on them. To give them a personal fingerprint that isn’t from a test group or marketing team, but something that Walton and I loved and were excited to share with others. Not bragging or anything, but our Gin is a Double Gold Medal winner! Our 100p American Whiskey and Gluten-Free Corn Vodka are both Silver medalists too, and we're proud to say they're more delicious and mixable than any spirit you can find anywhere, at any price.”

Photo credit: Mulholland Distilling

You can be honest: do you have a favorite?

MA: “Now that would be like asking me, ‘Which of your children do you like the best?!’ I love all my babies equally but if pressed, on a desert island… our gin. It’s just the most special thing. It’s like Walton… every project he’s in, no matter what it is,  he elevates it and makes it better. Our gin is like that. No matter what drink it’s in, it makes everything better.”

What’s next for Mulholland: any spirits that feel like the next frontier?

MA: “Right now, we’re just concentrating on what we have and making it great. We’re growing so I have to be super vigilant about making sure our quality reigns supreme over all else. There is something I’m super excited about right now. We’ve partnered with StartEngine and can now offer the opportunity to invest in Mulholland – giving our friends and supporters the opportunity to own a piece of our dream!

And, of course, creativity never sleeps. We do have some stuff in the pipeline that I can’t talk about yet, but when it comes to fruition, you’ll be the first to know.”

We're excited to hear what's next, but in the meantime, we're feeling a little thirsty. If your bar cart needs stocking, check out Mulholland's award-winning spirits here.

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