When FEW started production on April 30th 2011 it was the first time alcohol had ever been produced legally in Paul’s town of Evanston, Illinois – the home of prohibition.
The town’s most famous resident, Francis Elizabeth Willard, was the second person to head up the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which petitioned for prohibition in the States.
Evanston remained dry long after prohibition. The city got its first and only liquor store in the 1980s but even now the city has no bars just restaurants.
It took three long years for a distillers licence to be approved in the town. Something Paul pursued because it seems distilling is in the blood. Prior to WWII Paul’s Grandfather Al had a family business brewing in what is now known as the Czech Republic. When Hitler invaded the business was taken from the family and Paul’s Grandfather spent the rest of his days trying to get the business back, but sadly never did. After he died in 2008, Paul decided to continue the family legacy but do something different and so FEW was born.
Everything about FEW speaks of where it’s from and what it’s about. All the imagery on the bottles is from the 1893 Chicago World Fair, which is Paul’s way of saying Chicago without using the word Chicago. The name implies the right kind of things about the business, small, exclusive and there’s not much of it (this is very small batch production). What’s more F.E.W. is the initials of the most famous resident of Illinois one Francis Elizabeth Willard. There is a certain poetic justice to the fact the woman who spearheaded the temperance movement and fought so hard for Prohibition should be immortalised by a distillery just a mile south of her one time home.
Not only that, Paul has named one of the stills in her honour. FEW has two stills both named after the personality and characteristics of key people in FEW’s history; Francis and Al, (Paul’s Grandfather).
Francis – is prim and proper and a classy lady. As for the still, set it, forget it, she goes on and does her work, you don’t have to bother her. No muss, no fuss, she gets the job done. Al on the other hand, is difficult to deal with and demands a lot of attention, you have to have your hands on him, constantly talk to him, play with all his controls.
So that’s the story behind FEW, now what’s in the glass…
Contrary to popular belief Bourbon can be made anywhere in America, not just Kentucky. Bourbon must be made of 51% corn and be aged in new American oak barrels.
FEW Bourbon is slightly different as it is so very spicy due to the high rye content and the type of yeast used.
It is aged in char 3, American oak barrels, which are sourced from Minnesota, whereas most bourbon barrels are sourced from the warmer, more southerly Missouri. Minnesota has a much shorter growing season, which means its wood has a tighter grain and imparts different characters on the bourbon.
My impression: Sweet with a rich pepper spice, plenty of vanilla and caramel and just a hint of dried fruit, a warm but long finish – well it is 46.5%!
Now to the Rye. Rye it is an expensive grain to purchase as it is low yielding. What’s more it is difficult to work with – ‘a right pain in the ass’ according to Paul. Whereas to mash the corn takes 15 mines or so, rye will take three hours or more. It is really sticky and you need to add it in slow and use a lot of manual labour. Because it is expensive, low yielding and a ‘right pain in the ass’ most distilleries use the legal minimum of 51% rye when making a rye whisky. Paul clearly doesn’t take the path of least resistance in life and decided to make his rye 70% Rye.
By using 70% rye Paul argues he gets all the spice and pepper of rye but also the complexity and depth of flavour of using just 20% corn to add a touch of sweetness and mellow the Rye out.
Yet again, yeast is the key to the flavour composition, with Paul using a yeast more common to red wine production and designed to highlight the fruity esters.
My impression: A beautifully balanced whisky with plenty of pepper and spice but mellowed by a distinct fruity character of apples, plums and banana skin.
FEW American whisky is not trying to reproduce a London Dry Gin style, and why should it, it is American and so it seems only fitting for it to use a whisky base to make its gin.
While Bourbon has a great many very specific rules, the glory of gin according to Paul is that there’s ‘no stinking rules’. The only thing a gin needs to do is taste predominately of juniper, FEW gin takes that with almost as much of a pinch of salt as Hoxton Gin. But while I usually turn my nose up at gins that aren’t juniper dominant there is something really quite good about this more citrus/vanilla focused gin.
The cascade hops that give a grapey fruitiness grow in Paul’s back garden. There are 11 different botanicals in the mix although we’re not privy to what they all are – top secret and all that.
My impression: There is a sweetness and a lovely creamy texture this gin. It has a rich and complex flavour dominated by grapefruit, lemon peel and vanilla with the required nod to juniper softly in the background
FEW Navy Strength Gin
Navy Strength Gin is at least 57% proof which means if it was spilt on gunpowder on board a ship, it would still light – as it is that bloody strong. Gin was included in daily rations of the British Navy for many a year. The fantastic G&T was supposedly first created by a Navy doctor who approved of tonic’s anti-malarial properties and had a ready supply of Navy strength Gin.
This gin was created with an entirely different interpretation of the term ‘taste predominately of juniper’, in that it actually does taste of juniper and it is much more pronounced, dominate even. There are just five botanicals used here and I’m putting myself out there and guessing they are juniper, fennel, orange peel, angelica and liquorice or aniseed. Shoot me down!
It is bloody strong and numbed my lips with just a sip but will no doubt make a damn fine G&T.
My impression: A fiery spirit with a slight sweetness, juniper dominates the palate along with fennel and angelica and hints of liquorice and aniseed.