I like whiskey, and I like tea. So when I heard that Few Spirits was producing a whiskey that incorporated an interesting black tea in the production process, I was obviously interested. It took a while for the stock to make its way down I-35 from Chicago to Austin, but I was finally able to get my hands on this interesting concept of a whiskey and give it a go.
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.
Few Spirits’ rye whiskey starts as a dry mix of 70% rye, 20% corn, and 10% “two row” malted barley (which is a regional variety of barley). Interestingly, this is pretty much just an inverse of the grain bill from their bourbon, which uses 70% corn instead — but keeps the malted barley content the same. 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).
The fermented mash is distilled on-site and barreled in charred new oak barrels, where it sits for a minimum of one year. Once the spirits have been appropriately aged, they need to be blended and “proofed down” — a process in which water is used to reduce the alcohol content to a more pleasant level. Usually this happens with filtered water, but for this edition of rye they instead use tea made with 8 Immortals Oolong Tea for that proofing down.
I think this packaging is perfect for Chicago.
It feels like the bottle is designed to pair perfectly with the Wrigley Building or the Tribune Tower, neo-gothic structures that bring you straight back to the 1920’s. 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 1920’s with monotone printing and old fashioned type face. The label isn’t too busy or over stated, and has just enough artwork to make it interesting.
I’m usually the first person to complain about a label taking up the entire space of the bottle and not letting the whiskey show through, but I think this actually works better with the larger label. It’s a great homage to the history of the area, and I can still see a decent amount of the spirit itself around the edges and sides.
This is a little bit different right off the bat from the usual stock. Normally, I get some cedar notes in the aroma. Instead, what I’m getting is primarily the cherry and a bit of oak. It seems somewhat toned down and subtle.
The flavor, however, is absolutely interesting in the best of possible ways.
There’s a rush of fruits and herbal notes as soon as you take a sip, all of them flying past faster than you can discern. It really takes a couple tries to understand what this is and why you like it so much. The cherry flavor is first up and lays a good framework for what’s to come. Quickly following it is some mango fruit and dried apricots, which provide that very fruity impression. Those flavors linger nicely throughout the experience, and near the finish there’s a lovely black pepper spice that kicks in from the rye content.
One thing that is missing is the sourdough texture I’ve seen in other Few spirits — but then again, that might just have been caught up in the excitement of all the other flavors.
Ice tends to have a bit of a deflating effect on spirits, especially ones with prominent lighter and fruitier aspects. I think this spirit comes through generally intact, but the ice is making the whiskey reveal its secrets a touch slower than before.
Generally, the flavors are creeping in at a meandering pace now — instead of appearing all at once like the end of a fireworks show. The cherry comes first, then the mango creeps in, and that’s followed by the apricot in due order. There might even be a bit of peach that’s been uncovered there, which is nice and something I didn’t see originally.
The biggest change is that the pepper spice from the rye content is pretty much gone. It might still be lingering a little bit, but nowhere near its full strength.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
In an Old Fashioned, this performs pretty well.
I think the biggest win here is the fruit-heavy flavor and how it is responding to those orange bitters. Overall, this makes a darker and richer version of an Old Fashioned — but the mango and the apricot are still coming through loud and clear, which adds some nice color and variety. Definitely a well balanced cocktail with a splash of panache.
Word to the wise, though: do add some sugar to it. This can be a bit bitter if you’re trying to go without (like those on a keto or low-sugar diet). A little muddled sugar goes a long way here.
Compared to the other versions of Few Spirit’s rye whiskies, this actually doesn’t do such a good job as a mule. Granted, Few sets a super high bar… but that’s the bar they set and that’s the bar we’ll hold them to.
The flavors do mix and balance pretty well, but it isn’t quite the same delicious experience I had with some of their other versions. I think it’s the cherry flavor that has been a bit more muted than normal and therefore isn’t coming through as cleanly and throwing things off for me. Still not bad… but not the experience I expected.
On the finish, it’s a pretty flat note as well. Sometimes that pepper spice from the rye content will come through and provide a nice bite at the end, but that isn’t the case here. There might be a bit of mango on the finish but that’s about it.
I love this neat. I really do. I think this is a great experiment gone perfectly right when sipping straight from the bottle and I encourage everyone to give it a shot in that condition. But I think this falls a bit short in the cocktails, at least compared to the other rye expressions from Few. It’s still a great old fashioned and absolutely deserving of a spot on the shelf — but that mule was honestly a bit disappointing.
Keep in mind, this is all relative to the extremely high bar that Few themselves set. I love this experiment and I think it’s great neat or in an old fashioned, but for the other preparations I think I’d prefer their cask strength version.
|Few Spirits Immortal Rye Whiskey
Produced By: Few SpiritsProduction Location: Illinois, United States
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46.5% ABV
Price: $34.49 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Four stars for the eight immortals.