So much owed to so FEW

Rolling in the deep

Rolling in the deep

On a chilly Tuesday evening in late January, six of the country’s finest bartenders gathered at Genuine Liquorette ‒ a really quite lovely little bar up Fitzrovia-way ‒ to do battle. They’d been discussing it for months, on stools and at pumps across the land, but it was finally here: the first ever FEW Cocktail Competition. As with all serious contests, there was a prize at stake and, unlike other more quotidian showdowns, this prize was a serious one.

That prize: Chicago. Well, more specifically, three days and two nights in Chicago, the Windy City and home of FEW Spirits. The trip would include a visit to the FEW distillery in Evanston, Illinois; a lavish dinner at legendary Chicago restaurant Longman & Eagle; and a night out at famous night-spot Delilah’s.

The contestants: Kylie Shannon from Liverpudlian joint Jenny’s Bar. Her weapon of choice: The Devil in the White City, an interesting concoction that included Australian smoke bitters, pickle brine, Laphroaig 10-Year-Old, gunpowder green tea and, the main event, FEW Bourbon. Kylie’s cocktail was inspired by a particular brand of American Exceptionalism as showcased at the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893, an event immortalised on FEW’s famous label.

She was joined by Marshall Seyler from Spitalfield’s Hawksmoor Bar. His punnily titled A Few Wise Men used FEW Rye as its foundation and layered it with some intriguing characters like Cynar, Fig Punt e Mes, angostura bitters and absinthe. Marshall wanted to contrast the sweetness of the figs with the spice of the rye ‒ and he did so, with aplomb.

Next up was Rachel Shephard of Nottingham’s grooviest bar, Boilermaker. Rachel’s Reservation contained a cornucopia of flavours owing to the mixture of FEW bourbon with some wild and wonderful ingredients such as leather tincture, macadamia and chestnut syrup, and oak, cherrywood and cigar bitters. Woah there, this thing tasted like a vintage Chesterfield sofa, in a very good way.

From Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Cafe came Danny McManus’s Illinois Reviver. FEW Rye was the platform on which fermented peach & honey cordial, Escubac liqueur, saline and suze did dance. Our own Dave Smillie went wild for this pickled treat of a drink, applauding Danny’s mastery of flavour and interesting take on FEW’s history.

Hungarian rockstar bartender Gergó Muráth from London diner The Fat Bear served up his A Few More Buckets. A homage to the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls and more specifically a pre-game peanut butter & jelly sandwich, it included grape jelly, bourbon peanut butter (400ml of bourbon mixed with a jar of peanut butter ‒ we know!), Christmas syrup and a couple of dashes of peychauds.

And last, but by no means least, Rosie Scott Bennett from Blackrock bar in London town debuted her Sugar & Spice. Made with pumpkin spiced latte, mulled wine, gold edible glitter and FEW Rye, it was a festive-infused treat and a well needed fillip in these bleak January climes.

So that was it and it was a damned nice thing ‒ the nearest run thing you ever saw. But there had to be a winner and that winner was… Danny McManus and his Illinois Reviver which blew the judges’ socks off with its sophisticated and nuanced flavour. Congratulations, Danny! But the real winners perhaps on the night were all the lucky folk who got the chance to taste those delicious creations. It was well worth the Wednesday morning sore heads, that’s for sure.

Alexis Self