Previously here at Thirty One Whiskey, we reviewed the bourbon, rye whiskey, and American gin from Chicago-based Few Spirits. Now, they’ve taken their American gin and given it the bourbon treatment by throwing it in a charred oak barrel for a few months, and we were naturally curious about the results. Do you end up with a botanical whiskey? Does it still maintain the familiar notes of a gin? Let’s see what happens when a gin and an oak barrel make a baby.
Evanston, located just north of Chicago, was the birthplace of the temperance movement that spawned Prohibition in the United States. For nearly a century following the end of prohibition the city continued to maintain some of the most restrictive laws regarding the sale and consumption of spirits, but all of that started changing in 2001.
Paul Hletko didn’t start out in the distillery business. Engineer, patent attorney, and rock and roll band member, Paul took a rather unconventional route to the whiskey business. According to Paul, the biggest inspiration for his turn to distilled spirits came from his grandfather, who owned a large brewery in Poland prior to the outbreak of World War II. Paul’s grandfather was forced to flee the country and spent the rest of his life unsuccessfully fighting to get it back. That determination and love for alcoholic beverages was a family tradition Paul wanted to continue.
Between 2001 and 2011, Paul was instrumental in getting the laws changed in Evanston to allow for alcohol distribution and production to resume. The path now clear, he opened his very own distillery called Few Spirits dedicated to doing things right: in-house production using local ingredients.
- Learn More: What Is Gin?
Few Spirits’ barrel gin starts as a dry mix of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley (which is a regional variety of barley) – which is the same grain bill as the American gin and, interestingly, pretty much the same grain bill from their bourbon. That grain bill is fermented using a specific form of yeast that’s typically used in the production of saison beer (a typically lighter and crisper form of beer).
During production, this gin uses many botanical elements including juniper, lemon, vanilla, orange peel, and what is most likely a bitter hop. Those are all the components of a traditional gin, the difference that makes this an ‘American gin’ is the proportion in which they are each used. (And with the juniper, the subtext here is “sparingly”.)
This is where the barrel gin takes a left turn from the path of the standard gin, though. Few places this in a charred oak barrel for an undisclosed number of months. The final product is a more complex amber sprit that toes the line between gin and whiskey. As stated on the Few Sprits’ website:
What was once clear, is now complex. Exuding subtle notes of fennel & peppery spices, while a smoky smoothness from the charred barrel permeates the juniper, this barred-aged spirit tastes like gin, but has the maturity of a bourbon.https://www.fewspirits.com/products/
It feels like the bottle is designed to pair perfectly with the classic Chicago skyline. It’s neo-gothic structures that bring you straight back to the turn of the century Chicago, and the front is adorned with the “Chicago Wheel” – the original Ferris wheel built for the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition – an icon shared with the Few Spirits’ American gin, which is a great tie-in to a shared foundation. This image is askew by about 90 degrees, and features a view down the midway of the Exposition with wheel looming large at the end.
The bottle is rectangular with flat sides, a sharply tapering shoulder, and a short neck. On the front and back of the bottle are full size labels in the same style of the 1890’s with monotone green printing and old fashioned type face. The label isn’t too busy or over stated, but instead has just enough artwork to make it an interesting look at Chicago’s history
I’m am a fan of labels that pop while sitting on a bar back, and this does just that. The large label may hide some of the spirit, but the amber color in a bottle labeled gin is sure to catch some eyes.
I was not sure what to expect with my first sip. The most prominent smell is the peppery, woody, scent that comes directly from the barrel aging. It’s followed quickly by a strong vanilla and a bouquet of other botanicals. As was true with the American gin, the juniper is several layers deep. It hardly resembles a gin.
After my first sip, I almost forgot that this started life as a gin — it tastes more like a very young bourbon. There is a sweet vanilla start that builds to a slightly peppery flavor, and layered beneath that are the lemon and botanical notes.
This is an incredibly complex spirit that dances between a gin and a whiskey.
I was worried that the barrel gin would lose its identity on ice. So many of the flavors are lighter, more delicate — and as we all know, ice often dilutes and kills delicate flavors. And, sure enough, the woody and earthy smell mellow out to almost non-existent. The same happens to the lemon and botanicals. In fact, there is very little smell at all coming off of my glass.
Nearly all of the expected flavors are gone – no vanilla, no pepper, no juniper. Surprisingly, though, the lemon is intensified when this is served on ice. Its very smooth and mellow, and almost tastes like you’re drinking a flat vodka soda with lemon.
At this point, I was perplexed and not all at sure what to expect with this barrel gin Negroni. During the review of Few’s American gin, the spirit couldn’t stand up to the test of a Negroni, with the bitter Campari taking over the glass. But this is such a different spirit, with its whiskey-like properties, that I genuinely couldn’t predict the outcome here.
And, happily, this barrel gin Negroni is nothing like the American gin version. This makes a delicious drink. Just like it did on ice, the lemon comes to the forefront and is a great balance with the sweetness of the vermouth and the bitterness of the Campari. It’s light, flavorful, and balanced.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Since this spirit straddles the line between whiskey and gin, I thought I would also try it in a traditional whiskey cocktail. (Why not, right?)
The barrel gin plays the role, but not perfectly. Being a gin, the drink is light and refreshing, but still unmistakably an old fashioned. It’s not the most bold cocktail — the lemon and orange play a leading role here. But surprisingly, the juniper makes a small appearance on the finish.
If you wanted to sit on the beach and sip an old fashioned – this would be the perfect spirit for it.
This is… interesting. It’s not a gin, but it’s not a whiskey. It’s something that lives in between and fluctuates to blend in with the world around it. This is the first barrel gin that I’ve ever had, but it makes me want to try others. This would be a great addition to your home collection if you want something that will surprise the guest that has tried it all.
|Few Spirits Barrel Gin
Produced By: Few SpiritsProduction Location: Illinois, United States
Classification: American Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46.5% ABV
Price: $35.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
Like Dana Carvey, it’s a Master of Disguise