How Steven Grasse Went from Mad Man to Distiller and Never Looked Back
“I hate advertising and I hate everyone in it,” Steven Grasse, 52, says.
When asked about the early stages of his career, it felt as though he was reliving some intense trauma. As a former ad-man and current small-batch liquor proprietor, Grasse couldn’t wait to be his own boss. At 23, he founded his own agency, then Gyro Worldwide, now Quaker City Mercantile, sparking an earth-shaking, two decades of evidently unsatisfying, advertising magic.
“Once you get the account, you start losing it right away,” he laments. “It’s like renovating an apartment you don’t own.”
At the helm of his agency, he sought permanence, investing in nearly invisible companies and pulling new ones out of thin air. Whether he was transforming Puma into a worldwide brand or revitalizing New England’s historic beer darling, Narragansett, Grasse was a force to be reckoned with.
“I was most appreciative of his passion for rejecting the status quo,” says Lindsay Prociw, Category Director of Mixable Spirits at William Grant & Sons. As the Director of Innovation, she worked tirelessly with Grasse to put Hendrick’s Gin on the map. “His long history and experience [with Hendrick’s], combined with his thirst for staying modern and relevant in his interests…has made him someone I often go to directly for [perspective].”
William Grant & Sons, needing a new gin and rum to add to its roster, approached Grasse. His rock ‘n roll sensibilities led to the rise of the whimsical Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. Grasse would later churn out Art in the Age, an experimental spirits and lifestyle brand catering to adventurous professional and amateur mixologists alike.
A history buff above all else, Grasse’s love of Transcendentalism and disdain for advertising pushed him all the way into the spirits world. He essentially purchased the town of Tamworth, New Hampshire, lured there by its pure waters and history-steeped streets (Thoreau frequently summered there), and established the Tamworth Distilling. Though initially meeting some pushback from the locals (many of whom were alive during Prohibition), the distillery and its sprawling grounds has drawn many millennials to the rural locale and employed a bevy of local farmers.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” Grasse says. “But then they go home and order everything on Amazon.” He goes on to liken major tech corporations to “modern-day robber barons.” Though Grasse tries to capture the magic of Transcendentalist idols found in nature rather than industrialization, his penchant for pushing the envelope remains steadfast.
With products like Von Humboldt’s Turmeric Cordial and Art in the Age’s Black Trumpet Blueberry Cordial, Tamworth Distillery piques the curiosity of even the most habitual drinkers, but it doesn’t stop there. One of Grasse’s favorite liquors is an Art in the Age Beet Root Vodka which almost tastes like horse manure, so “you know it’s real.” Tamworth distillers are also playing with ideas for fermented goat’s milk which “smells like a dirty sock but tastes like perfume.” You know, your dream drink.
Make no mistake, Tamworth is Grasse’s baby (an Arkansas satellite is still gestating). Utterly committed to his vision and supporting the town it resides in, Grasse is primarily interested in the happiness of the individual. Whether that’s just him, Tamworth residents, or fans of his niche alcohol, you can be sure of one thing:
“It’s not for sale.”
Berry Basil Gimlet
- 2 oz Art in the Age Black Trumpet Blueberry
- 1 oz gin
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz honey
- Fresh basil leaves
Method: Muddle honey, basil, and lime juice in cocktail shaker. Add ice, gin and AITA Black Trumpet Blueberry and shake. Strain into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with a basil leaf.