There are a whole lot of craft distilleries releasing bottled-in-bond bourbon and rye these days. But in a world full of many whiskey trends, perhaps too many, this is one that I’d like to see more of (more about this in a minute). The latest entry into the craft BIB world comes from Evanston, Illinois’ FEW Spirits, a weird but tasty rye whiskey that is worth adding to your home bar.
FEW has been making whiskey since 2011, a true craft operation that has chosen the path of producing its own bourbon, rye and single malt over sourcing product since its inception. Founder and distiller Paul Hletko is the man behind the scenes, but the distillery was acquired by Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Brands earlier this year, the force behind major bourbon brands like Elijah Craig and Evan Williams (FEW was previously purchased by Samson & Surrey in 2016). The point here is that while the distribution and marketing are presumably getting a boost, the whiskey remains relatively small in production scale, innovative in design and rather tasty on the palate. And that goes for this new bottled-in-bond rye whiskey, the follow-up to 2021’s BIB bourbon release.
Here is the fast and dirty definition of bottled in bond—100 proof, at least four years old, the product of one distillery and one distilling season and aged in federally bonded warehouses. This particular rye whiskey was made from a mash bill of 70 percent rye, 20 percent corn and 10 percent malted barley, which is more rye than you’d find in a Kentucky-style rye but less than the 95 percent you’d expect from mega producer MGP in Indiana. It was aged in new charred oak barrels (full-size 53-gallon and smaller 30-gallon) for a minimum of four years. “FEW Rye Whiskey Bottled-In-Bond continues our celebration of the Bottled-In-Bond Act, while also showing our commitment to growing our offerings and our business,” said Hletko in a press release. “Over the last few years, we’ve laid down thousands of barrels in our expanded facilities and look forward to quenching the thirst of FEW fans for decades to come. And, of course, we’ll continue to release bottled-in-bond products as well as new, innovative, and sometimes quirky releases that FEW has become known for producing.”
And yes, this whiskey is a little quirky. There are strong notes of menthol and licorice leading the charge on the palate, followed by black cherry, milk chocolate, and a bunch of different spices ranging from cinnamon to allspice to just a touch of black pepper on the finish (much less than I was expecting, to be honest). This doesn’t taste like the rye whiskeys from the other states mentioned previously, but that’s a good thing… because it’s not from those states. Instead, it tastes like a solid craft rye whiskey, with none of the woody notes that plague so many others in that world. This whiskey has its own defining character. It stands out. That’s likely due to the fact that, given its BIB designation, this is a properly aged whiskey. But it also has something to do with the fact that Hletko has been at it for more than a decade and just generally knows what the hell he’s doing.
Do try this in a Manhattan, do consider making a Boulevardier with it, and definitely do sip this whiskey on its own. But also, do expect the unexpected—and that is a feature, not a bug, of this excellent new rye.
What Our Score Means
- 100: Worth trading your first born for
- 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
- 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
- 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
- 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
- Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this