Few Spirits Gin Review

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I have written in the past about the boom in craft distilling and how heartbreaking it can be when the cute little distillery with the beautiful bottle that you just paid $50 for turns out to be putting out less than impressive product. So it was with excitement but also a little cynicism that I opened my box of samples from Few Spirits in Evanston, IL. The samples included three different gins, a bourbon, and a rye whiskey.  My first thought on seeing the whiskeys was to wonder where they were sourcing from. When I read the informational materials and learned that Few ferments, distills, and bottles all of its products from scratch in their distillery I had to reevaluate my expectations. Turns out that the Few Spirits blew those expectations out of the water. Charlie and I tried the three gins included in the sampler, Few American Gin, Barrel Gin, and Standard Issue Gin on Episode 137 of The Charlie Tonic Hour and I can tell you that it was one of the most enthusiastic drink segments of the show’s history. Here are the details of the three gins.

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Few American Gin: First the basics. It’s made with a bourbon mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley and flavored with 11 botanicals including juniper, bitter orange, lemon peel and fresh vanilla and weighs in at a modest 80 proof. The nose is sweet, heavy on the corn but I can smell mint and vanilla as well. It is smooth with a gentle burn on the finish. The juniper isn’t overpowering but it is not as citrus heavy as other American-style gins I have tried. There is almost a hoppy quality to the flavor but it is nicely balanced by the sweeter notes. The vanilla is surprisingly easy to pick out. When I watered it down I felt that the flavors got too diluted but I think this would make a lovely gin and tonic. Retails for $39.99.

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Few Barrel Gin: The info materials state that the Barrel Gin is made with a more neutral base spirit which I am interpreting as having fewer botanicals than their American or Standard Issue gin. Then they age the gin in a mix of new American Oak and used bourbon and rye barrels. The Barrel Gin is 93 proof. Barrel aged gins have been popping up all over the place lately. I can see how some people might think that they are a bit gimmicky I have to admit that I kind of love them. They just taste like nothing else out there. Few Barrel Gin has a lot more body and spice than other bourbon barrel gins I have tried. I think using a blend of different barrels was a very good choice. The predominant flavors are mint and a sweet cinnamon with notes of vanilla. The only problem with barrel gins that I have found is that they really don’t work in cocktails for me. Few recommends making a “Ginhattan” with it but I am skeptical. So far I have stuck with sipping it. Retails for $49.99.

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Few Standard-Issue Gin: This gin is 114 proof. I mention that first because the high-proof is a big part of what defines this style of gin, which is often referred to as navy strength gin. The story behind this is that when British sailors received their daily ration of gin it had to have enough alcohol so that the gunpowder could still ignite if the gin was accidentally spilled on it. Along with the higher alcohol content a navy gin would have been drier than American gins. To balance this dryness Few added a hefty dose of fennel to balance it out. The result is a gin that will put hairs on your chest but is also surprisingly reminiscent of those candies you get at an Indian restaurant. Surprisingly smooth for the proof, the juniper flavors come on strong and there is a bitterness you can feel on the tongue rather than taste, but the finish leaves a strong impression of licorice. With water the burn was greatly diminished and the softer flavors came out more. I think this would be a great cocktail gin, perhaps with a gimlet. Retails for $39.99.

Right now Few Spirits are not available in stores in Ohio and Kentucky but you can order them online. Next time I am in Chicago I will make a point of visiting the distiller and picking up a few bottles.

Bourbon Classic 2014

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The Bourbon Classic was held last weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. The event drew bourbon fans from around the country to join with distillers, bartenders, restaurants, and media representatives in celebrating all things bourbon. I was lucky enough to be among them and I left feeling very lucky to be living so close to bourbon country.

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The Run Down of Events:

The event began Friday night with a cocktail competition that paired local bartenders, chefs, and sponsor distilleries in pairing bourbon cocktails with small plates of food. The cocktails were great that night but the food was outstanding, including the best chicken and waffles I’ve ever had. Saturday afternoon began with a welcoming question and answer session with master distillers. MC’ed by Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women and bourbon authority for the Kentucky Derby Museum, the question and answer session featured Wes Henderson (Angel’s Envy,) Fred Noe (Jim Beam,) Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey,) Harlen Wheatley (Buffalo Trace,) Tom Bulleit (Bulleit Bourbon,) Drew Kulsveen (Willett,) Willie Pratt (Michter’s,) Daniel Preston (Widow Jane,) Colin Spoelman (King’s County,) and Dave Schmier (Redemption.) This event was easily the highlight of the day for me. Listening to stories, learning more about the industry, and even witnessing some moments of tension on stage was all fascinating.  We spent the rest of the afternoon in “Bourbon Classic University.” Guests got to attend two classes during the sessions including ‘Bourbon Recollections…A Trip Through Time’ with Fred Noe and Fred Johnson, as well as a variety of other classes like bourbon pairing with cheese, entertaining with bourbon tastings, bourbon and beer, bourbon and chocolate, and home bar essentials.  The final event was a night of bourbon tastings, with books signings from well-known bourbon authors like Charles Cowdery and Joy Perrine.

