Few Spirits gin and more from the Independent Spirits Expo

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At most liquor tastings I go to, the number of options is overwhelming, easily in the triple digits, while the number of things I can comfortably taste in an evening tends to be in the low double digits. The Independent Spirits Expo last week was an extreme example: nearly 100 distilleries and distributors, most with a half-dozen offerings apiece, were packed into the Carmichael's Warehouse in the West Loop.

In situations like this, focus is key. I identified a few booths I wanted to check out, including Few Spirits, the Evanston-based distillery that launched last year. Stopping by their table, I immediately noticed a barrel-aged gin, something I'd never heard of before—but according to the Atlantic, it's a microtrend. The barrel imparts both color and flavor to the spirit, making it taste like a cross between whiskey and gin: it's lighter than whiskey, with the botanical notes associated with gin, but it also has wood flavors and some sweetness. I liked it a lot, but even more intriguing to me was Few's American gin. Admittedly, I haven't tried a lot of gins, but I've never come across one that I'd want to drink neat before (though the barrel-aged gin would certainly work for that too). This one was vegetal, almost cucumbery, with subtle juniper flavors—mostly, it was incredibly smooth. With almost no alcoholic kick, it was light (but not lacking in flavor) and easy to sip.

Other favorites included Corsair's quinoa whiskey—yes, you can taste the quinoa—and incredibly smoky "triple smoke" whiskey. Coincidentally, Corsair also makes a barrel-aged gin, along with oddities like cannabis moonshine and chocolate mocha porter whiskey (I didn't see any of those on offer at the tasting, though I could have missed them). Journeyman Distillery's Featherbone Bourbon, which Mike Sula wrote about last week, was also excellent, as was their Ravenswood Rye. I've tried Macchu Pisco's La Diablada pisco before, but I was impressed all over again at how smooth and fruity-tasting it is—I love pisco, but haven't found many that are suitable for drinking straight (they're usually best mixed into cocktails). This one is.

Del Maguey mezcal
I also tasted a few of the offerings from the Del Maguey line of single-village mezcals, and just wish it had been a little earlier in the evening so I could have tried more and taken better notes. The variations among them are remarkable; you'd hardly know from tasting them that they're all the same type of spirit. The Vida, often referred to as an entry-level mezcal, is slightly sweet and smoky but not overwhelming, while the Chichicapa is extremely smoky. The Pechuga, made with wild apples, plums, plantains, pineapples, almonds, and white rice, is extraordinarily complex. It's actually made with a chicken breast, which is suspended in the still above the liquid during the third fermentation, and while it may have been the power of suggestion, I did think I detected a bit of chicken flavor, or at least savoriness, in the fruity-tasting liquor.

I didn't actually taste this whiskey—the line was too long, and there were too many other good options—but just wanted to point out that the Wild Scotsman himself was there.

Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.

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