Vices member PAUL HLETKO is the founder of FEW Spirits, a craft distillery located in — of all places — Evanston, Illinois, the birthplace of the Temperance Movement. Fortunately for Hletko (and us), Prohibition ended a long time ago, leaving us free to pursue happiness with any adult beverage we choose.
Since 2011, a great many of us have chosen FEW, whose award-winning whiskies and gins can be found at the finest watering holes from sea to shining sea and beyond. We caught up with Hletko, Gin Magazine’s 2018 World Distiller of the Year, to find out what makes him happy.
Any Vices box items you’ve received recently that you just love?
PH: I love the skull rocks glasses I got a couple months ago, along with a killer bottle of Ilegal Mezcal and an awesome leather messenger bag briefcase. I appreciate the little things, the accessories that I might not go out of my way to buy but really enjoy. I'm also a big fan of the Cigar Box. The fact that it’s quarterly is ideal, as I don't smoke many cigars.
You own a liquor brand and a craft distillery, which sounds like an awful lot of fun. What do you think would most surprise people about your job?
PH:I'm a pretty lucky guy, and love what I do. Making whiskey is a pretty perfect gig for me as it really drives the creative. I get to put liquid art in a bottle every day. We often joke that we're not selling caskets, but then I told that line to a casket salesman who just laughed at me and said I should see his margin. The thing that most people would be surprised by is that it’s an actual job too. It’s not always drinking whiskey with fancy people in fancy bars, as people might imagine. A great deal of my time is spent in emails and looking at spreadsheets and at the back of airplanes in coach. There’s a lot of drudgery to go along with the bits of glamour.
How important is it to you to stay abreast ofthe latest trends in fashion, music, travel, food & drink, etc?
PH: I'm a dorky 50 year-old suburban dad of three teenagers. Latest trends aren't really my thing, but I pay attention to food and drink pretty closely. I’m interested in anything vice-related, whether it’s liquor, or beer, or wine, or cannabis, or psilocybin... I'm watching.
White Sox or Cubs and why?
PH: Go Cubs Go! This coming season will be my twentieth as a Cubs season ticket holder. Why?Well, one of my earliest memories is going to Wrigley Field with my dad and my grandpa, not too long before my grandpa passed. There’s nothing more magical than going to Wrigley with your dad and grandpa. Baseball in Chicago, as in many other cities, is about so much more than the game. It’s about family, and that's why I'm a Cub fan — blood runs Cubbie Blue, and it’s hereditary. And it wasn't too long ago that the Cubs were baseball’s lovable losers. I still haven’t really gotten used to a world where the Cubs are World Series champs. To be clear, though, I would never cheer against the Sox either, unless they’re playing the Cubs. They're still a Chicago team, even if they aren't my #1 team.
You’ve got to live out the rest of your days on the proverbial desert island, and you only get to bring along the makings of one cocktail. What’ll it be and why?
PH: I would bring the makings of a Boulevardier: FEW Rye Whiskey, sweet vermouth and an Italian bitter. I’ve long been a fan of Campari and Aperol, but these days I'm really digging the Leopold Aperitivo and the St. George Americano. And, yes, a Boulevardier is supposed to be bourbon, not rye, but I prefer the drink made with our rye.
Which celebrity do people most often say you look like?
PH: When I was a teenager, I used to get Bono from U2 or Geddy Lee of Rush. I don't think I look like any celebrities anymore though.
What’s your ideal vacation location?
PH: I like to be on a beach or at a pool, with a drink, an umbrella, headphones blasting the Grateful Dead, a great book and, most importantly, my family.