It’s 6:45 on Tuesday morning, Brendan Moylan takes a break from cooking eggs behind the line at Moylan’s Brewery in Novato, to sign a departing employee’s timecard.
“I’m old school,” he says. “I like to look my employees right in the eye. That way you know that they are right there with you.”
Moylan is preparing the weekly breakfast for the local Rotary Club, partly because he set up the event himself, and partly because he knows that most of his employees wouldn’t appreciate being there at that time of the morning, especially since Moylan’s Brewery isn’t open for breakfast.
“So, I’m the cook,” he says.
But Moylan is much more than the cook. Once he owned three restaurants in Marin County; Noonan’s Bar and Grill, the Marin Brewing Company (both in Larkspur Landing), and Moylan’s Brewery & Restaurant in Novato (which opened in 1995). Noonan’s had operated from 2003-2007, and the Marin Brewing Company closed earlier this year after a 33 year run.
“Ultimately, we got evicted from Larkspur Landing,” he says. “We were evicted because we were unable to pay our rent during Covid. We were closed for 150 days.”
At one point with the three restaurants, Moylan had about 250 employees.
“Employees are all a reflection of yourself, especially in these kinds of businesses where you are dealing with the general public,” he says. “I mean anybody who comes into Moylan’s; the bartender, the server, the cook, they are all a reflection of myself and my ability to get the right people in the right places.”
In 2004, Moylan teamed up with Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma, creating liquors, grappa and a few select liqueurs. Something which ultimately led to him closing the fully liquor licensed Noonan’s.
“You can’t own a bar and a distillery,” he says referencing California’s three tier liquor distribution model. “I can own a brewery and a distillery, and I can own a brewery and a bar, but I can’t own a bar and a distillery. It’s those two combinations they don’t like you mixing.”
Stillwater Spirits now produces vodka, gin, brandy, grappa, and several liqueurs under the Stillwater name, but they also produce whiskey under the Moylan’s name. And that seemed to be the key.
“We’ve been incredibly successful,” says Moylan. “We have two U.S. Whisky Open championships for best overall whiskey portfolio [the last two years]. We were runner up the year before that – which got me pissed – that’s why we won the last two years. We are not second place material here,” he says.
Moylan favors the classic Vendome copper whiskey still which hails originally from Kentucky. But the whiskey from the bluegrass state he eschews. “I’m not a corn fan,” he says. “Corn is pig feed. I think barley makes the best whiskey, I think rye makes the second best whiskey, wheat is still good for whiskey, it takes a little extra time to do wheat whiskey right, but what is the best-selling whiskey? Bourbon. People don’t know any better, and they will continue to drink bourbon.”
Ironically, of the four 2022 golds at the U.S. Open Whiskey competition (Moylan’s also won the Grand National Whiskey championship), two were for their bourbons: their cask strength bourbon, and their “Sanctioned Bourbon” finished in sherry barrels. The other two golds were for their blended rye finished in port barrels and their single malt “American” whiskey.
“It’s a very competitive field, American whiskey,” says Moylan. “Winning, for us, is about marketing and giving our salespeople, and myself, some bragging points to use out in the marketplace, that a group of judges decided this was the ‘best of show’ or ‘best of category’ whatever it might be.”
Moylan’s Whiskey can be found at fine spirits shops throughout Marin and Sonoma, the whiskey is also available at Costco, and many of the different styles are featured on the backbar of many local bars and restaurants. But even with all this distilling success, and the logistical differences between running a distillery and running a restaurant (Stillwater Distilling has one full time employee, while Moylan’s Brewery has about 30), Moylan himself has not quite lost the restaurant bug.
“I’d love to do a whiskey and cigar bar someday,” he says. “With a tequila and mezcal influence. I love tequila and mezcal.”
For more information on Moylan’s Whiskey & Stillwater Spirits go here: Moylan’s Distilling (moylansdistilling.com). For more information on Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant go here: Moylan’s Brewery & Restaurant (moylans.com)