Fearless Friday: Paul Hietko
“That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
― Charles Bukowski,
The emergence of brown liquor has taught me many things in the last two years. Here's three facts:
1. Craft cocktails are positively delicious.
2. Whiskey cocktails have depth + there are dozens of ways to make a great cocktail. Garnishes help.
3. It's okay for a lady to sip on a whiskey...perhaps it even earns you a badge of "coolness."
If there is one thing I am certain of, today's Fearless Friday is a pretty hip one and one that I am confident my husband will read from top to bottom. You see, he has become somewhat of a whiskey connoisseur. Always educating me, I know he'll appreciate today's piece on a local distillery right here in Evanston, IL. Coincidentally, they are killing it in their category, too!
I first learned about Few from one of my clients. It's only fitting that I support this local business...and a booming one at that! Whiskey has returned to its Hay Day. It's a fascinating industry and Chicago houses its favorite child nestled right along the L tracks about 15 minutes from my house. Curious? Meet Paul Hietko of Few Spirits. He's the real deal!
Tell us a little about Few Spirits and the mission of your brand.
FEW Spirits is the first-ever legal alcohol-production facility in Evanston, a city where Prohibition lasted until 1972. Our philosophy is about doing things our own way: Each of our products is unique and unlike other brands on the market. We are a grain-to-glass distillery, which means that we do every step of the process ourselves, fermenting, distilling, aging and bottling in-house, and we try to source our ingredients locally when possible and as close to the source as we can if not. (For example, we grow Cascade hops at the distillery and buy vanilla beans direct from the grower in Madagascar for our American Gin.) We are one of the country’s leading craft distilleries and have been making award-winning whiskies, gins and other spirits since 2011. I also serve as president of the American Craft Spirits Association and help give a voice to the craft spirits industry as a whole.
1. What was the moment you knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur let alone in the spirits industry?
Before World War II, my grandfather’s family owned a large brewery in Czechoslovakia that was seized by the Nazis after the war broke out. He survived the concentration camps and immigrated to the States but was never able to get the brewery back. After he died, I knew I wanted to honor the family legacy but still create something of my own. I’ve always tried to do my own thing (and I have a string of failed businesses to prove it!), which is why I decided to start a distillery. Well, that and because I love whiskey.
2. What was the most difficult moment in launching your brand? How did you get through it?
Honestly, they’re all difficult moments. Running any kind of business is basically just one issue after another you have to deal with, but you just deal with it and take on each thing as it comes.
3. How would you describe a typical day? What's your morning to evening routine?
It’s variable: That’s the joy and the pain of being an entrepreneur. Every day is a bit different. I travel often to meet with distributors, bartenders and fans, but if I’m at the distillery, I’m running the stills, doing finance stuff, paying bills, even talking to reporters. Some days it’s new product development, some days it’s sweeping the floor. Honestly, my day is primarily emails and phone calls. It’s not super-glamorous.
4. What’s one thing you learned about yourself in becoming an entrepreneur?
I’m much more courageous than I thought I was.
5. What individuals, tastemakers, celebrities, entrepreneurs, public figures inspire you?
Anybody who chases a dream is inspiring. That can be musicians, general businesspeople, anybody who has the guts to go out there and do what they want to do is admirable.
6. If you weren't in the spirits industry...and could be anything else...what would it be?
It would be this. I’ve tried other things and this is way more fun.
7. What's on your Spotify?
In the last 24 hours: Soundgarden, Nirvana, I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats, Chuck Berry and a lot of Grateful Dead. I’m a bit of a Deadhead.
8. What’s your vice? Everyone has one...wine, chocolate, This is Us?
Whiskey. Besides the stuff I make, I mean. I’ve got a whole room in my basement of whiskies from around the world.
9. Wine or classic cocktail?
Cocktail, obviously. I’m drinking a lot of Negronis lately.
10. What’s the best career advice you ever received?
Work hard. The harder you work, the more lucky you get.
11. 5 must-have apps that you need in your life to function?
Calendar and email first of all. I know they’re a boring choice, but they’re pretty much my entire life.
Next would be a business card scanner. I meet a lot of people and need to keep track of a ton of contacts. Then Hootsuite: I run all the FEW social media accounts, and this lets me manage them in one place. And for #5, the airline apps. I travel a LOT.
12. Bonus question - What's next for Few Spirits + Distillery?
Continuing to grow production and sales. We want to continue to be the industry leader we’ve become over the last few years.
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