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Few Spirits Rye Single Barrel #15-1546

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 a blend of rye and corn whiskey, 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.

Conclusions

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.

Score: 7/10

Lead image from Binny’s.

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      CJM: Thanks for reading! I had also overlook FEW until this review. As you can probably tell, I thought highly of the product and will likely be a repeat customer. As a general rule, I’m a big believer supporting one’s local scene. I’ll endeavor to keep augmenting the MALT coverage of our hometown distilleries. Watch this space…

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Carl, thanks for the compliment, and the curiosity! I’m also interested in more details about this one – the bitterness was like a somewhat woody astringency, which could have been imparted by the barrel. As noted in the review, I’m keen to engage with the folks at FEW to find out more about their barley sources, distilling process, and cask selection. Hopefully that will clear things up. Will report back as I learn more.

  1. Roger Moore says:

    Taylor, where have you been all my life? You’ve provided a rich, thoughtful review here. Thank you! More from you, please.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Roger – cheers! I’d suggest serving this one neat, though whether you shake or stir it is up to you! Thanks so much for the kind words.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Matt, thanks much for the generous praise. I’ve tried Bourbon, Rye, and Four Grain from Koval. I liked Four Grain the best of the three, but this FEW rye was on another level up from that. Excellent concentration of flavors- maybe just a bit less intensity than a Willett single cask rye, if you’ve ever had one? In any case, will try to revisit some of the Koval malts in the future. Thanks again!

  2. Welsh Toro says:

    Wow, a popular review this one. I bought a bottle a few years ago and enjoyed it but like a pudding I made no notes. I have some recollection though. We’re all looking for the rye that’s just a bit better aren’t we? Bitterness on the finish is…ummm, kind of par for the course it seems. I’m not convinced rye gets beyond a certain level of excellence in my experience. If I was less inquisitive I’d buy another bottle.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Welsh Toro – thanks for the comments. I’ve actually found rye to often have a finish of cracked black peppercorns, which I like. Again, the slight bitterness on this one didn’t totally mar the experience; more a case of me picking a minor nit. The best rye recommendation I can give you is the Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Years Old (47.8%). Probably the second-best whisky I have ever had, after the life-altering Hibiki 30 year old. Really superb stuff. Bottles are probably out of reach for us working stiffs, but I found a glass for $50. It was a splurge at a friend’s bachelor party, and I haven’t regretted it since the first sip. For those of you Chicago folks (and there do appear to be a few around, judging by the comments here)- the barman at Blackbird has a few of the Van Winkle bourbons and ryes behind the counter, and charitably sells pours for way less than he could. Thanks again for the comments. Keep ’em coming!

  3. DRR says:

    Great review, I’ve bought a couple bottles of FEW bourbon over the years and have really liked them, but have never tried the Rye. Great stuff, especially at that price point. Totally agree that it would be great for Midwestern distilleries to take a little more pride and provide more transparency into their use of local grains. Will definitely check this bottle out though.

  4. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    DRR: thanks for the kind words! I’ll look forward to trying some FEW bourbon, on your recommendation. And yes, agree completely re: the Midwest. We may not have peat or mizunara oak, but man oh man can we farm! Looking forward to a day when what gets grown amd distilled garners as much attention (from both producers and consumers) as the cask wood and the marketing stories. Thanks again!

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Thank you, Anil, for the positive feedback! Reading this isn’t half as enjoyable as actually drinking the stuff- look for a bottle, if you can!

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