From left, Brenton Engel, Ian Van Veen, and Nathan Ozug. The holding tank in the background at left contains the forthcoming batch of R. Franklin's Original Recipe Malört, a macerated bitter liqueur in the style of Jeppson's Malört.
"Gin for Wellness"
The clean, minimalist labels found on Letherbee gin are the work of designer Cody Hudson, part of the Chicago-based design shop Land & Sea Dept.
A Margarita made with the team's experimental curaçao. The team uses syringes like the one here to periodically extract samples from barrels and holding tanks.
Letherbee's 35-gallon still, manufactured by Jesse Lupo from Trident Welding in St. Albans, Maine.
A shelf laden with herbs, roots, spices, and other aromatics provides the team with an array of flavoring agents with which to experiment.
Spice Rack, Continued
Cacao nibs, sage, and elderberry—part of Letherbee's extensive collection of natural flavorings and aromatics.
Letherbee grinds the botanicals for its gin in-house using a repurposed burr coffee grinder, then uses what are essentially oversized tea bags to impart their flavor on the spirit. The Original Label gin recipe includes juniper, coriander, licorice, almond, fennel, angelica, cardamom, cubeb, lemon, orange, and cinnamon—all seen here in their spent state after the day's production runs.
Jars of moonshine and "cin-shine," a cinnamon-flavored moonshine, sit on a shelf along with numerous one-off experiments, which the team typically creates with a tabletop micro-still, roughly the size of a beach ball.
Violet Hour bartender Robby Haynes told me that Engel did not hesitate to say yes when Haynes approached him with the idea to craft a bitter liqueur akin to Jeppson's Malört, which has an embattled reputation among Chicago drinkers but is beloved by many of its bartenders.
Samples of the new batch of Malört and the barrel-aged gin in progress.
The Beginnings of a Vermouth
Letherbee is in the midst of dabbling in sweet vermouth. Shown here are samples of aromatics steeping in white wine. The team is testing to see how wine extracts flavor in comparison to higher-proof distilled alcohol.
With their backgrounds bartending at cocktail destinations, the team is accustomed to experimenting with homemade tinctures, which concentrate a single flavor—like bitter aloe or root-beery sarsaparilla—in a medium of high-proof alcohol.
An old stereo and speakers sit on a high shelf and often fill the space with music as the guys are working on their next new project.