There's just something about a truly great whiskey. Paul Hletko, craft-distiller and founder of FEW Spirits started with a mission to create genuinely handcrafted, small-batch spirits that transcend the ordinary taste we’ve all grown accustomed to. Founded in 2008 in Evanston, IL, the heart of the prohibition-era Temperance Movement, FEW is now distributed across 5 continents and in more than 25 countries while keeping the emphasis on high-quality from grain to bottling. I asked him about his story.
The path to becoming a distiller wasn't immediately obvious. Hletko explains, “I got into distillation as a result of a drive to create and make new stuff. All my life, I've tried to be as creative as possible, as that's what gets me excited. I'm a former pro guitar player, former record label owner, former home brewer, former lots of stuff.”
His interest in distillation was ignited by a combination of family history and personal legacy, “when my grandfather died, I realized that I had to do something. Prior to WWII, his family had owned what is now a major brewery in the Czech Republic, but the whole family was murdered in the camps, only my grandfather survived. I wanted to build on this legacy, but do something different and that could be all mine without being in the shadow of a much larger company.”
By all accounts, he seems to be well on his way to eluding that shadow and creating his own legacy. Inc Magazine called FEW one of the 5 Upstart Distillers to Watch and their iconic Chicago World's Fair inspired bottles can be spotted on discerning top-shelves across the country.
Of course, it hasn't all been awards and accolades. Hletko admits there's been moments “ranging from when you spill gallons and gallons of sticky fermented wash all over yourself and the floor to the bizarre circumstances that tend to follow you around in the alcohol business, there's no limit to the opportunities to laugh (or cry).”
As for personal style, it's all about ease and efficiency. Hletko elaborates, “my personal style has evolved as a result of time and comfort. As a distiller, business attire tends to involve safety shoes. As a business, it's a very casual area. I try to keep my grooming easy. Clean and casual. I'm lucky that people don't expect me to have closely cropped business hair or wear suits.”
His advice on finding a great whiskey: “Taste and find what you like. Don't be intimidated or think you have to like what your 'friends' like. There's nothing 'manly' about drinking whiskey any particular way — try it a bunch of ways, and stick with what you like.”
And his own favorite drink? “Either whiskey neat, or a Boulevardier, depending on how I'm feeling!”
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Paul Hletko is the founder and distiller at Few Spirits, a craft distillery located in Evanston, Illinois - the home of Prohibition. Few Spirits produces a variety of spirits, including gin and whiskies. Few Rye Whiskey was named Whisky Advocate Magazine's Craft Whiskey of the Year. Few is featured at some of the best bars in the world, and has shelf space at top retailers everywhere.