Review – FEW Gin
If there is a single event that has done more for spirit and cocktail marketing than any other it is the period of prohibition in early 20th century America; the flurry of speakeasies that resulted have been the source of inspiration for more bars than you care to think about. One town that really got into the swing of the temperance movement was Evanston, Illinois. Founded as a dry community, it was the hometown of Frances Willard whose contribution to modern history included being instrumental in the eighteenth (prohibition) amendment to the US Constitution. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that the town finally legalised drinking, and fortunately today it is now the proud home to the FEW spirits distillery, producer of both gin and whiskey.
Unusually, both gins use a base of corn, wheat and non-malted barley to distill the base spirit in-house, meaning that the flavours aren’t all just about the botanical mix. As is fast becoming typical for American gins, the botanical blend is also a little different from those that would traditionally be associated with a London Dry gin; vanilla and hops in particular are used alongside the required Juniper and more classic lemon and orange peel, grains of paradise and cassia bark.
Nose: There is no mistaking this gin is not made from a neutral spirit base. The corn in particular shines above everything else, and it might be just a bit too much were it not for the fact that waxy juniper and zesty lemon follow quickly behind to offer balance. In addition to the contribution of the corn, there is a creaminess courtesy of the vanilla, pepped up with hints of green cardamon and clove. Despite all these aroma’s going on it remains a botanically light gin whose spirit base is at least, if not more, important to the final profile.
Neat: With the dominance of the corn on the nose, it is no surprise that this gin starts off sweet, but also starchy on the palate. The vanilla contributes a creamy mouthfeel without becoming excessively assertive as vanilla often can, and balances pleasingly with the hops in particular. A moderate level of lemon oil contrasts with spicier clove-like notes with neither being too prominent. It actually takes a few sips before the contribution of the juniper is apparent and, whilst this hasn’t quite strayed into the flavoured vodka market, juniper takes a back seat to several other contributing flavours. Slightly bitter on the finish, it is the mid-palate that if anything could do with a bit more oomph. Having said that, I’m usually not a fan of gins in which the juniper isn’t bold, but this has won me over for being utterly different.
Standard Issue Gin
Nose: This is definitely the louder one of these two siblings. The aroma’s are much spicier, more citrus-y and actually less corny-y than the American strength. Whereas the American Gin was characterised by its lightness, this is altogether earthier and deeper in its aromas. The higher abv is barely perceptible in the nostrils, evidence of an exceptionally high quality spirit, but instead makes its mark felt by the bringing together of aromas and lifting them out of the glass.
Neat: As is to be expected on account of the higher abv, the botanicals are much more intense on the palate than with the American gin. This time the waxy juniper is much more prominent and although it remains sweet on the entrance at least (both gins dry towards the finish), this is the more classically profiled gin of the two. Whereas the vanilla and hops were clearly evident in the American gin, this gins profile focuses on the spicier and earthier notes of cardamon, clove, coriander and cinnamon balanced out and refreshed with a well-judged citrus note. As with the nose, the higher abv has brought everything together and given the flavours a great big kick up the backside. This is no shy and retiring gin, but it is all the better for it.
Mixing: Like the best of double-acts, these two gins each have their strengths and need to be treated differently for the most palate-pleasing libations. Whilst the lightness of the American gin might sound appealing for fans of easy-drinking G+T’s for example, the result is just a bit too heavy on the spirit base flavours for my liking; although this is just a great excuse to add a few dashes of bitters. The Standard Issue by contrast is a much punchier affair in which the botanicals balance more equally with the spirit base and a somewhat quirky combination of anise and strawberry is revealed to a surprising success. The pattern of the spirit base trying to overshadow the botanicals in the American gin is seen across other cocktails, but in some such as the Negroni, this works in the spirits favour. You’re really onto a winner however when you discover that this gin is best treated like a Genever. Used in an Improved Holland Cocktail for example, the creamy corn and malt notes explode in your mouth, but are tempered by the Absinthe in particular to create a drink that is the stuff of dreams. Once you head onto the Alamagoozlum and Amsterdam Cocktails, you’re very much on the right track. Peculiarly, neither the American nor the Standard Issue are at their best in sour cocktails such as the White Lady or Aviation, where a hint of egg-custard can often be detected. I rather like egg custard so this isn’t a disaster, but I’m not sure it is a taste profile I’d always seek in a cocktail. The Standard Issue’s best performances do lie in more traditional gin-based cocktails, particularly when erring towards the sweeter side of things such as in the Claridge Cocktail or Gimlet. The bold abv and consequential strength of the botanicals also makes it suited to punches such as the Lonsdale where it very much holds its own despite the dilution that punches bring. Neither of these gins are going to win the ‘most versatile gin’ award anytime soon, which in many regards why I love them. Good gin should be proud to stand out and show off its uniqueness, and these two are amongst the most extroverted in that respect you will find. A little consideration to balancing flavours and you’ll soon find yourself enjoying some lip-smacking cocktails and praising the town of Evanston for holding out so long against the drinking movement. Good things do indeed come to those who wait.
The American and Standard Issue gins from FEW spirits are characterised by their unique spirit base made from corn, wheat and barley. The flavour profile from this pervades in almost every cocktail in which they are mixed, making them a fascinating pair of gins to experiment with. They also happen to be darned tasty and should be on the must-try list of every gin enthusiast.Rating: ★★★★
FEW American and Standard Issue Gins are available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.