Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

The Few, the Proud: A Distillery Turns Evanston’s Temperance History on its Head

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Paul Hletko

Paul Hletko

By Charlie Puckett

The alley air outside of a whitewashed, re-appropriated chop-shop is swollen with the warm blunt smell of grains and botanicals turned into award-winning gins and whiskeys. Inside, Paul Hletko, founder and master distiller at Few Spirits, boils the waters, more than a thousand casks after his first distillation in 2011, to make some of Chicago’s most notable artisanal spirits.

As a resident of Evanston, once the incubator for America’s infamous Woman’s Christian Temperance movement, Hletko especially understands the high threshold for success a nascent craft distiller faces no matter which city they call home. It’s as if the weather of the temperance movement, decades since past, still alters the national dew point in the way that start-up distilleries are still few in number and face high infant mortality rates. According to a survey conducted by the American Distilling Institute, approximately 208 craft distilleries currently operate nationwide as of mid-2012, a featherweight comparison to the hundreds of thousands of stills operating prior to Prohibition. “The greatest success so far is that we still have our lights on,” Hletko says. “In our business world, the first two years are the toughest, and we just hit our second year.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Gay Spirit: Halsted Vodka Channels and Gives Back to the GLBT Community

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Vodka just got a little gayer. Halsted Vodka, which launched last month, gives fifteen percent of its profits to local GLBT charities in Chicago. Now after three years of development, it’s spreading from the gay bars to the rest of Chicago and beyond. Jennifer Schulze, one of Halsted Vodka’s five founders, explains how they got started and where the brand is headed.

What came first, the idea for vodka or the idea to give back to the LGBT community?
We were looking for a way to give back to the LGBT community. We did a lot of research and a lot of focus groups to come up with the product that has the most impact, and that led us to vodka. The gay community drinks more vodka than anybody else. It’s a huge part of the social fabric in a very positive, celebratory way. It is the spirit of choice in the community, so that’s how we ended up vodka. Read the rest of this entry »

Back to the Roots: Angel’s Envy Brings Back Bourbon History

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Lincoln Henderson

“It’s nice being the prettiest girl at the dance,” laughs Wes Henderson. The day is excruciatingly hot, but we’re secreted underground in the new River North speakeasy-style bar and restaurant Untitled—as safe from the heat as we would have been from the cops almost a hundred years ago. Henderson isn’t talking about a new dress, but Angel’s Envy, the craft bourbon he produces with his father, master distiller Lincoln Henderson, and his son Kyle.

“We wanted to do something different,” explains Lincoln. The elder Henderson spent four decades at the distilling giant Brown-Forman, which produces Jack Daniel’s, among other brands. As Lincoln knows well, the industry standard for bourbon has always held that “a bourbon had to be very robust. When I say robust, that means it had to have a lot of wood in it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Cachaça Wins: No More “Brazilian Rum”

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Over a year ago, Booze Muse published an article about the uphill battle that cachaça was fighting with The United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau over the commercial name of their national spirit. The liquor was labeled “Brazilian Rum,” to the detriment and embarrassment  of fans, connoisseurs and producers, who argued that although cachaça bore some resemblance to the Caribbean favorite, the denomination was, as Leblon’s Steve Luttmann, stated then, misleading to say the least. “The issue is when consumers read ‘Brazilian rum’ on the label, they expect it to taste like rum,” he said. “Consumers taste it and find out that it really isn’t rum, and this creates a lot of consumer confusion.” Both liquors originate from sugar cane, but rum is distilled from molasses, whereas cachaça is distilled from fresh sugarcane.  Read the rest of this entry »

Amazon.Cocktail: Cedilla puts Açaí into Cachaça for an extra-trendy Brazilian liqueur

Liqueur, Spirits Just Sound Happy, Don't They?, The Fine Art of Mixology, Tips and Trends No Comments »

By Ernest Barteldes

A decade or so ago, the açaí berry was starting to get a lot of attention in Brazil, where many began consuming its pulp in a bowl mixed with granola or other ingredients to benefit from its antioxidant and energetic properties.

