Letherbee Distillers was borne out of Founder Brenton Engel’s Chicago basement. The amateur distiller was making moonshine and sharing it with his friends, in time gaining popularity with the local cocktail scene. Which is impressive because have you tasted moonshine? Fast forward 10 years: Letherbee is a legit operation with a line of spirits and distribution across the USA and Europe. While gin may be the base of everything they do, the rest of their portfolio is equally unique and delicious—including a house made Fernet and their spin on the Chicago favorite, Besk (AKA Malort).
And with that, “Congratulations, Michigan!” Letherbee products are now available in your state. If you’ve ever tried navigating State liquor laws, you’ll know how truly big a feat this is.
We sat down with Brenton to talk origin and inspiration.
CV Henriette: Welcome to Detroit.Tell us about Letherbee. Who are you? How long have you been making spirits?
Brenton Engel: Hi and thanks. My name is Brenton Engel, and I’ve been making booze for 10 years.
CVh: What were you doing before Letherbee?
BE: Moonshining, farming, playing in bands, traveling, bartending.
CVh: Secret career fantasy?
BE: Author. Photographer. Architect.
CVh: If Letherbee could only produce one spirit for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?
BE: The gin. It’s the foundation to everything we do.
CVh: If you could only drink one spirit for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?
BE: Gin, because it’s clean, easy-drinking, and complex. I really do love gin.
CVh: If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?
CVh: You make an aged absinthe. Tell us about that.
BE: Yeah, it’s rad and very unique. The idea was based on the classic flavor combo of Anise and Vanilla. Anise is the main flavor of absinthe and vanilla comes from the oak barrel. We age our absinthe under the same criteria that Bourbon is aged. So, it gives us a chance to really put an ‘American’ stamp on absinthe. We have been growing wormwood with friends of ours (Field & Florist) for a couple years and have now begun using 100% of this wormwood. We’re hoping to make our absinthe available in Michigan next year.
CVh: Speaking of absinthe—will it make me high?
BE: Oh hell yeah. Like, high on alcohol. Like, drunk.
CVh: Will you explain the whole absinthe-wormwood-crazy-high correlation?
BE: The entire thing was fabricated and is blown entirely out of proportion. In the early 1900’s the French wine industry was hurting. Absinthe was popular, and the wine folks used propaganda and government lobbying to get absinthe banned and to restore Wine’s market dominance. Here’s a breakdown: Most absinthe available in the USA is, in fact, authentic. Absinthe is not a drug or poison, and it never was. Thujone is not a hallucinogen, nor is it related to THC or cannabis. And it’s actually not traditional to burn sugar cubes in your absinthe drinking. Read more at the Wormwood Society.
CVh: Favorite cocktail recipe for fall?
BE: Gin and soda with a healthy splash of tonic.
CVh: Question I forgot to ask?
BE: Favorite thing about doing what I do? Making new friends and talking with them about ‘power to the people.’