Art In The Age
It’s not often that something truly original comes along in the world of spirits. It seems nearly every month there’s a new pirate-themed rum or premium vodka crowding the shelf at your favorite watering hole. The folks at Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, however, have bucked the trend and are blazing a trail into uncharted (and delicious) territory.
Headquartered in Philadelphia, Art In The Age looked to Pennsylvania’s colonial past for the inspiration for its first spirit, Root. Based on recipes for the much older, and more potent, predecessor to root beer, Root is a completely organic liquor made from ingredients that were common in early rural America.
Decades after Prohibition and urbanization faded America’s memory of root tea, this colonial favorite can once again be found in bars and pubs around the country.
But as its name would suggest, the story of Art In The Age goes much deeper than organic spirits. When ad man and liquor industry vet Steven Grasse set out to create a product concept that was entirely his own, he was faced with the dilemma of adding to the excess of mass-produced crap already on the market today.
His answer was to attempt to slow everything down, to focus on products of substance and value, and to promote culture rather than marginalize it. Named after the famous essay by 20th century German philosopher Walter Benjamin, Art In The Age also runs a storefront in Old City, Philadelphia that sells handcrafted goods, hosts gallery events and lectures, and holds concerts for up-and-coming musicians.
To the cynics who would say this is nothing more than a ploy to capitalize on the current “handmade” trend, Grasse makes no bones about his desire to turn Art In The Age into a financial success. “I want to be a robber baron,” says Grasse, “But a benign one.”
Grasse wants to prove that there’s nothing wrong with the American model of capitalism, as long as we make smart choices. Just as Walter Benjamin lamented the diminished aura of art in the photographic age, Grasse believes that mass-production has diminished our cultural aura.
As more and more of our possessions, dwellings, and even food come sourced from factories rather than the human hand, our cultural heritage continues to fade away. Whether it’s a bottle of spirits, a t-shirt, or an antique chair, Grasse and Art In The Age want their customers to wonder where products come from, and what the stories behind them are.
As for Grasse, his vision has only grown larger. After purchasing a large estate farm outside Tamworth, New Hampshire (pop. 2,510), he acquired the town’s general store and converted it into a cultural center and artisanal grocery. His next project, though, might be his boldest yet.
He plans to help local farmers free themselves from the vicious cycle of government subsidies by helping them turn their excess grain harvests into mash for organic spirits. One can’t be blamed for considering his goals to be a bit starry-eyed, but Grasse might just be the man crazy enough to pull it all off.