I definitely consider Austin home, but I love to visit Chicago. I mean, yes, it’s primarily the deep dish pizza… but another major reason is the Few Spirits distillery. They seem to be cranking out some amazing stuff and, having tried and loved their regular rye before, I figured their straight rye would be well worth investigating.
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 before being bottled. For this edition (which seems to be unique to alcohol retailer Total Wine) a single barrel is selected for bottling rather than blending the spirit to produce a more engineered flavor profile.
The whiskey we are reviewing claims to have been pulled from barrel number 16-1723.
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 overstated, but rather 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.
Just like with the regular version of this rye, the very first thing I get coming off the glass smells like a couple cocktail cherries on a cedar board. That cedar note is an unusual one — I don’t think there’s any actual cedar here, I think it’s a couple different flavors coming together to form that note. But I can’t quite untangle them any further than “cedar”. There’s also some good brown sugar sweetness that wafts through as you continue to sniff.
With the original version, the rye bread was the first thing to come through — but here I think the barrel aging notes are more large and in charge. The first thing I get is some pleasantly charred oak with a bit of cherry flavor mixed in, followed by a bit of caramel and some nice vanilla. The rye bread absolutely makes an appearance in the aftertaste, providing some delicious notes and a smooth finish to compliment the black peppery spice.
Pretty much nothing changed here. Usually, I’d see some movement in the flavor profile or some reduction in an unpleasant aspect of the spirit, but really all that I can see is a slight reduction in the pepper spice and the alcohol burn.
Which makes sense. Realistically, what we’re doing here is proofing down the rye whiskey from a “barrel strength” level to something we’d normally drink anyway. Basically turning it back into a standard version of their rye… except a bit colder.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I love darker and richer old fashioned cocktails, and that’s exactly what I’m getting here. The charred oak especially is nicely balanced in here with the flavors in the angostura bitters and leads to a delicious drink.
One thing I’d like to highlight is that usually I’ll add a bit of cherry juice to my old fashioned in lieu of sugar, as it adds that slightly darker tone with a little bit of sweetness. I don’t feel like I need that here, as the cherry flavor is already present and making itself known.
This absolutely hits the spot.
There is a good balance of flavor with the ginger beer up front and the darker and richer tones counteracting some of the unbridled cheerfulness of the ginger. It’s not overpowering, though, and the ginger still peeks through just fine. It’s definitely a partnership.
On the finish is where things go from good to great. Not only do we have the pepper spice, but you also get the fruity interaction of the cherry flavor in the spirit and the lime juice in the mule. The combination makes for something remarkably close to a painkiller, only a little darker and richer.
Normally, with a barrel strength or straight version of an existing spirit you’d expect to see pretty much the same spirit, just a bit better saturated. In this case, however, the rye is pulling out a few new tricks. There’s some great flavors in here, and the fact that this is bottled at such a high proof means that it stands up remarkably well in cocktails and other expressions.
One thing I want to highlight is how interestingly consistent this is. Typically, with a single barrel expression, you’ll expect it to wander significantly from the “standard” blended version. But here, the changes are subtle and more a result of the proof rather than the barrel I think. Which makes me think that this is truly a remarkably consistent product from barrel to barrel, a damn near impossible feat to pull off as a distiller. So, good job Few!
|Few Spirits Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey|
Produced By: Few SpiritsProduction Location: Illinois, United States
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46.5% ABV
Price: $58.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 5/5
Compared to what WhistlePig is asking for their rye whiskey, this is a straight up steal.