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Highlights:

You can read a more detailed and bourbon-focused recap of the event over on Bourbon & Banter and Charlie and discussed the event in detail on The Charlie Tonic Hour, but here are a few of the best moments of the event from my point of view.

– Hanging out with Jonathan Piercy of “What’s Cooking Now” and his lovely wife throughout the weekend.

– Spending time with Molly Wellmann at Friday’s cocktail event and seeing Tom Bulleit call her up to take a bow at the distiller’s welcome on Saturday. He credited her, along with countless other bartenders across the country, in helping to bring about the bourbon revival.

– Getting to talk once more with Wes Henderson from Angel’s Envy. Such a down-to-earth and great guy.

– Sitting in an audience and listening to stories from legends of the industry like Fred Noe and Jimmy Russell, as well as hearing the perspectives and explanations of newer and/or non-producing brands.

– Attending a session on bourbon tastings with a rep from Blanton’s that will help me when contacting bourbon tastings in the future.

– Talking with bourbon lovers from around the country and starting to feel more like I am a part of a wider, boozy community.

– Leaving the over priced after-party at Milkwood to go drink bourbon and sodas at a dive bar called The Levee.

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The Bourbon Classic was a success all around, despite the notable absence of one of my favorite distilleries, Four Roses. At a length of just a day and half, give or take a promotional dinner or hung-over breakfast, it is a perfect amount of time to immerse yourself in bourbon and the perfect balance between educational and drinking events. Bourbon lovers in Cincinnati who are ready to take their knowledge and enthusiasm to the next level should definitely look into making the drive south for next year.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka

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With so many micro-distilleries popping up around the country I thought it would be nice to review a vodka from one of the early success stories from the micro-distilling movement. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is celebrating its 16th year in business. Tito’s was stared by a guy named Tito Beveridge (with a name like that how do you know go into the alcohol business) who started out making vodka infusions as gifts and somehow ended up founding the first legal distillery in Texas. Since winning a double gold medal in the World Spirits Competition they have come to be known as one of the go-to brands of vodka for people who are serious about cocktails but also aware of price. I have even heard of some up-scale bars and restaurants who are using Tito’s as their well vodka so that the taste of their carefully crafted cocktails don’t get ruined by sub-par vodka. This really is the path that every micro-distiller around the country is hoping to follow, although few of them look ready to compete at this point.

Despite having been aware of the brand for many years I had not actually gotten around to buying a bottle until now. Tito’s is a 100% corn vodka and it does have the characteristic sweet and creamy taste that most of the corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have. But the other corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have a lot more of a flavor to them. And when it comes to vodka that is not necessarily a good thing. Tito’s is incredibly smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel and just a hint of sweetness before you do taste the alcohol at the end. But it is not a burning alcohol and you can drink it without making cheap vodka face and coughing. One reason for the difference is that Tito’s microdistilled in an old-fashioned pot stills and so they have more control over the process than with column stills. I would say it is very similar in character and quality to Buckeye Vodka but is a few dollars cheaper per bottle and, in my opinion,  slightly better. Don’t be put off by the cheap looking bottle and plastic cap. Part of Tito’s mission statement is keeping their product as affordable as possible and they are clearly not investing too much in bottle. Instead they use quality ingredients, a careful distillation process, and then distill it just enough (six times) to get out the impurities and strong corn flavors but not so much that all that is left is the ethanol flavor. So there you have it. If you want to support local vodka at an affordable price go with Buckeye but if you want a bottom line better vodka for an even better price, go with Tito’s.

If you want to listen to a tasting and review of Tito’s you can hear it on this week’s episode of Bottom Up.

Book Review: The Audacity of Hops by Tom Acitelli

Before even cracking open The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution, just judging it by the cover, I’m psyched. I dig the play on Obama’s Audacity of Hope book (not trying to get political), turning it into Audacity of Hops. It’s also an applicable title as well because this is the story of the American craft beer movement and how American hops have pushed that movement.

