Whiskey Review: FEW Single Malt Whiskey Finished in Tokaji Barrel

There are certain craft distilleries that just continue to crank out interesting and unique spirits. One of those is FEW Spirits, which has an ever growing catalog of reviews here at Thirty-One Whiskey. (There is even an interesting behind the barrel article with Paul Hletko, the man who founded FEW Spirits back in 2011.) As someone fortunate enough to live in Chicago, I often stumble across some of the more unique bottles from FEW, like this bottle of FEW Single Malt Finished in Tokaji Barrels.



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, Hletko took a rather unconventional route to the whiskey business. According to Hletko, 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. His 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 Hletko wanted to continue.

Between 2001 and 2011, Hletko 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.

The FEW Spirits distillery was founded in 2011 in a small warehouse next to the train tracks and down a side alley in Evanston, Illinois. When asked about the inspiration for the name, Hletko simply responds that it was because “we didn’t make a lot”. They were a small craft distillery operating in the days before craft distilling was a common thing, buying second hand equipment wherever they could find it.


FEW Spirits’ Single Malt Whiskey starts as 100% malted barley. Given the small size of the distillery, FEW Spirits does not mill their grain on site (not to mention, the fine grain powders produced during the milling process create an explosive risk). Malted barley is popular in the production of Scotch, where peat is used to smoke the grain. This smoking is used to stop the germination process by drying it out with hot air. Rather than peat, though, FEW uses cherrywood to smoke their malt — just one more local touch they put on their products.

The grain is mixed with some of Lake Michigan’s finest, cooked into mash, and then fermented in one of the massive tanks in the distillery. For fermentation, a specific form of yeast that’s typically used in the production of Saison beer (a typically lighter and crisper form of beer) is used. This yeast is 100% lab grown to ensure consistency in each batch.

The fermented mash is initially distilled on-site in their column still without first filtering out the grains. Filtering may be common practice at other distilleries, but as the grain is heated some additional flavor can be introduced at the distillation phase. The second distillation is done in a hybrid still before the final distillate is barreled in charred oak barrels, which had previously been used to mature their bourbon. These barrels are then placed in an off-site warehouse to sis for at least one year.

While a standard bottle of FEW Bourbon would be bottled after this aging is complete, this particular variety is then further placed in ex-Royal Tokaji Hungarian Royal Oak barrels for finishing.

Before doing this review, I had never heard of Tokaji, so let’s at least touch on what the heck it is. Tokaji is a Hungarian sweet wine from the Tokaj region along the border of Slovakia and, you guessed it, Hungary. It’s one of several wines from the region that uses grapes infected with noble rot. (Okay… deeper down the rabbit hole we go.  Noble rot is a beneficial fungus that grows on grapes — by timing the harvest just right, the winemaker can use this fungus invested grapes to make a unique sweet wine.) So, in summary, I bought a bottle of whiskey that was finished in a barrel used to age fungus wine… great.


I’ve always liked the FEW packaging, but only recently learned the amount of effort put into their branding. As Hletko says, “people don’t buy liquor — they buy stories”. After some debate, they eventually landed on the 1893 World’s Fair, hosted in Chicago as the recurring motif for their bottles. This was a moment in time that not only saw a monumental amount of rapid change and innovation that they would pay homage to, but it was a place and time with a distinct style in which the folks at FEW Spirits could anchor their product lines. Not everything about this theme is obvious at first glance, and that’s by design: it allows people to discover the story behind the design choices and experience their product themselves, rather than having it spelled out for them.

I love the rectangular bottle. As I tend to have a number of FEW products in my cabinet at any given time, the packing density is great. Plus, this bottle is easy to hold and pour.  And in keeping with the branding’s references to the Chicago World’s Fair, the shape is reminiscent of a deck of Bicycle playing cards –which were introduced at the Fair. (The cards are also a fun inside nod to the “involuntary investments” made by Paul’s friends at the poker table.)

While most of the artwork on the FEW Spirits bottles tend to highlight Chicago landmarks around the time of the world’s fair (for example, the standard bottle of malted whiskey features an early image of the Chicago L, the raised commuter train system in a brown color motif), this bottle features a wine giant cask labeled ‘Tokaji’ overlooking what I can only assume is the Tokaj wine region. It uses the same brown color palate, which keeps it from feeling too different from the base product and other varieties.