Word spread quickly, and soon the fruit—which is taken from palm trees that grow natively in the Amazon region—made its way to the United States market. The first company to exploit it stateside was Sambazon, an American company that specializes in exotic tropical fruit. Açaí has come to be regarded as a “super fruit” that is now featured in dozens of products, going from fruit smoothies to dietary supplements, conditioners and açaí-infused vodkas by Absolut and VeeV—the latter of which is used to make the “Veev a Loca” martini at the Signature Room on Michigan Avenue. Read the rest of this entry »

Sipping to the Beat: Drinkify Pairs Tunes with Drinks

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Can’t figure out what to drink while listening to music on Spotify? There’s a website for that. It’s called Drinkify.

Drinkify.org was “created in twenty-four boozy hours ” by Hannah Donovan, Lindsay Eyink and Matthew Ogle. They all met each other through music jobs at Last.fm and iTunes. At the event Music Hack Day in Boston they came up with the idea of combining music and alcohol— perhaps sparked by Donovan’s epic hangover from the night before.

Drinkify attempts to pair whatever song you’re playing with the perfect cocktail recipe. Just type in the artist, song or band, hit the “What should I drink?” and bam: Cocktail recipe. Read the rest of this entry »

Soju’s Sojourn: Will Korea’s National Spirit Find Staying Power in the US?

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Korean nationals certainly take pride in soju, their widely consumed national spirit that is ubiquitous in Korean-American communities throughout the country and is enjoyed in a variety of ways—chilled or mixed with a number of beverages, including bek-seju (a strong ginger-spiced wine), yogurt or even beer.

Soju is the second most consumed spirit in the world (according to a recent report by Forbes magazine), but when you bring it up around westerners not hip to Asian drinks, few have even heard of it. This is bound to change, since large producers like Jinro and Charm have been hard at work introducing the spirit to American audiences. Read the rest of this entry »

Rummed Out: Brazil’s national spirit cachaça fights for its name

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A decade ago, ordering a caipirinha outside the Brazilian enclaves in South Florida or New York would puzzle most bartenders. However, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of producers, the now-ubiquitous cocktail (made with cachaça, lime and muddled sugar) can be ordered in places as diverse as Café Laguardia, Al Primo Canto, Café 28 or Karyn’s on Green.

“Caipirinha has been the object of intense experimentation by bartenders and mixologists in the US,” explains Vicente Ribeiro of Fazenda Soledade in Rio de Janeiro. “A larger variety of fruits have demonstrated cachaça can be as versatile as vodka, albeit with a higher complexity of aromas and flavors.”

“When we started in 2005, awareness was less than one percent of cocktail consumers,” explains Steve Luttmann of Leblon, one of the major premium brands commercialized in the United States. Awareness of cachaça among cocktail consumers is now nearly twenty percent in the major markets (New York, LA, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami). The caipirinha, with thirty-percent awareness, is now one of the top-ten cocktails on menus, and was the fastest-growing cocktail in 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Unconventional Drinking: “Working” the floor at The New York Bar and Wine Show

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Photo: Renata Baluk

By Ernest Barteldes

The New York Bar and Wine Show, an annual two-day convention that takes place at Midtown Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center, showcases what’s new in the beverage industry, from special registers wirelessly attached to bottles (to better control the drinks sold) to novelties like a Russian roulette-style game wherein a plastic revolver has a chamber that releases a shot of liquor to the lucky ‘winner’—if the ‘loaded’ chamber ends up in his or her hand (think bachelor parties and dorm rooms, if you’re wondering who would do this).

But the greatest attraction is, of course, the booze, and this year’s event had plenty, ranging from new liquor brands, international beers and wines to the latest ideas in mixology presented by different bartenders from all over the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Skip the Caipiroska: Brazilian cachaca brand defends its national spirit

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By Ernest Barteldes

While living in Brazil, I remember ordering caipirinhas (the famous national cocktail made with muddled lime, sugar and cachaça) at restaurants and bars, and I was hit with the inevitable question: “de cachaça ou de vodka” (“Do you want it made with cachaça or vodka?”).

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Although I did prefer the spiciness of the Brazilian national spirit, I also often recalled the hangovers I’d get from drinking the (mostly) mass-produced stuff they had there at the time, and most of the time ended up having the drink made from vodka.

The problem is that muddling lime and sugar and adding anything other than cachaça is not a caipirinha, but an imitation (some bars list the alternatives as caipiroska—with vodka—or caipirissima when made with rum). But since the general public was not complaining, they got away with it—until now. Read the rest of this entry »