Saturday, October 16, 2010


This post mentions free stuff. Check out the free stuff policy here.

Two whiskeys and a tequila

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).  

1 comment:

  1. What a great review. My family loves writers that are open minded - because we, at Charbay, like to push the limits of today's benchmarks. Our son became a Master Distiller with his Doubled & Twisted Whiskey... he sees light whiskey as a great proving ground for what can come out of an Alembic Pot Still. Your enthusiasm spurs him on. Come by Charbay next time you're in California. We'd love to share more of what we're getting ready to release!
    Susan & family - Charbay Winery & Distillery