Brad Estabrooke is "an ordinary guy with an extraordinary love of distinctive wines and spirits." Frustrated with his day job, he decided to start his own company after reading about newly relaxed regulations for small distilleries. In the summer of 2011, he launched Breuckelen Distilling Company, the first gin distillery in Brookyn since the prohibition. The gin is made with organic grain from the New York area, and flavored with juniper berries, rosemary, lemon, ginger and grapefruit.
This short documentary is the first in a series called Made by Hand, dedicated to exploring independent, artisanal businesses. In an interview below, filmmaker Keith Ehrlich talks about a growing entrepreneurial spirit among young people who, thanks to the recession, "felt like they had nothing to lose by starting up their own thing."
The Atlantic: What inspired you to pursue this project?
Keith Ehrlich: There wasn't any one specific moment of inspiration for the Made by Hand project, but rather several different experiences in my life that coalesced. For some time, I had been interested in the idea of making a web-based series in which I could explore ways to combine an interest in journalism and portraiture with my love of cinematic storytelling.
The buying patterns of my wife and I changed over the last few years. We were never big consumers, but I think something happened where we both just became much more aware of where the things we purchased came from. We signed up for a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and that changed everything. When you know the name of the farmer who is out in the fields growing your food, a personal connection happens. This extended into other aspects of our lives.
The other thing is that I was tired of reading articles about unemployment rates soaring and a new generation that lacked any reason to believe that they might have security through their work. I felt like I had to do something to try and shift the dialogue. I realized that there was a very direct correlation between the decline of jobs and manufacturing in the U.S. and the rise of young people with an entrepreneurial spirit who felt like they had nothing to lose by starting up their own thing. And that's incredibly exciting. There is something of an infectious spirit to the handmade community. You read about a woman starting a business harvesting bee honey and you think, what can I do? What might I like to try my hand at? So I realized that this was all territory that I had to explore with a camera.
Why is “handmade” an important value for you?
I could probably go on for hours about this. At its core, "handmade" is a term that represents the relationship between the maker and the user of an item. Handmade often means community. It means that something is made with care or mastering of a craft. In Western society, the appreciation for these skill sets has waned, as we've become over-marketed to and developed new tastes for over-consumption. But there seems to be a growing backlash against this. I believe that making things by hand is in our DNA. It's because of the tools that early man created that any of us are even here today, and it's the key to our future. It's imperative that we hold onto the value of this term "handmade," and not let multinational corporations co-opt it for their needs.
How do you choose your subjects? Who will you feature next?
Between word of mouth and spending a good deal of time researching these topics, I've come across a number of makers whose stories I'd like to know more about and share. And the list just keeps growing. In the case of Brad from Breuckelen Distilling Co., I had heard that there was a young guy in my neighborhood who was distilling and bottling gin. I knocked on his door and immediately knew that he'd be the subject of the first film.
Your online store for handmade products adds an interesting dimension to the project. What are your goals for the series?
The Shoppe is just a way for us to curate other people's handwork and wonderful designs. On the most simple level, the aim of Made by Hand project is to tell great stories and inspire other people. Whether it's something as simple as starting a vegetable garden or taking a sewing class, I just want to inspire people to get their hands a little dirty. A group of people with dirty hands becomes a community.