Yes. I know. It’s as much a mystery to me as it must be to you, dear readers. Not sure whether it’s a case of time travel or a rogue publisher’s folly but here I am, in glorious glossy paper, back to life in a strange land they say was named after me.
It’s not like I haven’t been watching this last century and a half or so since I and my Methodist brethren founded North Western (yes, I know, they have since made it one word) University. I have not been blind. I see the blasphemy that abounds in this strange, new world. And even though I can’t quite explain it, now I’m back and writing a column for a magazine that somehow imagines itself The New Yorker of Evanston.
Who am I to argue? I’ve been silenced for more than a century and am eager to offer my opinions about what this Evans town, or Evanston, has become in my absence.
Until now, what I’ve been watching all these years felt like a holographic nightmare—flashes of the future in opposition to the past, of upstart generations throwing away everything patriots like myself and my personal friend Abe Lincoln fought for.
But the thing that brings me most distress at the moment is the blatant disregard for the laws that were so clearly put in place when we founded North Western in 1855. We set forth a clear code of conduct based on our Methodist values, an edict that would rule this city for more than a century. Lagerites were ordered to destroy their stills and a rule was established that “no spiritous, vinous, or fermented liquors shall be sold under license, or otherwise” within four miles of the university “except for medicinal, mechanical, or sacramental purposes, under a penalty of $25 for each offense.”
With help from my friends at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Northwestern Dean of Women Frances Elizabeth Willard led the charge to make this city a shining example of good moral behavior for all of America. Even after prohibition was repealed, legions of brave community members preserved the glory of those sacred “four miles” all the way until 1972 (and no, I was not the only one rolling in my grave that day).
And so it is these very transgressions that are burning in my mind when, as I depart Main Street News (which often sells out of this publication on the newsstand, I am told) and head north on Chicago Avenue, I see evidence of a still for the manufacture of spiritous and fermented liquor out in the open—brazenly on display.
The sign down that shallow alleyway read Few Spirits, so I decided to walk in and give them a good talking to.
It was raining, which seemed peculiar for early January in this part of the country, so I stepped through pools of water to reach a small door at 918 Chicago Avenue. My feet were soaking wet, and I was both amused and outraged at the sudden turn of events. Inside the space I found a fellow who told me all about these spirits and the “timeless taste few have,” hence the nomenclature (never mind an acronym that pays a not-so-subtle tribute to Miss Willard herself).
Seems it had been there since 2011. Founded by a record label executive who wanted to pay homage to a grandfather from the Czech Republic. Respectable enough story, but the prohibitionist in me remained skeptical.
“As it says on our web site, in a world chock-full of mass-produced spirits, only few remain truly handcrafted, and small-batched,” he says.
Would I like a taste?
“Well, um, perhaps a small taste,” I say. “I do have a 208th birthday coming up on March 9. And as man of medicine and former governor of Colorado, perhaps an investigation into what you are purveying is my civic duty.”
In my wet boots and soaking waistcoat, I was led to a small counter where all the bottles were on display. They had Bourbon Whiskey and Single Malt Whisky and Rye Whisky. They had Barrel Gin and American Gin and, to my shock, even a Breakfast Gin. And it was all crafted and aged right there in those Vendome steel barrels, in what was once the driest city in America. Incredible.
I asked for the single malt and he poured me a taste from what looked like an apothecary bottle. It was warm and wonderful, a bit spicy, like nothing I remembered. I sipped and asked for another and before I knew it, I was on to the gin.
He asked me what I thought. I paused and asked him if it was for medicinal purposes, as our law had stipulated, and he says “some might say so, some might say so.”
My outrage had dissolved into … well, appreciation. This is not commoner’s moonshine. It’s actually quite complex and seems to add value to this old building here. Times have changed, after all.
“It’s nice,” I told him. “Quite tasty. It’s been a long time since I’ve had bourbon. I’ve been away for a little while for but I like what you’re doing with this place. Carry on.”
“Welcome home, Mr. Evans,” he said. “Welcome home.”