By S.D. Peters
The failure of the only attempt to regulate social values with the United States Constitution proved that document is no place for such misguided experimentation. The 18th Amendment, and the subsequent Volstead Act, are the legacy of what James Madison once called “the tyranny of the minority.”
An apt metaphor of Prohibition’s failure may be found in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). An augur of the desperate fate that awaits the film’s band of aging desperadoes, the opening carnage that follows a Temperance parade’s march into the crossfire of a robbery gone wrong is also a brutal reflection on the maelstrom into which Prohibition dragged the U.S. in the first quarter of the 20th Century.
As definitive as Peckinpah’s metaphor is, Paul Hletko of FEW Spirits, a micro-distillery in Evanston, Illinois, has done the famed if bitter director one better. Naming his distillery for Frances Elizabeth Willard, a Prohibitionist leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Evanston, Hletko’s has called attention to the Noble Experiment’s irony: Prohibition, and by extension its boosters, actually boosted whiskey’s popularity in the States, and led to a new-found respect within the industry for whiskey’s manufacture after 21st Amendment to the Constitution ended Prohibition.
Hletko, who established FEW Spirits in 2011, has a particular respect for whiskey. In a September 18, 2011, Chicago Tribune feature, Hletko said that “Taking the flavor out of… grain by distilling it into vodka is the opposite of what I want my spirits to be.” Sticking to that fine modus operandi, FEW Spirits produces only a “few” whiskeys (a white whiskey, a Bourbon, and a Rye) as part of their “grain-to-glass” production, allowing them to fixate on the “quality and flavor” of those whiskeys.
The Whiskey Reviewer has had an opportunity to try FEW Spirits’ Rye and White Whiskies. Here’s what we have to say about their Rye…
If a bottle can promise the eminence of Rye whiskey, FEW has found it. Thick, rectangular, and clear, with a paper seal over its corked cap and a simple yet chic front-mounted paper label that bears the image of a Chicago World’s Fair water fountain, the bottle is meant to draw attention to the liquid it contains – a dusky, golden amber Rye. You can almost imagine yourself sat on a bluff overlooking a field of waving Rye at sunset, the 1893 World’s Fair behind you as you pull this beautiful bottle from a picnic basket and the fading rays of sunlight glance off it.
Bottled at 93 proof (46.5% alcohol), FEW Rye is aged in air-dried oak barrels, and claims a “generous rye content… married with the sweetness of corn” (70% rye to 20% corn, with 2% malted barley, in fact). Allspice and a dash of peppercorn tickle the nose, afloat in a syrupy scent of paw-paw and bubblegum. The sweetness comes alive on the tongue: cherry lifesavers and Cola dominate, albeit with rumblings of spice threatening rebellion. Despite its sweetness, this Rye reminds you that its namesake is the principal grain: a distinguishing factor in a whiskey whose sweetness might suggest a moderately-ryed Bourbon. The light, delicate body retains the crisp dryness of Rye, which lingers well into a moderate finish, that, after a swirl of bubblegum, cherry tart, and black raspberry, fades in a wisp of spice.
The emphasis on Rye’s sweeter side in FEW Rye is still a bit overstated for my taste, although the black raspberry in the finish really distinguishes it, giving it the edge it needs to rise above average; the rarity of black raspberry is worthy of association with a well-crafted Rye. However, with its dominate notes of cherry I’m inclined to recommend FEW Rye as a superior substitute for the cherry-infused Bourbon that constitutes the Brass Buck cocktail, rather than a superior neat Rye.
Expect to pay at least $50 for a bottle FEW Rye if you’re in the vicinity of greater Chicago, IL, or Nashville, TN – the only regions claiming to offer FEW whiskeys at the time of publication. Paul Hletko distills his Rye with care, and readily admits it sells at a premium price for a premium audience. We beg to disagree, but FEW Rye would not be undeserving of wider popularity.