For a few years, I lived in Delaware, not too far from the Pennsylvania border. Kennett Square is a small borough just across the PA border – it has the nickname of “Mushroom Capital of the World” because of the mushroom farming in the region, producing over 500 million pounds of edible fungus a year. I bring this up because I can recall a day driving up to Kennett to visit a brewery. It was a beautiful spring day, the kind of day where you have the car windows down as you cruise through the twists and turns of the Delaware Valley. That day left me with the vivid memory the aroma of a mushroom farm — and that’s the best way to describe the nose of this whiskey. There are notes of earthy petrichor and hints of sweet plum, but overwhelmingly that aroma of a mushroom farm. (If you’re curious as to what that means, google it.)

The first sip is not surprising – the most prominent flavor is mushroom. Not the truffle oil that seems to be served on half the menu at any gastropub nowadays, but more of a shitake with a rich umami flavor. 

There are also more standard whiskey flavors also present. The sweetness seems to come with the fruit notes — most notably plum — and there is a rich baking spice and black pepper. The whiskey is slightly woody but with a very mild sour twinge to it, and the finish has a minor heat to it.

From start to finish, the mushroom flavor permeates the entire whiskey. I actually find it very enjoyable — it’s definitely unique, and I do not know if I could drink more than one in an evening… but if you decide to sip on this neat, you better like mushrooms.

On Ice

We often find that ice can shave down some of the harsher flavors in a whiskey, like rocks in a tumbler. 

In this case, the mushroom flavor is still there, and is still the primary flavor. That said, it’s been mellowed out compared to how we found it when taken neat.

The ice causes that umami from the mushroom to taste buttery. Almost like it’s been sauteed to be placed on a juicy cheeseburger (hopefully with some Swiss cheese).  And the sweetness seems to have been enhanced — it’s still very fruit forward, with the plum still there alongside some added sweetness from white grapes. The mild sour notes are still present, but more subdued.

If the mushroom Swiss cheeseburger wasn’t enough of a hint, the whole experience here is a very rich whiskey. Similar to drinking this neat, it’s unique and quite good. However, it would be hard to drink more than one glass in a sitting.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

The Marble Room Steakhouse in Cleveland offers a Truffle Old Fashioned. It is made with ‘Truffled’ Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Crème de Cocoa, Orange Bitters, and Demerara. The old fashioned I made with this bottle of FEW Spirits Single Malt Whiskey finished in Tokaji barrels produces nearly the same cocktail. It’s a ‘truffled’ old fashioned.

The first thing that I notice is that the ingredients all compliant each other well. The sugar and bitters play well with the rich umami flavors by bringing sweetness and bitterness to the party. It’s excellent if you are looking for something other than your traditional old fashioned — and unlike drinking this neat or on the rocks, I could drink several glasses of these.

Not something I would drink every night, but this is definitely something I would bring out for a friend looking for a distinctive cocktail. 

Fizz (Mule)

Can you guess the boldest flavor in this cocktail based on the review so far? If you said mushroom, you would be correct. (And if you said literally anything else, I worry about your reading comprehension skills.)

The flavor is so powerful, that is drowns out the ginger beer — and that is really hard to do. Ginger and lime are really strong flavors, and part of the reason we use a Kentucky Mule in our reviews is to see how whiskey holds up against them. And I guess on that test, this passes… but I am slightly dumbfounded about what I am drinking, and not really sure how to describe it other than a truffled Kentucky mule.

Yes, that is it… a truffled mule… this is odd. And not necessarily in a good way.


Overall Rating

I am slightly torn. This is not a whiskey I love, but I greatly appreciate the willingness to experiment with different finishing options. Clearly, the time spent in ex-Tokaji wine barrels imbued this whiskey with super toadstool powers just like in Super Mario Bros. 

If I loved mushrooms, I would most likely give it another star, but they are not my favorite – and the aroma of this whiskey will always remind me of the mushroom farms of Kennett Square. 

I would not purchase this bottle again, but you better believe that I am going to bring it out for my whiskey drinking friends who have tried just about anything. 

Few Spirits Single Malt Whiskey, finished in Royal Tokaji Hungarian Oak Barrels
Produced By: Few Spirits
Production Location: Illinois, United States
Classification: Single Malt Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46.5% ABV
Price: $59.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
I hope you like mushrooms.


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