On the northern cusp of Chicago’s city limits, you’ll find Evanston, Illinois, birthplace of the Temperance Movement’s former stranglehold on liquor laws. For over a century, Evanston upheld prohibition era legislation until FEW’s founder Paul Hletko thought it was time to close that chapter of history and create something so good, the townspeople would soon forget about the century-long wait. Walking through the brick-lined alley leading to FEW’s industrial-garage-turned-distillery doorstep, you’re hit with the feeling that you’re retracing the formerly shifty steps of Evanston’s bootleggers. One foot in the door, and you’ll notice the distillery is looking only forward instead of being tied to its town’s past.
Inside, large-scale assembly lines working at factory speeds are nowhere to be found. Instead, two noteworthy custom copper pot stills are the secret to this young-blood distillery’s acclaim: one is designed specifically for gins, one for whiskeys. Tracing the stills’ roots back to Hletko’s grandfather’s days as a Czech brewery owner, the distilling team has their hands deep in the traditions of the old world to craft unique flavors for years to come. Even though this is a small distillery, don’t let its intimate 2,700-square-foot size cast a shadow on the bold flavors that make their way out of the industrial-sized garage doors. Every aspect of FEW’s distilling is carefully watched under a polished microscope, all the way from grain to glass. Specifically, for their Bourbon, a mix of 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% regional malt is aged in Minnesotan white oak barrels, with fire-torched innards because, Hletko explains, “…the frost season is shorter there, the tighter grains of the wood produce a better balance of pepper and vanilla, making tannins more intense.”
Hletko and FEW are no stranger to looking to regional farmers, sourcing the highest quality corn, wheat and rye so he not only can control the ingredients, but also can give his master distillers the means to produce the best grain alcohol possible. While a steep hill to climb for many small distillers across the nation, FEW uses this level of involvement to lay a sturdy ground floor for their spirits to rely on.
Going from daring newbie to high-proof heavy hitters in rapid time, FEW has received acclaim for both its Gin and Whiskey at home and overseas. Whether being awarded the highest-rated Gin in the past 5 years by the Beverage Tasting Institute or bringing home gold medals at the International Whiskey Competition and World Whiskey Awards, to name a few, there are no signs that this small-batch distillery is slowing down.
On your way to Chicago, stop by Evanston and toast the town’s lack of Temperance laws and excess of great craftsmanship under FEW’s roof.
Discover more Illinois makers at Illinois Made.