The Hollywood action star is perhaps best known for playing DC’s mighty superhero of the sea in the Aquaman films, but Jason Momoa has been making waves lately beyond the big and small screen with his other business commitments, including his new, award-winning Meili Vodka company.
Co-founded alongside Momoa’s best friend, Blaine Halvorson, these two gentlemen searched the world together, from Antarctica to the Northwest Passage, in hopes of discovering the purist water sources to make the very best tasting vodka possible. As fate would have it, their greatest find came basically in the backyard of Halvorson’s dad’s Montana home.
Momoa told me, “It’s this beautiful water source that comes off of this limestone shelf – 300 million-year-old aquifer. It looked like Avatar – I had never seen so much life at a water source, where there’s snow everywhere. We come to find what makes it so special is that there’s no sodium in that water. The salt is really what takes away some of the notes that you taste in that from our grains, and it’s high in calcium and sulfur. That’s what gives it that really unique taste.”
Momoa went on to say that he first met Halvorson when he came across a pair of shoes that Halvorson had made. After he reached out to Halvorson and got to know him, Momoa said, “I hired him to help me with everything with roles that I’ve played, from Frontier to even Aquaman. I wore all his original [MadeWorn] clothing in the very beginning. When I started directing things, from Carhartt to Harley-Davidson, he assisted in ways like creative director and helping me make these worlds come true. We just love working together and we both love impressing each other. He’s who I hold the highest, and if he likes it, I’m good. So, we built our friendship off of that – creating and making things.”
Following their many collaborations together on various projects, Halvorson said that he and Momoa were ready to create something just for them. When Halvorson suggested to Momoa that they create a vodka brand, he recalls, “Jason was like, ‘What are we going to make vodka for? We don’t like vodka.’ I was like, ‘That’s why!’ We love the sort of lure, the grit and storytelling that went into moonshine – so for me, being able to bring some of that to vodka, where I felt like it didn’t exist. Vodka is treated as an ingredient. It’s really not looked upon, especially in the U.S., as an actual spirit. Vodka being 60% water, that’s where we really put our focus, was finding the purest and most unique water source to then match with our grains. That’s really where it started. We wanted to change the way people saw vodka.”
Momoa went on to tell me that unlike the traditional ways of most vodkas, he actually encourages people to enjoy Meili Vodka “warm and straight” – talking up its pure Montana water taste that makes for a satisfying “neat” drink. He also expressed the great pride he feels in the sustainability and recycling priorities that go into the manufacturing of their glass bottles – from its overall design to keeping our environment top of mind.
Momoa said, “I obviously do a lot of stuff, very passionate about our planet. I’m big on making something that’s completely 100% post-consumer glass. Blaine found someone who makes the best glasses down in Mexico. What’s been great about this is we’re going to be making them out of Pennsylvania [projected for Spring 2024], so we’ll be 100% in the U.S. Being able to make the glass here, which will be the first time, is amazing. Down to every little detail, it’s pretty intense to make that bottle that beautiful and make it recycled and have all the nuances that it has. It’s our little baby.”
Halvorson added, “Jason and I, we’ve always been obsessed with the process – like how something is made and who’s making it and what it looks like and how it’s done. The process of how it’s done to me is such a big, beautiful part of it. Being able to go and take all of this glass and putting in the furnace and melting it down – every bottle is unique. You get that feeling of that handmade glass, which is a magical thing. All this glass that we’re throwing away, it can easily be repurposed.”
Since joining the ever-expanding and competitive liquor industry this past January with the launch of their Meili Vodka, I wondered what Halvorson and Momoa believe makes their new creation a beverage option that stands out on the market today.
Halvorson said, “In a liquor industry that is really heavily built today on marketing and marketing gimmicks, I think us as an open book and storytelling of how this process is done and how it can be done, I think, makes us unique – taking a very different approach to vodka and creating vodka as an actual spirit. Something you can sip and enjoy.”
Momoa added, “We’re in the footprints of like so many celebrity brands. I think if you get to know me, I’m not like that at all, and if anything, most of the companies I’ve ever started, they have all started from the ground up – with the water company [Mananalu], with the [So iLL] climbing [company] – with all the things that I love. It’s not somebody coming to me, paying me a certain fee and then I have to do these appearances and show up. This is two best friends, going on eight years of doing this, a passion that we want to keep this. It’s just a different feel than being like something celebrity, because we really did it on our own. We did it just the two of us for a very long time.”
With its retail price ranging from $19.99 and $29.99, Meili (pronounced MAY-lee) is a term that represents the adventurer’s heart, the purity of discovery and the spirit of exploration. All throughout this past October, Momoa and Halvorson decided to travel around the country to meet with fans and sign their Meili Vodka bottles, fond experiences that both gentlemen are interested in doing more of in the near future.
Halvorson said, “The biggest takeaway from this tour, we took all these amazing portraits throughout the tour and talked to so many who came out to support. That’s the whole premise of Meili – Jason and I started this with the idea of sitting around a campfire, sharing stories, sitting around a table, sharing stories together. Our hopes is that as Meili grows and more and more people try it, they share their stories with us and this whole idea of where will Meili take you. So much of today is done on social media and two-dimensional. I think it’s nice to be able to bring back those moments where you are actually face-to-face as real humans. Seeing the incredible, beautiful diversity of people who came out – it was amazing.”
Momoa concluded our conversation with, “I really wanted to honor everyone in the way where it’s like this thing was built with all of our love and our heart – and right now, it’s yours. It’s out for everyone. It’s the best that we could ever give. It’s really beautiful and I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to have a brand where you’re like, ‘Dude, this is me.’ This is our start-up year. Getting people stoked about it – when you taste, it’s over with, man!”