Inertia can have its benefits. I’ve been running the bar at Areal for 4 years now which means that these days the bar is essentially an extension of my personal tastes over the years. It also means that I am spoiled. On average I get to taste 3-6 new spirits a week. Which honestly isn’t surprising considering there are over 1200 craft distilleries operating in the United States as of 2016. And everyone of them has a gin that they want to sell you and most of them are making a whiskey. You could stock an entire bar with the mediocre spirits being pumped out and consumed because of their “localness” or their “craft” appeal. Just because something is local and small, doesn’t mean that it’s any good. Just like being big and global doesn’t necessarily negate your quality and attention to detail. Everyone wants to start a distillery these days and I’ve got one piece of advice for you: wait. The quality of product being produced right now can’t support the number of “craft” products being produced and in about five years there’s going to be a glut of distilling equipment available for pennies on the dollar.
So, in this world
of abundance what actually marks a good product? I hate to say it but it’s time. Increasingly what I see is that people who take the time, whether it’s in learning the craft before starting a distillery, letting something fully age in full size barrels, perfecting a recipe before rushing a product to the market, investing in the future like the team at Leopold Brothers, or if we’re being honest just starting out at the right time. Open your distillery today and you’ve already missed the boat. If you started up six or more years ago though you’re now sitting golden. Just ask the team at Tuthilltown Spirits with their Hudson whiskies. The pricing and quality they went to market with would never cut the mustard today.
Where does FEW sit in all of this? I’m going to say well over the hump of the bell curve. They’ve been in the game for years now so they’ve got that inherent leg up. And while they produce a wide range of products (including at least 5 gins to clutter your back bar) the product that brought them to my attention years ago, and that still seems to be the winner for most people is their Rye.
FEW has always had a delightful self awareness about the fact that they’re just making booze. The distillery name gives rise to a myriad of word play about having a FEW drinks, etc. But it’s also a nod to the distilleries home in Evanston, right out side of Chicago, which was a major staging ground for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement and the home of woman’s suffragist and prohibitionist France Elizabeth Willard. That playfulness carries over into their rye.
FEW encapsulates what I like to call the “New American Whiskey” flavor. These are young whiskies that have a lot of breadlines, a heavy oak presence and a fire to make any cowboy sit up and take notice. Most never find a balance to actually make them drinkable. There is a spice and a caraway to the FEW that has always helped tip it into drinkable fire for me though. They’re also the first distillery in four years to say, sure we’ll sell you a barrel of rye.
Rye, if you’ve been living under a rock, is currently the old school David Bowie of the American Whiskey world. And no one was making it. Nearly everyone who’s selling you a rye bought that rye from someone else. You’ll know they didn’t make it themselves if they can afford a national marketing campaign to support the brand. And the people who actually do make a rye have been hoarding it because demand far outstrips supply. But here we have the definition of new school distiller opening it’s vault with an unadulterated offering that is bright green apple, spice, caraway with a toasted breadlines and just a dash of almost crunchy peanut butter.
FEW, and this barrel, are far from perfect but they are to me an example of how to move forward. It’s time. It’s time placed in your product. Time placed in your methods. Time placed in the barrel. And time set aside to plan for more time in the future