FEW Spirits: A few quick notes


FEW Spirits, out of the great city of Chicago (well, Evanston, to be exact), has won boatloads of awards and received a good bit of acclaim as one of America’s leading craft distillers. Their rye whiskey was awarded¬†Whisky Advocate‚Äôs Craft Whiskey of the Year in 2013, and their bourbon and barrel-aged gin join the rye with¬†gold medals from the Beverage Testing Institute (if awards are your kinda thing).¬†This spring, FEW expanded their distribution to include Georgia (and a few other states, they’re now up to 20 plus Washington D.C., and¬†a handful of countries outside the U.S.), and sent me a few samples to get to know them better. Having spent a good amount of time in Chicago previously, I was well aware of FEW, but it was good to revisit their four main products.

The coolest thing about FEW is that they really make an effort to keep their production locally rooted – sourcing¬†as much of their grains as possible from within 100 miles of the distillery, where they do all the fermentation, distillation, aging and bottling on-site. They famously grow the Cascade hops used in their American Gin in founder/distiller Paul¬†Hletko‚Äôs own backyard. Herewith, some quick thoughts on their two primary whiskeys (one bourbon, one rye) and two primary gins (one regular, one barrel-aged). The rye, in particular, stands out to me as an excellent craft spirit worth seeking out. Oh, and don’t you love those photos up above? They come courtesy of FEW’s website, which also features a number of cocktail recipes for each spirit when you’re ready to play.

FEW_American_Gin1FEW American Gin
80 proof, Approx. $40 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff* 

Interestingly, FEW’s¬†American Gin is made from a wheated bourbon mash (70% corn, 20% wheat, 10% malted barley), with an intentional focus on the grains. They also include Cascade hops in the botanical blend and whole vanilla beans, plus more typical gin botanicals like juniper, bitter orange and lemon peel. Mild at first, with notes that may have you thinking … “vodka?” … before some interesting hints of green lemongrass and waxy vanilla seep in.¬†Again, it’s mild when you first taste it, but you can pick up the subtle presence of the corn and grains, then a¬†lingering acidic tingle with a juniper base finally jumps in on the lovely finish. This one grew on me and benefits from some air – and will do nicely in cocktails that call for a mild-mannered gin or as an introductory offer to any¬†gin-averse friends.

FEW_Barrel_Gin1FEW Barrel Gin
93 proof, Approx. $50 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff (approaching Excellent)*

FEW’s¬†Barrel Gin actually uses a more neutral base than the American Gin¬†(distilled to a higher proof and thus less grain presence coming through), and is also flavored with different botanicals¬†to better harmonize with the barrel-aging.¬†It goes roughly ¬†6 to 9 months in a combo of new oak and FEW’s¬†used bourbon and rye barrels. With just a whiff, this is much more intriguing¬†than the American Gin, and – to me at least – you get both more of a gin/juniper presence AND the effects of the barrel also emerge in notes of warm sandalwood. Also on the nose, there’s a bit of lemon Pledge (in a good way!) and tropical fruit…¬†think grilled¬†pineapple. Sipping the aged gin also shows a nice layering of flavor, fairly rich and lush, with a lovely waft of floral notes coming in and out. The wood remains in the background, warm but subtle, and again the finish has a nice lingering juniper character that really shines.

FEW_Bourbon_WhiskeyFEW Bourbon Whiskey
93 proof, Approx. $50 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Fair* 

FEW’s bourbon mash bill is 70% corn, 20% rye, 10% ¬†malted barley, and is fermented with a beer yeast that FEW¬†says helps bring out some¬†spice notes. No age statement, but it’s generally between two and three¬†years. Give this a bit of air, too, to fully open up. The nose is quite nice, with some maple syrup, sawdust, and plenty of¬†corn silk and that malt presence. Sipping, though, it comes across very young, in a not entirely pleasant way if you’re not a fan of young whiskies. I have a feeling this would really benefit from another couple years in the barrel, but as it stands, would have a hard time choosing this over much cheaper bourbons from larger distillers.

