Friday, November 19, 2010

Play it again, Sam

One of the best lines in the 1942 movie, Casablanca, is this one:

In the very near future, Evanston will have its very own gin joint. In view of the town’s attitude towards alcoholic beverages in the past, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed in Cleveland in 1874. Five years later, an Evanston resident, Francis Willard (who was the first Dean of Women at Northwestern University) became President, and served in that position for 19 years.

Her position as head of the WCTU fit very well with the city’s character, which had outlawed the purchase of alcohol within its borders ever since its founding in 1863. It wasn’t until 1972 that the City Council allowed the sale of liquor in the city’s hotels and restaurants, and Northwestern University finally approved the serving of liquor on campus in 1975, ending a ban on alcohol sales that had remained in place since 1855. The first liquor store in Evanston didn’t open its doors until 1984.

I was recently introduced to Paul Hletko by Brooke Saucier (of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce) at an after hours event at Buffalo Wild Wings (on Maple Street). Paul told me that he planned to open up a store on Chicago Avenue in the near future that would sell both gin and rye whiskey (the original ingredient in the Manhattan cocktail beverage that Winston Churchill's mother commissioned in 1874) which had been produced on site.

In a nod to a time when speakeasies were common in America, the new location is a nondescript building at the end of an alley. Unless you were really looking for it, you’d never suspect that it was there. At this point in time, the site has been secured, but it will take another few months to tie up the loose ends and the balance of the funding. Opening day should be some time in the first quarter of 2011.

Opening a distillery is not for the faint of heart, whether it’s a moonshine distillery in the heart of Kentucky, or a fully legal one in a college town in Illinois.

Paul has been certified as an approved distiller by the American Distilling Institute, but his training is only a small part of the whole puzzle. In order to ensure that the proper taxes are collected, the Federal Government has a rigorous screening process that can consume an enormous amount of time. In the last 2 years or so, he has spent an estimated 150 hours on the application process. Once he is fully eligible at the Federal level, the next step is to apply for state certification.

Both gin and rye whiskey have a long history.

Gin has been consumed since at least the 11th century, when Italian monks added juniper berries to a low grade of alcohol for medicinal purposes. Gin in its current form was first created by a Dutch physician named Franciscus Sylvius in the 17th century.

The origin of rye whiskey is a little murkier, but it IS known that George Washington made it at his home in Mr. Vernon.

At this point in time, there are no local producers of gin, and very few of rye whiskey. For that reason, Paul feels that his new venture should be a good business opportunity. Once he opens his doors, and as time goes by, it should become a popular place

In addition to retail sales of the product produced on site, there will be tasting events a few times each week. Once that happens, I’d recommend that you stop by for a few samples. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

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