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.

33 Cent Martinis at Japps

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All this for 33 cents. Too good to be true?

Japp’s since 1879 has been generating buzz with their craft cocktails and frequent retro-inspired events ever since they opened on Main Street in Over the Rhine a few  years ago and this week is no exception. Last Friday Japp’s introduced their Prohibition-priced happy hour with .33 martinis. That is an unheard of price for a drink and with my recently discovered love of martinis, course I had to check it out right away.

My first surprise was that this was not a one-off event. Even with bulk and wholesale pricing I figure that a .33 martini has to be a money-losing operation. Of course these martini’s are one-per-customer, but I did assume that this was a special event. Perhaps to celebrate Groundhog Day or to commemorate the anniversary of the first publication of the Oxford English Dictionary. But I was delighted to learn that this will be the price of martini’s from 4-6 pm everyday that Japp’s is open for business.

My second surprise was not really much of a surprise but these are really good martini’s. I wouldn’t have expected any less of Molly Wellmann of course but the price and the fact that I had never had Plymouth Gin before did make me slightly nervous. In truth I suspected that I would be getting a good drink but served in miniature proportions. Instead it was a full-sized martini with two healthy olives served along with it. The picture above doesn’t quite capture the original martini because I was too busy enjoying it to remember to take pictures.

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The Blood and Sand after Ginny had a few drinks.

Upon further reflection the logic behind the so cheap-they’re-practically-free pricing becomes apparent. It is easy to stop by somewhere for beer after work and leave after one. After a martini it somehow seems a little easier to forget the responsibilities waiting for you at home. Plus, once I had my martini I realized that I still had plenty of money left to try another cocktail. I opted for a classic cocktail of the silent film era, a Blood and Sand. Named after the Valentino movie of the same name it has scotch, cherry herring, sweet vermouth and orange juice. I had read about the drink but never tried it so I ordered one and the lovely young lady behind the bar didn’t bat an eye or ask me what was in it.

The only downside was that service runs a little slower than you might be used to. A well-made cocktail takes a little bit of time, as do most of the specialty cocktails that Japp’s is famous for. As the bar filled up closer to six it got harder and harder to catch a bartender’s eye but frankly I enjoyed the time catching up with a friend and enjoying the wonderful jazz band who was playing in the corner. I have a suspicion that I will be making 33 cent martini’s a Friday happy-hour tradition.

If you want to hear more from Molly Wellmann, discussing Japp’s, cocktails, and the history of the building you can hear my two-part interview with her on The Charlie Tonic Hour starting with Episode 15.

Which Gin Makes the Best Martini? A Blind Taste Test.

Names can be misleading. Take me for example. Ginny Tonic was my stage name when I was helping out at a cabaret, and I still use it when go-go dancing with Dr. Bombay and the Atomic Bachelor Pad but I have never actually been much of a gin drinker. Perhaps because my first-ever hangover was inflicted after a night of heavy gin and tonic consumption, I’ve never warmed to the taste of gin. In the past, it has struck me as harsh and overly reminiscent of cleaning products. But as we shall learn here, past impressions can be misleading as well.

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Photo by Alexa Clark

Continue reading “Which Gin Makes the Best Martini? A Blind Taste Test.”