Charbay Tequila Blanco; Charbay Whiskey Release II; Charbay Doubled & Twisted Light Whiskey.
Thanks to Jenni at Charbay, I have a small bottle of the best whiskey I've ever had. (Papa Saz is knocked to #2.)
I don't even know where to start with explaining this whiskey. Well, here's what it comes down to, I guess: whiskey starts out as beer. Not as good beer, though - it starts as a sort of lobotomized unhopped beer, because hops were added to beer as a preservative, and thanks to the distillation process there's no need for them. In 1999, the distillers at Charbay said, okay, but what if we made a good beer anyway? What if we started with a good beer - what would that do to the whiskey?
Well, it makes a fucking great whiskey, that's what.
They started with a Pilsner made from European two-row barley and hops (California, Nugget, and Eroica), distilled it in a pot still, and aged it in barrels. The first release of Charbay Whiskey was released in 2002, at 3 years old. The second release - what I have - was bottled in 2007, at 8 years old. It's bottled at 110 proof, and the hops are so unexpected that when I was giving Matt a sample of it, I misremembered and told him it was distilled from an IPA.
First of all, you can smell the beer in the nose - there's a lot of spice that I would probably take for rye if I didn't know what I was drinking, and a lot of caramel. The spice hits you right up front - again, like a good rye - and then the hops are there in a distinctive beer-like aftertaste.
I could drink this every day, straight. I can't afford to ... but I want to. It's good with bitters, especially orange bitters, and I haven't tried it in a Boulevardier (whiskey/Campari/sweet vermouth) yet but -- wait, I will stop writing this blog entry until I have done so.
Okay, it's good in a Boulevardier, but the Campari overpowers much of the spice - though not the hop aftertaste - and I think this is a spirit best in more spirit-heavy cocktails like the Old-Fashioned and maybe a Manhattan that's light on the vermouth. A little lemon and Aperol works, too. The Boulevardier would probably work better here with different proportions - maybe 2 parts whiskey, 1 part vermouth, 1 part Campari.
The Doubled and Twisted, the bottle on the far right, is labeled a "Light Whiskey," and is Charbay's unaged whiskey - unlike the Charbay Whiskey, it's distilled from an IPA and bottled at 99 proof after only a day of barrel aging. (An aged version is forthcoming.) Since the Charbay is now my favorite whiskey, it's not surprising that the D&T is one of the best white whiskeys I've had - it's neck and neck with Glen Thunder. All of the funky nose of an unaged whiskey is there, with a much more pronounced hop flavor. It's very very cool. Again, you don't want to overpower the hops - this is best in a whiskey sour or on the rocks.
The Tequila Blanco has no hops. Just to be clear. The distillers distill it in Mexico in a copper pot still, and the GPS coordinates of the distillery are right on the label. It's a very tasty tequila, very peppery and green in a way that I love - I'm not as versed in tequilas, so I don't know which brands to compare it to, but I can tell you it's better than Patron (my usual brand).