December 1, 2014

Letherbee is a Chicago-based distillery. The goal was just to make some good booze. Bartender Brenton Engel was cooking up his own moonshine and the hooch gained cult popularity to the point that he was inspired to start Letherbee—an independent artisan distillery. The signature concoction would be a distinctive yet versatile gin, made from a recipe developed by Brent and fine tuned based on feedback from colleagues through the Chicago bar scene.

Without any influence from outside investors, the team of bartenders at Letherbee now bottles a range of craft botanical spirits, including the aforementioned flagship gin, seasonal variants released semi­annually, barrel­aged absinthe, fernet, and bësk–based on a recipe developed by cohort Robert Haynes. Across the board, Letherbee spirits are made for “wellness”—not only to enliven the discerning drinker but to stock the arsenal of the professional bartender.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. My name is Brenton Engel and I own and operate Letherbee Distillers in Chicago, IL. At Letherbee, we make boutique botanical booze.

Top 3 favorite or most visited websites and why?­ escapism.­ sense of community.­ supplies.

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How has living in Chicago affected your work? Chicago is a hotbed for culinary arts and, some would argue, one of the best cities in the U.S. for the pastime of drinking. It’s a wonderful place. The folks in the food, drink, & hospitality industry here are passionate, talented, and inspiring to work beside.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? The zen of perpetually improving the products and processes. Also, building the business in a way that is considerate of the product chain’s entire ecosystem ­ mainly trying to make everyone involved as satisfied as possible, from my vendors to the end customer.

Photo by Clayton Hauck for Letherbee

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? We just released our 2014 Autumnal Gin that is our semi­annual one­off for the Fall & Winter. And I just started working with a set of ingredients that have never really been utilized in the booze world. So, maybe something good will come out of it, maybe not.

If you were a drink what drink would you be? Corn­based moonshine.

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How did your interest in your work begin? I found my first love in a bottle. So, I began making moonshine. Then as I started to bartend, I fell in love with gin and all things bitter and botanical.

Who would you ideally like to collaborate with? Iggy Pop. Oh, in the booze world?… The Carthusian Monks that make Chartreuse.

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How long have you lived in Chicago and what brought you there? I came to Chicago for school. Stayed for my punk band. And am paying my bills by doing what I’ve come to love dearly. Who would have ever thought? Five years ago,I would have guessed that I’d be scraping by in a van with three other stinky guys playing at rock clubs.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after experiencing your work? “I’ll have another!”

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What’s your absolute favorite place in the city/the world to be? In the city, ­seeing The Devil in a Woodpile (band) at The Hideout. In the world, ­the cabin in the woods that my friends and I scrapped together as teenagers.

What are you really excited about right now? Renewable energy, Google’s self-­driving cars, Tesla’s electric cars. I can envision a clean, traffic jam­less world! Also, 3­D printing and it’s potential to completely revolutionize Industrial Production as we know it. But first, we need the citizens of the world to take back political power from profit­ obsessed corporations. Even if we lived in a pristine, sustainable world, it would suck to be a slave in a dual­ class society.We can try to make heaven, or we can make the Death Star.

Clayton Hauck for Letherbee

Most embarrassing moment? Being cripplingly hungover.

What were you like in high school? Rebellious as hell because I was a hormonal adolescent desperate to break out of the small-minded, monoculture, tiny farm town I grew up in. School was easy. I made very good grades just to show everyone that I had conviction in my belief that it was all a joke. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I want to some day move back to the farm.

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Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? The best thing is when my products are used by professional bartenders who make great drinks. The worst reaction is apathy. I’d rather someone feel hatred for it than nothing at all.