The quantity of distilleries in and around Chicago should be starting to impress even the most jaded of MALT’s readers. Without trying very hard, I have been able to try and review offerings from Chicago Distilling, FEW, J. Henry & Sons, Journeyman, Oppidan, and Quincy Street, with Koval covered by Jason here. Far from shabby, for a city not historically known for its (lawful) distilling. Moving on down my list, today we check in with Fox River Distilling Company.
Fox River Distilling Company is located in Geneva, Illinois, about an hour due west of Chicago, where it has been operating since 2014. Their product portfolio contains gin, bourbon, straight bourbon, vodka, limoncello, and moonshine. The company’s website is long on tall tales (plucky merchants from the 1800’s, financial malfeasance, and suicide on a train), and short on details about whiskey making. We all missed their Ugly Christmas Sweater party on December 8th, I’m afraid.
Like Mark, I am flummoxed by the lack of hard facts that smaller distilleries provide publicly about what goes into making the liquid in the bottle. To mount my soap box for a moment, I’d like to entreat all the craft and artisan distillers thus: more is more, as far as details go. Everyone who will buy your product is going out of their way to support you, in all your provincial quirkiness and idiosyncrasy. Embrace it and – by extension – embrace us, your customers.
Tell us about mash bills, yeast strains, fermentation times, still capacity, lyne arm configuration, barrel size and char level, and maturation periods. Better yet, tell us why these matter! Are you taking a bit more of a head cut to capture the light and estery nuances, or are you emphasizing a bit more of the tails to get some earthier notes? Did you experiment with smaller barrels and find that the whiskey was over-extracted, with oppressive oak? If you believe in the quality of what is in the bottle, then help us appreciate it through some education about your philosophy and process.
Because I genuinely do care (and assume, I hope not incorrectly, that the MALT readership cares as well), and because I wanted to show up that lazy sod Mark, I emailed Fox River Distillery to interrogate them about all of the above. They didn’t respond, so I followed up with a tweet. Frustratingly, still no response. I’ll take a page out of Mark’s playbook and reserve this section for revised details, if they ever get back to me.
This Straight Bourbon Whiskey is aged “a minimum of two years” and non-chill filtered. Barrel #1, Bottle #55, 45% ABV. The label on this is seriously lo-fi, appearing to have been made on an inkjet printer. Fortunately for Fox River, MALT does not have an allocation to style points in the scoring system. I paid $55 for a 750 ml.
Fox River Distilling Company Bennett Mill Single Barrel Straight Bourbon
Color: River-drenched fox.
On the nose: Strawberry shortcake, white pepper and a gentle, almost airy touch of vanilla. Floral perfume and acacia. Sweet notes from the corn dance with steely and spicy notes from the rye.
In the mouth: Starts with an exceedingly subtle pinch of nutmeg. This is very light bodied through the midpalate, almost disappearing at moments. Finishes medium-long, with flavors of candied red fruit, apple cider, Big Red chewing gum, and the most ephemeral hints of cardamom and cumin.
Some pleasant aromas and flavors with no off notes, but also lacking in “oomph.” It’s made in a very delicate style (I dub thee “Breakfast Bourbon”) which allows some gently spicy nuances to emerge, but ultimately leaves me wanting more. Nothing wrong with this per se, but at $55 I am not a repeat customer given the other local Straight Bourbon Whiskey options on the shelf.
Lead image from Fox River Distilling.