The American Midwest has long been a bastion of craft beer brewing. Chicago’s own Goose Island was at the vanguard of the movement since long before the category took off in earnest (Mark has previously reviewed the core range).
More recently a handful of distilleries have popped up, typically employing the model of selling gin to cross-subsidize the production and maturation of rye and bourbon. Within an hour’s drive of Chicago, one can visit Koval (reviewed here by Jason), Journeyman, CH Distilling, and FEW, the subject of today’s review.
FEW is located in the northern suburb of Evanston, starting up in 2011. Ironically, Evanston was the home of Frances Elizabeth Willard (her initials are the distillery’s eponym), a founder of the Temperance movement. Fortunately, just thirteen years of misery and organized crime were necessary to persuade us Yankees to abandon this madness and return to the tipsy ways of our forefathers.
FEW’s website is full of lofty rhetoric about how their spirits are only for the “few” (see what they’ve done there?) – the climbers of Everest, those who can sequence the human genome, Chuck Norris… But, in the opinion of this reviewer, introducing some radical transparency would truly place FEW among the global elite. The distillery misses a trick in providing relatively little (a.k.a. “no”) information about the source of their grain. In a region with the world’s most productive farmland and plenty of well-known artisanal producers of crops and livestock, I believe there’s room for differentiation here.
I picked up a single cask release for my first experience with this distillery, hoping to isolate some essential components of the spirit being produced by FEW. There’s been no shortage of ink (or its digital equivalent) spilled – on MALT, as elsewhere – about the relative appeal of the single cask, or lack thereof. I see the merit of both sides and have nothing to add to the debate here. Either way, there’s no information provided in this case about cask type or length of maturation. Onward to the review:
This is from a mash bill of 70% rye, 20% corn, and 10% barley, from a single cask hand-picked (aren’t they all hand-picked, or does someone have an artificially intelligent supercomputer scanning the warehouse?) by local booze superstore Binny’s, and bottled at 50.5%.
Few Spirits Rye Single Barrel #15-1546 – review
Color: Light orange with rose glints.
On the nose: Beautiful floral and fruity nose, with aromas of key lime, orange Curaçao, pavlova, and aloe vera. There’s a very subtle rye graininess, an acetone-like topnote, with just a wisp of corny sweetness.
In the mouth: Starts spicy, with some cayenne pepper and Red Hots cinnamon candy flavors. This firms up at midpalate, with the taste of pure, steely rye grain. The whiskey washes across the back of the tongue with the spiciness of Mexican chocolate. There’s a lingering heat through and around the mouth, though this tips over into a slight bitterness on the finish.
Very subtle; understated, but with a lot going on. Warrants attentive sniffing and slow sipping. This balances complexity and purity, with the only nit being the off-key bitter note on the finish. Among the local midwestern ryes I have tried, this bests both Koval and Journeyman by a wide margin. Elegant, and relatively good value at $50. Hopefully, an intended trek up to Evanston for a distillery visit will provide more detail about the raw material components of this very enjoyable dram.
Lead image from Binny’s.