Rock and Rye? FEW Spirits and The Flaming Lips Combine to Create a Special Whiskey
If you know anything about the world of rock, you know that hard partying and music have always gone hand in hand. Many famous musicians endorsed spirits brands and a few even own their own. Las Vegas crooner Frank Sinatra was even buried with a bottle of his beloved Jack Daniel’s.
Recently, Evanston, Illinois’ FEW Spirits collaborated with iconic singer Wayne Coyne and his band The Flaming Lips to create a unique rye whiskey. They called it Brainville Rye, named after The Flaming Lips song of the same name. It’s a rye whiskey made from a mash of 70 percent rye, 20 percent corn and 10 percent malted barley, most of it grown within about 150 miles of the distillery, and aged in new American oak barrels.
“As with FEW’s flagship rye, it’s fermented using a French wine yeast from the Loire Valley, which adds a lot of fruity flavors you don’t normally find in rye whiskey,” says FEW Distillery founder and distiller Paul Hletko. “We blended together a set of barrels with an eye toward creating a unique flavor profile that’s fairly different from our usual rye.”
Justin Helton from Status Serigraph, along with his manager, Anna Keister of Forza Rights MGMT, put the whole project together. “Justin has been a long-time fan of The Flaming Lips and wanted to do something truly special for them,” says Hletko.
Helton is a pretty well-known artist—most of his stuff is sold as signed and numbered limited edition. They spent a lot of time looking for the right partner. “Anna spoke with several distilleries before us, but when they tasted our product and heard about my own past in the music business, they knew they’d found the right guy.” FEW had no connection at all to the Lips before this. “Besides my being a fan of their music, of course,” says Hletko.
Coyne trusted their expertise for the actual whiskey-making and he put his stamp of approval on the label. “If he didn’t like it, there wouldn’t be a Brainville Rye,” says Hletko, adding, “We actually played Flaming Lips songs to the barrels that went into Brainville, so Wayne did have some influence on the flavor in that way.”
Coyne and the rest of the Lips will have a larger role as Brainville rolls out into the market this fall. “We’re still finalizing our plans, but the band will definitely be autographing a bunch of bottles, and we’re trying to set up some kind of event/appearance with them at the distillery or a local liquor store when their tour comes through Chicago in September.” Brainville will be available throughout the Lips’ tour, and they’re working on creating a VIP experience with the whiskey on the road with the band.
The Brainville label was designed to combine the aesthetics of the Flaming Lips and FEW Spirits really well. “It’s shaped just like our normal labels, which goes well with our distinctive rectangular bottles, right down to the little strip that goes over the cork, but the colors and psychedelic images are right out of a Flaming Lips stage show.” He adds, “It really stands out on the shelf or the bar.”
The worlds of music and whiskey mix together in a personal way for Hletko. “Before I went into distilling, I had a music career of my own: I played lead guitar in a band called BerBer that had a bit of local success here in Chicago and played at CMJ back in the ’90s, and I also had my own record label and guitar effects pedal company.” Neither of those projects ended up panning out, but Hletko says if they had, he wouldn’t be making spirits today. “Music is still an important part of my life—there’s always something good playing at the distillery when I’m there.”
Brainville Rye, limited to 5,000 bottles and bottled at 80 proof, will be available in October for around $125 a bottle.