A New Distillery, With Roots In Pre-War Europe | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

A New Distillery, With Roots In Pre-War Europe

A New Distillery, With Roots In Pre-War Europe

F.E.W. Spirits Rye Whiskey. Via fewspirits.com

Distiller Paul Hletko's family were brewers, but he's more interested in the hard stuff.

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F.E.W. Spirits in Evanston, IL, isn't much to look at. It's down an alley, in a warehouse beneath the El Train tracks at 918 Chicago Avenue. Previously used by an auto mechanic, rumors in the hood claim the space was also previously an illegal chop shop. Regardless, this small distillery impresses with its local grain-to-glass production.

The raw ingredients for everything they produce come from as close to Evanston as possible. Whatever they can’t grow themselves, they’ll buy locally — or, at least, from friends. All fermentation, distillation, aging and bottling is done on-site. Even the Cascade hops used in their “F.E.W. American Gin” are grown in the backyard of owner/founder Paul Hletko.

Formerly a patent attorney, Hletko decided to become a distiller to honor the legacy of his grandfather Alfred Dube, a Czechoslovakian Jewish brewer who died in 2008. Despite dabbling in home brewing for years, Hletko decided to open a distillery rather than a brewery. Back in the day, before the war, his family had a major brewery in what was then Czechoslovakia. After the Nazi invasion, the family lost the brewery (now owned by a large multi-national company), and then also most of the family. Hletko’s grandfather survived the concentration camps, but his large and extended family perished.

Inspired by his family history, Hletko was determined to establish the distillery in his hometown; close enough to walk his kids to school. There was a legal battle to be had, however, as Evanston had been a dry town and maintained its century long disapproving attitude against booze.

In fact, in the late 1800s Evanston was the home base of the national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Frances Elizabeth Willard (or F.E.W. – nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Due to Willard’s lifework, the town was very dry indeed. Local restaurants couldn’t obtain the right to even serve alcohol until the 1970s, and the first liquor stores weren’t permitted to open for another decade. At any rate, to cut a long story short, Hletko won that battle and in 2011 opened the F.E.W. Distillery — the first licensed distillery in the area for, oh, a terribly long time.

F.E.W. Distillery produces whiskies and gins, all fairly decent for still young hooch. Our favorite in the lineup is:

Few Spirits Rye (46.5 percent abv; $60): Made of 70 percent rye, 20 percent corn and 10 percent malted barley, this is young and warm without being fiery; free of funk and flaws; a remarkably clean, straightforward rye whiskey. It offers fruity aromas of apple and plum, as well as slightly sweet cereal grains, and subtle notes of brown sugar and toasted coconut, all with a slight spicy prickle to the nose. Young, fruity, balanced, intriguing and delicious. L’Chaim!

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