Review – FEW Whiskey
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.
The white whiskey is produced using a mashbill comprising 70% corn, 20% wheat and 10% two row malt. It is double distilled through a pot still with a top mounted column to a final abv of 77.5% before being diluted to the bottling strength of 40%. It undergoes no barrel-ageing.
Nose: Lots of sweet corn upfront with just a hint of spice preventing it from becoming one-dimensional. A whisper of lemon, honey and strawberry puree are hinted at in the background. This is fresh-smelling spirit reflective of its unaged nature, but yet it is surprisingly deep on account of all those bready and creamy notes at the same time. Further time spent nosing this fascinating spirit reveals nutty aromas and a touch of pomegranate molasses to boot.
Neat: Less sweet than the nose suggested, the first discernible flavours take a little while to come forth. When they do, the creamy and bready corn notes are unsurprisingly dominant, building to a crescendo on the early finish. This is not to say this spirit peaks too early, for the finish itself is surprisingly long. Despite there not being any in the mashbill, there is a distinct rye spiciness that appears in the mid-palate which contrasts with the prevailingly super-fresh taste and hints at great mixing potential. This is good enough to sip neat, but the hints of spice with fruity and herbaceous touches here and there mean you’ll be reaching for the cocktail shaker pretty soon.
Mixing: The tricky thing with less commonly encountered spirits such as white whiskey is that few cocktails have been created with them in mind, and thus adaptation is the key to success. It is as such perhaps best considered as somewhere between a whiskey and a genever. To illustrate the point, in a classic Martinez recipe the subtle characteristics of the spirit are a little lost, whereas in a classic sweet Manhattan recipe they are a little dominant and one-dimensional. It has neither the complexity from the botanicals found in genever, nor from the barrel ageing of a whiskey. However, head down the middle and mix equal amounts of white whiskey and sweet vermouth, together with your bitters and Maraschino, and you have yourself a lovely little libation on your hands. This does illustrate the need to be considered in ones mixing, and as such this is not the best option for the inexperienced home bartender. In a regular whiskey sour for instance, this spirit doesn’t quite stand up to the citrus and the result is disappointing, pepped up by a little tawny port for added fruitiness as in the Continental Sour as you are onto a winner. Fruity is in fact a very successful way forward with this spirit, the I B Damm’d with its combination of elderflower liqueur, apple juice and peach schnapps being an un-erring example of how corn-heavy spirit likes to play with lighter, sweeter and more aromatic ingredients. Whilst citrus might need some judicious use, this is a spirit with plenty of flavour, meaning it can stand up to bold ingredients. Mixed long with ginger beer and squeeze of a chunky lime wedge you have have a distinctly savoury and almost nutty drink that is both refreshing and enticingly different. Irrespective of individual preferences, the quality of this spirit does shine through however it is used. You might need to make a few adjustments to the recipe, but this is a fascinating alternative to the more commonly encountered white spirits.
The bourbon is produced from a mashbill comprising 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% two row malt. Distilled to an abv of 67.5% then barrelled at 57.5% in wood sourced from Minnesota which is said to have a tighter grain and charred to #3 level, it is bottled at 46.5%
Nose: Classic vanilla-laden bourbony aromas greet the nose but are noticeable by the absence of a significant underlying woody note. The high corn base spirit is not immediately evident but somehow builds over time as it warms up in the nasal cavity. A molasses-esque sweetness hints at delicate aromas of toffee, caramel and the very lightest touch of orange and burnt wood.
Neat: Much more interesting on the palate than the nose, with a greater complexity of flavours particularly obvious. This is not however to say this is an especially complex bourbon. It tastes good, but it tastes young. Reasonably dry on the entry, this soon turns to a fruity sweetness rapidly switching back to a dry finish with a mildly sharp and distinctly peppery edge to it. This is in fact a bourbon that is not shy to show its spicy side, it doesn’t dominate, but it is a defining characteristic. As a sipping bourbon the potential is clear, but you can’t help but think a little longer in the barrel might have helped.
Mixing: As was the case with the white whiskey, this is a spirit that requires a little thought when mixing. Whilst its characteristic flavours are very evident in aromatic classics such as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Remember the Maine, such drinks do not play to this whiskey’s strengths, instead highlighting how the marriage of flavours from the barrel and base spirit haven’t quite developed the necesssary depth of flavour for stand-out excellence. Such drinks are solid examples of their type, but not extraordinary. Much greater success is had when partnered with ingredients that are sensitive to the unique flavour profile this bourbon has. The Mint Julep is an excellent example, the mint serving to add an extra dimension whilst the cocktail itself remains simple enough to allow the character of this bourbon to shine. FEW bourbon produces an easy-drinking julep in which the corn notes partner beautifully with the aromatic mint, and the spice peps it up just the right amount. A similarly pleasing performance is repeated in drinks such as the Milk Punch which smooths the rye spice to offer a silky-smooth palate pleaser. As should always be the case when mixing with spirits, a little thought to the partnering of flavours might lead you to try drinks such as the Weissen Sour; the combination of wheat beer with the corny notes from this bourbon are a sublime match,and enough to convince even the biggest fan of well-aged bourbons this this spirit has a great deal of merit.
The rye whiskey is distilled from a mashbill comprising 70% rye, 20% corn and 10% two row malt. As with the bourbon it is distilled to an abv of 67.5%, barrelled in the same casks at 57.5% and bottled at 46.5%.
Nose: Mildly burnt apple and cinnamon pie is evident for those that like to get really into the aroma profiling. This is a much deeper-smelling spirit than the last two, and has almost a musky edge to it. Not too sweet, but nor too spicy, this is a complex and surprisingly fruity rye on the nose that promises much for the palate.
Neat: The successful aroma profile continues onto the palate, which is by some margin the most complex and rounded of the three whiskey’s. It is, as one would hope from a rye spicy, but the spice does not dominate, and there is plenty else going on with the corn evident on the start before it moves into a classic vanilla/caramel mid-palate with a twist of unripe fruit. This delightful combination of flavours is enhanced by what feels like a youthful enthusiasm from a less assertive oak-influence than is often the case with rye whiskey. A cracking spirit.
Mixing: This whiskey is hugely enjoyable to mix with on account of stellar performances in a broad number of cocktails. It stands up well to classics such as the Sazerac or Brooklyn in which it offers the required spice, but also a lip-smacking fruit and corn note that creates real-interest for the taste-buds and indeed one of the finest examples of this cocktail I have enjoyed in a while. Such balance is also found in the Purgatory cocktail which combines rye, Benedictine and Chartreuse in a spicy/fruity/herbal/sweet mash-up that delights the palate. Following a similar pattern seen with its siblings, this rye isn’t best friends with citrus, and drinks of the sour type such as the Rock n Rye don’t come highly recommended. It does however more than make up for it by being otherwise wonderfully versatile. In the Bee Sting it plays very nicely with tequila, honey, apple juice and ginger ale, proving that not all rye cocktails need be short and strong. This is a fascinating spirit to mix with, producing cocktails that are not only delicious, but also which offer new twists on flavour profiles in drinks that you think you know what to expect.
FEW Whiskey offer a fascinating and enjoyably different offering on account of the characteristic flavour profiles produced by the high corn spirit base. Although the unique flavour profiles and relatively light oak influence in the case of the bourbon and rye make them unsuitable as the go-to spirit in all whiskey cocktails, they are whiskeys of the highest calibre that will be enjoyed by all with an interest in craft spirits.
Rating: White Whiskey ★★★★ Bourbon ★★★★ Rye ★★★★★
FEW Whiskeys 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.