Hidden down a dark alley in a former chop shop, skilled men are quietly violating one of Evanston's founding principles: Prohibition. In the 19th century, Frances Elizabeth Willard was elected President of the Chicago Woman's Christian Temperance Union and embarked on a decade-long crusade to prohibit alcohol in the United States. Willard worked tirelessly; as President of the WCTU, she traveled roughly 30,000 miles and gave an average of 400 lectures each year for an entire decade.
As a result, Evanston remained a dry town for over 100 years. It wasn't until Paul Hletko, owner and master distiller at Few Spirits, began lobbying the town that the antiquated laws were lifted. "I'm the vice president of the PTA at my kids' school and I coach their soccer and T-ball teams,"Hletko says. "People around town know me and what I'm about, which is handy when you're looking to change 100 years of laws."
Today, Hletko and his team of master distillers produce Few Rye Whiskey and Few Bourbon Whiskey in the heart of Evanston, Illinois.
Few Rye Whiskey is made from a mash of 70% rye, 20% corn and 10% malted barley. Few Bourbon Whiskey is made from a mash of 70% corn, 20% barley and 10% rye. "The corn comes from a farmers co-op in Indiana and my barley and rye from farmers in Wisconsin,"notes Hletko. After mashing and fermenting the grains, Hletko distills the wash through his 1,500-liter Kothe copper-pot still.
After distillation, the rye and bourbon are aged in custom-made oak barrels from Minnesota. "The cooper I eventually chose to make our barrels won 24 out of 25 categories at a spirits competition I visited," Hletko says. "I'm no math major, but that's the cooper I want to make our barrels." The #3 char on the barrels gives Few Rye hints of allspice and peppercorn, which are followed by notes of dark caramel and cinnamon. In addition, the casks contribute slightly sweet hints of honey and vanilla to Few Bourbon, which are nicely balanced by a spicy finish that intensifies as it lingers. After aging the rye and bourbon, Hletko and his team of distillers fill and label each bottle by hand.
Few Rye Whiskey was named the 2013 Craft Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate. Few Bourbon Whiskey earned the Silver Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2012.
As one of the leading figures of the Temperance movement, it's unlikely that Frances Elizabeth Willard would approve of Hletko's success or the name he chose for his distillery, which is sometimes written as F.E.W. Spirits.
"People say she's rolling over in her grave,"Hletko says with a coy smile. "I wouldn't know about that - the name is just a coincidence."
Try the 2013 Craft Whiskey of the Year today!
93 Proof (46.5% ABV) Each
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Rye: Expressive notes of roasted pineapples, citrus and smoke. The flavors open up to notes of figs, tobacco, and slight hints of caramel, which are layered over a chocolate, peppery finish.