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- Brand: FEW
- ABV: 46.5%
This was something of a blind purchase for the sake of hometown loyalty more than any other compelling factor. I’ve lived in or near Chicago all my life, so I felt an obligation to support at least one of the many local craft distilleries launched in the 21st century. These include FEW Spirits, North Shore, Koval, Leatherbee, Tailwinds, Let There Be!, St. George, Quincy Street (and I’m sure I’ve missed some)…at this rate, the Windy City will have more distilleries than Speyside by the time my dog needs his next evening walk.
The FEW Spirits distillery, owned and founded by Paul Hletko, is located in the posh city-adjacent suburb of Evanston (a dry town for more than a century), and was named for Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (1839 – 1898), a leading educator, suffragist, and president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was a major influence in the Prohibitionist movement, even though the 18th Amendment was passed some 21 years after her death. So, yes, the name of the distillery is a bit of tongue-in-cheek irony. (She was a complex woman about whom much good can be said, however, so don’t be too quick to condemn.)
Anyway, back to the whiskey…
I should mention that I’m primarily a Scotch drinker, so I feel a bit out of my comfort zone when I attempt the occasional American whiskey or bourbon review. But I can certainly describe my nose-and-palate experience, even if evaluations may betray my callow naiveté.
The lineup of FEW products includes gin, bourbon, white whiskey, and rye. My bottle of Hendrick’s that I’ve been nursing for nearly two years is all the gin I need. FEW’s bourbon receives “promising, but too young” comments from reviewers. I have little interest in white whiskey. So my choice was the rye, for both the aforementioned reasons as well as my preference for rye over wheated whiskies.
Nose: Like a fresh-opened box of Cracker Jack – or caramel and corn, if you prefer. Interesting that I get such a strong corn aroma, as this whiskey was made entirely from rye grain. There’s also plenty of fruit that emerges after several minutes, mostly apples and honeydew melon. Some sharp, spicy peppers lurk underneath, but they remain subdued by the sweet components. On the downside, there are some rough and woody elements of pure youth. (“Aged less than four years,” according to the label. As the distillery just began production in 2011…um, yeah, that would follow…)
Palate: Even fruitier than the nose. The sweetness runs the gamut from the softness of melons to the tartness of oranges. This is just too over-the-top sweet for my liking. Again, it’s too young and not very well balanced. It’s not a disaster by any means, but it certainly needs more cask time in order to evolve from Sweet Tart candies into grownup confectionary.
The long finish gets things back on track, with a generous blast of spice that almost wipes out the oppressive sweetness. The young, white-wood notes also avail themselves to the same purpose, in that their bitterness provides balance. Add a touch of sour green apple for a very nice denouement.
I wish I could have awarded this whiskey a score in the 90s, as I’m rooting for the good folks at FEW all the way. In their short time on the scene, they’ve earned a reputation as distillers with integrity and purpose. I hope to try FEW again in a few more years, when they may be among the chosen few. (Phew!)