Eighty percent of people initially refuse to taste Paul Hletko’s gin. At least, that’s his estimation.
“People say, ‘Oh, I’m a whiskey drinker. I want to try the whiskey, but please don’t pour me the gin. I don’t like gin,’ ” recalls Hletko, who has been sampling out the first two releases—a gin and a white whiskey—of his new Evanston-based distillery, Few Spirits, at shops like City Provisions. Hletko, a soft-spoken former patent attorney, isn’t going to let anyone off that easy.
“I say, ‘That’s great. This is a different gin. Give it a shot.’ ”
To which he hears: “No, no, no, no, you’re just gonna waste it, you’re just gonna waste it.”
“That’s cool,” Hletki counters. “Try it. Just a taste.”
And though Hletko admits not every single person ends up liking it, “it’s well over nine out of ten.”
What makes this gin different from all others? Well, a lot of things, starting with the fact that it doesn’t fit neatly into any existing category of gin. It’s not a London dry, the most common category, which is made from a neutral spirit and usually has the strong and unmistakable taste of juniper. Hletko replaced some of that juniper with citrus and pepper flavors, and the base spirit is whiskey. As such, Few American Gin is not technically genever, either, which has a malt-whiskey base, though its sweet, grain-forward taste evokes the flavor and texture of that style.
And for the one out of ten who still won’t go near it, Hletko has his white whiskey. “White whiskey has been much hated in the past because it’s either very poorly made and it’s full of distillate by-products, or it’s simple verticals of stuff that’s supposed to be treated differently,” Hletko says. In contrast, Few prides its white whiskey on being “very, very clean” and with a light flavor that comes from a mash and distillation process distinct from the one used for, say, bourbon and rye, which are currently in barrels in a corner of the distillery. “Everyone asks, ‘How long are you aging for?’ ” Hletko says. “And my answer is always: Till it’s ready.” (He’s hoping for November 1.)
Like the white whiskey and the gin, the process of making the bourbon and rye is what Hletko calls “grain to glass.” Unlike many other distilleries, Few mashes and ferments its own alcohol (from grain from a farmer-cooperative in northern Indiana). The local sourcing extends throughout the process, down to growing hops for the gin in Hletko’s backyard and in a patch of grass alongside rail tracks just outside the distillery’s door.
Wait—there are hops in the gin? Yes. Hletko’s been home-brewing beer for 20 years and was inspired by New Holland’s Hopquila (a sort of whiskey-tequila hybrid spirit with pronounced hops character). No wonder this stuff tastes different.
Few American Gin and Few White Whiskey are available citywide by the bottle ($53.95/bottle at City Provisions Delicatessen ) and glass ($8/two-ounce pour at Longman & Eagle). Tours and tastings at Few Spirits (918 Chicago Ave, Evanston; 847-920-8628; email@example.com) are available by appointment.