Charity Begins In The Vineyard

Reviews of the Flam Blanc 2013 and the Few Spirits Rye.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  June 2015


few ryeMany within the wine and liquor industry are remarkably generous. Rare is the charity auction that doesn’t feature some donated wine or a special bottle of spirits. Typically, such donated items range anywhere from gift-baskets with wine and glasses to sumptuous 10 course wine-pairing dinners to hot-air balloon trips over the Napa Valley. These are often donated by distilleries, distributers, wineries or others within the industry. Often even private collectors generously get in on this action, all in the name of charity.

The amounts raised can be substantial. A recent Napa-based charitable event, the 35th annual “Auction Napa Valley”, a four-day event hosted by Napa Valley Vintners raised $15.8 million for local nonprofits focused on community health and children’s education.

The festivities included barrel tastings, various parties and winery open houses as well as entertainer John Legend; he recently partnered with Napa’s Raymond Vineyards to release his own label. One of the donated auction items was a magnum from each of year of the iconic Napa winery Opus One since their first release, 35 in all, as well as a 2 week trip to France (with wine tastings)  that sold for  $800,000. When it was clear that more than one bidder was interested, the winery munificently tripled their donation so the auction could sell 3 lots for the same price thus gaining $2.4 million for the local charities.

Much closer to home, and on a much smaller scale, one of us was recently asked to suggest kosher wines to include in a basket being put together for a local charity auction. While the pockets at this event were, alas, not nearly as deep as those in Napa, the anticipated attendees did include many discerning wine lovers. So one of the recommendations was for a terrific summer wine, now also our wine of the week – the Flam Blanc 2013 ($30-35; so shop around), an unoaked blend of 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Chardonnay. It is a crisp and well-balanced effort that opens with apple, citrus and slight grassy aromas that meld into a mélange of stone fruit, lime, pineapple and hints of minerals in the pleasant finish.

Spirits-wise, we thought we consider a young but so far very successful American craft distillery: F.E.W. Spirits in Evanston, IL. Situated down an alley, in a warehouse beneath the El Train tracks at 918 Chicago Ave., the distillery isn’t much too look at from the outside. Previously used by an auto mechanic, rumors in the hood claim the space was also previously an illegal chop-shop. Regardless, this small distillery in Suburban Chicago impresses with its local grain-to-glass production.

The raw ingredients for everything they produce come from as close to Evanston as possible. The approach being, 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 “FEW 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 WWII, 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, 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 Ms. 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, followed by tastes of toasted cereal grains, at first slightly sweet and then dry and prickly, with clear rye and cinnamon notes, sweet grass, unripe banana, a touch of something-like eucalyptus, and then small waves of vanilla but little oak character, until the warming, drying oak-present finish. Young, fruity, balanced, intriguing, and delicious. L’Chaim!

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