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Wednesday
Jul172013

Hand. Made.

What does handmade mean? Why do we need to specify? Aren't all things made, literally, by hand? ...In reverse order of asking, here are some answers I thought about last night over a wonderful cocktail:

1) NO. Not all things are made by hand. In fact, I find myself avoiding thoughts like these all the time because of just how depressing it is to imagine our world dominated by, at very least, manufactured products created in factories by machines...motivated by profits.  Then, like this website, there's the "virtual world" where I'm not sure anything is made...at all.

 

2) We need to specify when something is handmade to distinguish it from the rest...to describe something as handmade may be its highest compliment. "You see, this _______ wasn't just made...it was handmade and that means..."

3) And what does it mean? Handmade means that someone, somewhere cares more than his or her colleagues, competitors, peers, and neighbors. This maker does it the right way, the old-fashioned way...and, if the maker cares more about what it is he is making...well, then, it follows that he cares more about you, the ultimate consumer and appreciator of his handmade wares.

This past Monday I took a field trip with some dear friends to Hudson Distillery in Gardiner New York. At our little Shop, The Wise Old Dog, where we do stamp each shopping bag by hand, but arguably don't really make anything at all, we've been offering Hudson's beautiful whiskey essentially since we opened. Shaking the hands of the men who make one of my favorite spirits we offer was, in a nutshell, an honor and an inspiration.

It's no secret that the story of Hudson Whiskey is charming. And, indeed, timing is everything...or is it? Hudson Whiskey was born out of a Plan B: the owners originally wanted to build a rock-climber's ranch on this bucolic Upstate New York property. When the neighbors gave them hell, they dreamt bigger and a few years later, released their very first whiskey. They haven't looked back since. How delicious is that?!

Walking the relatively modest grounds of the distillery reminded me that somewhere in my heart, and certainly on my taste buds, every time I take a sip of something handmade, I feel very different from the other times when I indulge in, say, a Diet Coke. Your local bottle shop's shelves are likely lined with a true range of "products" (a word I dislike with the same fervor with which I love the word "handmade"), that include labels, or stories, or promises of personal involvement. We see words like "small batch" and printed labels designed to look like someone's handwriting...

Well, there in the basement of Hudson distillery, I saw a man take a bottle off of a hand-crank labeling machine, pick up a red Sharpie marker, and sign off that this bottle...this particular bottle met his standards and reflected his distillery's mission to truly make something special even if the process took a little too long, cost a little too much money, and in the end didn't look like any of the other "products" on the shelf... For handmade means unique. And when I sit down at the end of a long day of taking care of customers, I want to be taken care of too. When I take pause to pull a favorite glass down from the shelf, and bottles off of my bar, and mix up that evening's cocktail, I feel like the hands that actually made this treat are stepping in to my home and reminding me of a time when everything was made by hand. That may no longer be so, but, it is at Hudson Distillery...and what a uniquely sweet end to my evening...a uniquely caring end that makes me more ready to get up tomorrow morning and go take care of someone else.