FEW_Rye_Whiskey1FEW Rye Whiskey
93 proof, Approx. $65 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

The rye mashbill is 70% rye, 20% corn, 10% malted barley, and is fermented with a Loire Valley wine yeast that FEW says brings out fruity notes. The nose on this rye is super interesting,¬†some cinnamon, deep juicy plum, clove and baking spice swirling around in a heady ethereal way. There’s a fascinating richness to it that is almost moving into Port territory. Sipping neat, more complexity still, a deep grape quality, a touch of sharp mint, and a background buzz of Christmas spice that builds on the finish. I’d love to see this one with a bit more barrel time as well (it’s also under four years), but it’s in a great place. My favorite of all the four FEW spirits¬†tasted.

UPDATE (8/18/2015): Someone had asked what FEW’s barrel approach was on the bourbon and rye, so here’s a response from FEW’s PR manager, Jason Horn: “We’re actually using a mix of barrel sizes from quarter-cask up to the standard 53-gallon barrels. Paul blends different size casks of different ages together to get the flavor he’s looking for. In recent years, we’ve been moving toward a higher and higher proportion of the 53-gallon barrels, but it is still a mix.”


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow ‚Äď among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent ‚Äď exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff ‚Äď solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair ‚Äď fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid ‚Äď move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting samples provided by FEW.

Scenes From H&F Bottle Shop, Atlanta

There is joy and there is pain. Joy, in the faces of those who have endeavored to open the doors of a long-awaited bottle shop. Joy, in the faces of those who enter and discover an air of tranquility and character that is not often enough seen in purveyors of wine and spirits. And the pain? It’s there, underneath it all, in the not-yet-filled shelves that know they were destined to bear bourbons, amaros, house made magic. The labyrinth of hurdles that must be traversed to open a store such as this is still somehow shocking in this city that sometimes likes to keep a good thing down. It’s enough to turn a man to drink…

H&F Bottle Shop is open now, stocked with wonderful wines, vermouths, cocktail goods, glassware. The vinyl is playing loud; today it was the Ramones. Greg, Andy, all the familiar faces from Holeman & Finch are there to get things rolling. And in a few more weeks, finally, the whiskey and rye will also grace the shop’s shelves, barring any further hurdles thrown their way. Even today though, it’s clear that H&F Bottle Shop will be something special. From the stunning style present in every little detail, to the artfully chosen selection of wines, to that quirky stack of LPs in the back corner – this is indeed a bottle shop like no other in Atlanta, nor elsewhere for that matter.

We’ll let the photos speak, just crank up some Ramones and sip some farmer fizz as you scroll on through…

H&F Bottle Shop
2357 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30305

Thirsty Reading: Boozehound, by Jason Wilson

See this book? The one with the multitude of darkly enticing bottles and casks on the cover? This is a dangerous book. A book that will cost you dearly. A book that will drive you to drink. A book that just may turn you off vodka forever (OK, that last part is not so dangerous).

Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson is dangerous not because of its somewhat subversive stories of what constitutes a good drink, but rather because it will likely compel any fan of spirits and cocktails into the dangerous realm of obsession that the author clearly occupies. A world where chasing down rare brandies or long forgotten liqueurs is a path to wallet depleting joy and illumination.

Mr. Wilson finds a way of weaving tales that will leave you tipsy and laughing and thirsty for more. The book is literally a tour through some of the world’s great libations, their history, their path through glorious popularity or confounding decline. A jaunt into the agave fields of Mexico juts up against a tale of teenage tippling in suburban New Jersey. Secret formulas of herbs and uncommon ingredients are juxtaposed against the hyperbolic and highly suspect modern marketing “backstories” that seem to come with every new bottle on the liquor store shelf. Cocktail recipes appear at the end of each chapter to entice the mind, to further the already deeply felt urges that the stories implant – WHERE can I track down¬†that rare Calvados, HOW can I live without that Creme de Violette, WHY is my collection of Italian Amari so minuscule???

Beware. Reading Boozehound is dangerous stuff. Now I better get over to the liquor store to pick up my bottles of Dubonnet, Benedictine, Amaro Montenegro, Creme Yvette, Luxardo Maraschino, rhum agricole…