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The author starts with a skim through the ancient history of beer, early American beer, and prohibition in a few paragraphs. This is good for two reasons: others have covered this info extensively elsewhere and it allows him to get more in-depth with the people, places, and most importantly stories of the American craft beer movement. The Audacity of Hops goes into significant, but not overwhelming, detail about the various reckless gambles around the founding, or expansions, of many breweries as well as the contexts of the time for people and beer. The author makes this retelling enjoyable and engaging, there are plenty of facts sprinkled throughout but not page after page of yearly quantities and revenues I’ve encountered in other books.

However, the book tends to be heavy with hyperbole, especially with the early home brewers. The author makes it seem that these men, Jack McAuliffe and Fred Eckhardt, birthed a brand new discovery to the universe with herculean effort. While in reality they only did what people around the world had done for millennia, brew beer at home. Now I don’t want to diminish their efforts, they certainly broke the law of the land at the time and did something few had done in 30 years and those who had done it recently hadn’t done it well.

The book could, at a few points, do with better editing. The author has a tendency to run on about random breweries that didn’t survive beyond a year or two. Should they be mentioned? Certainly, otherwise there could appear a nonstop success with no failures. However, they don’t each need 3 or 4 pages. We also don’t need 2 paragraph biographies of every single brewer nor do we need them repeated often. I think by the end of the book I’d read a description of Fritz Maytag (owner and resuscitator of Anchor) at least 10 times.

At first I was doubtful but the structure of the book has proven itself to work well. That structure is mainly chronological but also, more importantly, geographical. We move through the years hoping across the United States and occasionally overseas. From San Francisco to New York, Juneau, Boulder, Baghdad and back. This works to tell how the craft beer story is an American one and isn’t just in California (though they can rightfully claim the birthplace).

I enjoyed reading this and think that many fans of craft beer will enjoy it as well. It’ll gives you a long list of new beers to try and a concise history of American craft brewers and breweries that I haven’t found elsewhere. Plus some fodder for arguments over contract brewing, the importance of brewery X vs brewery Y, and “How dare he not include [insert favorite local/regional brewery here]!”.

Lastly, I have a new favorite beer quote & motto for what I try to do with the blog:

“I still see people buying and swilling terrible beer. I sometimes think my job is like farting against a gale, but I just keep moving forward”

– Michael Jackson.

You can pick this up on Amazon at $15 for the paperback version or $10 for kindle. It should also be available at any other bookstores.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I reached out to the author and his publisher was kind enough to hook me up with a free copy. To our readers, and any companies interested in sending me stuff, giving me free stuff impacts the review in only 2 ways. That I WILL review it and that and I WILL write a blog post about it. Giving me free stuff does not guarantee you a favorable review or that I will tell everyone to go buy it.

Beer Review: Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

This is the last of the beers that Oskar Blues provided for us to review but keep looking forward to the Ten FIDY review in the next few weeks. So far I’ve really enjoyed everything they’ve made. I had G’Knight (imperial red) a few months back and it’s still my favorite, then Deviant Dale’s India Pale Ale is next up, followed by Mama’s Little Yella Pils,  and lastly Oskar Blues’ scotch ale Old Chub. I’m happy to be drinking this red, white, and blue can of Dale’s Pale Ale after having done my civic duty and voted. As always, on to the beer!

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Beer Review: 3 Floyds’ Zombie Dust

I got a message from a friend the other day saying that he had a 6-pack of this available and I immediately freaked with joyous excitement. I’d never had Zombie Dust before but all past experiences with 3 Floyd’s left me teeming in anticipation of a tasty brew.
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Beer Review: Stone IPA

Beer Advocate has this at a 95 (off 2,516 reviews), rate beer puts it at 100 (based off 2,837 reviews), finally untappd knocks it down to 4 stars which I guess compares to an 80 (from a whopping 10,861 ratings). That gives me a pretty solid feeling that this will be a fantastic beer. Basically 14,000 people gave this beer an average of an A-. This beer gets a lot of hype as being some crazy bitter uber hard core beer that is not for wussies and needs some kind of beer pedigree to drink. That whole mindset doesn’t sit too well with me. It’s that type of thing that prevents people from getting into craft beer in the first place. Sure it’s safe to recommend a friend to stay away from this for a bit and steer them toward something else first. But by hyping this beer up so high in the end puts your friend down saying they aren’t good enough for this beer. Anyway, rant over time to drink!

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