Glassroom: The Q&A blog series with whisky distillers

Few Spirits: Paul Hletko

29 May, 2020

A guy came up to me with a Glencairn glass full of FEW Rye whiskey and told me he hadn’t spoken his father in 30 years, but they meet in Paris and rekindled their relationship over a bottle of FEW whiskey

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

It seemed like a good idea at the time. But there’s also a family element too. Prior to WWII, my grandfather’s family owned a brewery which was confiscated by the Nazis. All my relatives, with the exception of my grandfather were killed in the extermination camps. I wanted to continue the family legacy, but at the time, instead of brewing, I saw a void in the market for Bourbon & rye whiskey, so I thought I would start a distillery.

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

FEW is a small distillery, and the fact that is located in Evanston, the home of Temperance Movement of the 1800s in the Midwest, and that I was very instrumental in having those laws overturned, provides our distillery with a unique character.  We are also a grain to bottle distillery, and put no restrictions on the creativity in  our mash bills, ingredients or distilling techniques.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

Well, if something is really a secret, then I can’t really tell you, now can I? One thing we do is make our whiskey in the fermenters than in the barrel.  We take a brewer’s approach to making our mash.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

The rise & flows of personal tastes over the past 20-30 years towards fuller flavors. Plus, the rise of craft beers and shows like “Mad Men” making it culturally popular. Some folks may also follow the example of their elders, prior generations or bosses at work. Some just to be different.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

HR = finding good people is incredibly hard.

Also, the fact that you learn lessons every day, and the hard lessons are the ones that you don’t forget.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

The rise of the handcrafted whiskey distilleries and the response of the big guys, mainly copying the little guys.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

The stories that really stick with me are the ones where folks come up to me, tell me that they shared a bottle of FEW with their wife one night, and then 9 months later had a kid!  Or the time a guy came up to me with a Glencairn glass full of FEW Rye whiskey and told me he hadn’t spoken his father in 30 years, but they meet in Paris and rekindled their relationship over a bottle of FEW whiskey. It has been amazing the range of people I have gotten to meet from politicians to rock stars to legends in the drink industry (and Marty Duffy).

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

I think it is a really tough moment right now, and it is hard to know what it will all look like when this is all over.

What the impact will be on the 3-tier system in some states, that will have a major impact on the entire drink industry.

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

Going to be a whole lot of change, though it will grow and find new fans. Right now, people might be stocking up on the big handled bottles of whiskey brands, but after the lockdown is done people will go after the higher end, better quality whiskey that they were used to.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

I think the Glencairn Glass is a super important part of the industry and that it is the best glass I have ever used. 

It is iconic! It’s the glass I would want to be drinking from at home because it is the glass that the professionals use.

Sure, I went catting with other glasses in the past, but they never measure up to the Glencairn Glass. Also, they are super affordable.

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