Located in Evanston, Illinois on the north side of Chicago, FEW Spirits has been catching the eye of bourbon drinkers and investors alike. Recently, industry behemoth Heaven Hill announced the acquisition of Samson & Surrey, which includes the Widow Jane American Whiskey, Tequila Ocho, FEW Spirits, Brenne French Whisky, Bluecoat Gin, and Mezcal Vago brands. Let's see if my acquisition of this bottle of FEW Bottled-in-Bond was an equally shrewd investment.
The FEW Story
Evanston offers a unique location for a distillery. In the 1890s it was home to many small brewers and distillers. Evanston, also, was a key part of America's temperance movement. While Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Evanston remained dry until the 1970s.
Founded by Paul Hletko in 2011, the distillery sought to return to its roots with great pre-Prohibition style whiskey. The spirit industry is in Hletko's blood. His grandfather owned a major brewery in the Czech Republic until it was seized by Germany during the 1938 invasion. Following the war, his grandfather tried unsuccessfully to restart the family business.
It was this perseverance and determination that drove Hletko to continue the legacy. Paul located a back alley location and began craft-distilling their award-winning products in 2011. While he speaks affectionately that their products are produced for the few, by the few, the name really draws from deeper roots.
Coincidentally, Evanston was where Frances Elizabeth Willard ran her operations as a suffragist and president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union for more than two decades until her death in 1898. While there are plenty of whiskeys named after distillers, bootleggers or scrupulous treasury agents, surely one wouldn't name a distilling company after a temperance advocate's initials? Or would they?
The distilled products are aged in barrels ranging in size from 5 to 53 gallons. While smaller barrels can age products quicker, their flavors aren't always the best. Hletko serves as the Master Distiller and Blender to arrive at the finished product. Today, FEW produces gin in addition to several whiskeys, bourbon, rye, single malt, and an American Whiskey.
FEW bourbons are packaged in a thick, squat, rectangular bottle. The labels on the whiskey varieties highlight uniquely Chicago artwork, including a series of woodcut prints from the 1893 Colombian Exposition.
This release was designed to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the Bottled-in-Bond Act. As such, we're assured that this product is from the same distilling season by the same distiller at the same distillery, has been aged at least 4 years, has had nothing added or changed other than filtration and proofing, and has been proofed to exactly 100-proof.
The mash bill is 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley and is aged in #3 charred barrels. From the website, we're told to expect the beloved spice of FEW Straight Bourbon, with cherry, smoked vanilla, oak, and caramel undertones. Purchase price at a regional liquor store was $39.
Eye: Medium amber copper with thin, drippy legs displayed on the inside of the Glencairn glass.
Nose: Classic vanilla notes mingled with a Cherry Tootsie-Pop. There are some light smokey notes - not like a campfire - more like the savoriness of a smokehouse.
Palate: Vanilla and sweet cherry pie filling with cinnamon.
Finish: Medium-long with sweet tones turning to tobacco and toasted oak, and ending with a dry spice.
Overall: I purchased this bottle at a regional liquor store. I mentioned this bourbon (though not by name) in an article highlighting the 125th anniversary of the Bottled-in-Bond Act. In the article, I highlighted why the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 still had relevance today.
I've read some good things about the FEW Distillery and their craft products. While I saw the regular bourbon, I dropped a couple extra dollars for the Bottled-in-Bond anniversary release. And I'm glad I did.
At about $40, this was a good, craft bourbon that's been aged at least 4 years. It was without youthful, corn-forward notes, and the balanced array of sweet and savory flavors ensured it had spent an adequate amount of time in the barrel.
I raise my glass to Paul and the crew at FEW. I'm looking forward to trying other expressions as you continue to bring distilling to the North Shore.