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Monday, March 4th, 2014
Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)
"World of Whiskey" - Charbay Distillery and Winery: Based in Napa Valley with a distillery in Ukiah, Charbay has been making whiskey for awhile. But its latest contribution to the category is Hop Flavored Whiskey, a uniquely Northern Californian take on deliciousness. Within the lineup are several offerings, including R5, a whiskey distilled with Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA in both clear and aged versions. The clear is spicy-sweet with a showy taste of hops, while the aged, which spent 29 months in French oak, is darker and smoother, the hops more bitter than sweet, yet perfectly defined.
S Whiskey Lot 211A is made with Bear Republic's Big Bear Stout for a serious taste of orange caramel and vanilla spice, perfect for sipping. Charbay's greatest achievement however may be what it calls Whiskey Release III, a whiskey made with 20,000 gallons of Pilsner wherein hops were added just before distillation and once done, the concoction was aged six years in new American white oak and then another eight years in neutral containers. Striking the right balance between floral and spicy, it's a whiskey for committed aficionados and collectors, as only 224 cases were made, serious stuff. Visit charbay.com."
Hoppin' Good Whiskey: Charbay - By Steven Ury
A friend recently asked me if there was a fireor other natural disaster in my whiskey closet such that I could only rescueone whiskey, what would it be? Given that I live in an area prone toearthquakes, this is something I do occasionally ponder, and the answer is a ano-brainer: I would save my Charbay hopped whiskey. My interrogator wassomewhat taken aback, but as I explained, it's a unique and wonderfulwhiskey. It would be a tragedy to lose my peated and sherried malts, mybold ryes and complex bourbons, but the truth is, somewhere out there, there isa replacement for each of those categories. They may not exactly befungible, but I know where to find great peated malt or great bourbon(hopefully with the help of a hefty insurance check). But there is nosubstitute for Charbay. There's nothing else I've had that tastes likethis stuff, and it tastes really, really good. The PilsnerCharbay is a smalldistillery in Napa County, the heart of the California wine country. WhenI refer to Charbay Whiskey in this context, what I'm really referring to istheir series of whiskeys distilled from pilsner. Back in 1999, distiller MarkoKarakasevic distilled a batch of pilsner from the now defunct Sonoma MountainBrewery, owned by the wine making Benzinger family. While all whiskey ismade from beer, it's not generally beer you would want to drink. WhatCharbay did was use a finished beer, hops and all, as the basis for thewhiskey. Some additional hops is added as well so technically, this is aflavored whiskey, but it's no Red Stag. The whiskey was aged in 22 new, charredMissouri White Oak barrels at a #3 char.Charbay'sfirst pilsner release was a cask strength bottling at two years old;they released two barrels which totaled 840 bottles. This was the onethat created a cult following for Charbay with people hunting down the bottlesanywhere they could find them, even with the $350 sticker price. The hopsgave it a bold, funky, marijuana like flavor (hops and cannabis are related).And despite its youth, it had none of the new make or raw wood notes that areso often the hallmarks of young craft whiskeys.
After six years,Karakasevic transferred all but two barrels to stainless steel tanks. Asecond release of five barrels, CharbayII,came out of the tank in 2007. It had goodflavor, but at 55%, the lower abv made it less bold than the firstedition. Last fall, the distillery issued CharbayRelease III,another ten barrels of the same six year old, which had now been in steel tanksfor eight years. This one was released at cask strength and is reviewedbelow.
There is still someof that 1999 pilsner distillate aging away both in and out of wood. A 13year old version, Charbay IV, is set for general release this year, and thereis one more cask which will hit 15 this year. Karakasevic doesn'tknow if he'll release it or just drink it with friends. Let's hope hedecides to share. Having tasted a 12 year old private bottling for the LAWhiskey Society whichstands as one of my favorite whiskeys ever, I'm very excited about thepossibility of more aged Charbay pilsners on the market.
The Charbay hoppedwhiskeys are eye-raisingly expensive. Releases I and II went for around$350. The new Release III hovers around $400, if you can find it. That this is hyper-expensive goes without saying, but I've yet to findsomething that can match it at any price.The Bear Republic Whiskeys
In the last few years, Charbay has released a new series of hopped whiskeys made from beer distilled by Bear Republic Distillery in Sonoma County. These include Charbay R5, made from the popular Racer 5 IPA and Charbay S made from Big Bear Black Stout.
There have been three releases of the R5 from two runs, an unaged version, a 22 month old version distilled in 2010 (Lot 610) and a new, 30 month old expression distilled in 2011 (Lot 611). (Charbay Lot number indicate the month and year of distillation so 611 = June 2011).
All of the stout that has been released was distilled in 2011 (Lot 211) but there have been three releases. The first was a bottling for D&M in San Francisco at around 20 months (reviewed below), the second was a bottling for Astor Wines and Ward III in New York also at 20 months, and the third was a general release at 30 months.
Both the R5 and S whiskeys were aged in used French oak barrels that previously held Chardonnay. As with the pilsner releases, Karakasevic expects to release the Bear Republic whiskeys again at 6 and 12 years of age. Unlike the pilsners, the Bear Republic whiskeys have so far gone for under $100.
Today, I review the new pilsner release along with two of the more affordable Bear Republic whiskeys.Charbay Whiskey Release III
(pilsner) 66.2% abv ($400)
The nose has all of that hops and spice that I'm used to from these Charbay releases along with a perfume like quality. The palate is sweet and hoppy with a thick mouthfeel. You get the funky, hoppy character but with less of the marijuana note than I've tasted in some of the other releases. The finish is hoppy and spicy and lasts pretty much forever. This release is sweeter than any of the other Charbay pilsners I've had. It's great, funky stuff, and I like it better than the original Release II, possibly because it's at a higher strength, but I still think it's hard to beat the boldness of the very first release.
This is another really fantastic expression of the pilsner. Unfortunately, it's very expensive and a very limited release. I have yet to see it on the shelf.Charbay R5
, Lot 610A ($70)
The nose is huge and hoppy, though of a quite different character than the pilsner hops. There's almost a dry champagne note to it. The palate is sweet and spicy with more of those wine notes which remind me of a spicy white, like a Gewurztraminer. The hops comes out in finish where it mixes with honey and cinnamon.
R5 has a very different character from the pilsners. It's hoppy, but the hops is less bold, contributing more to a general spiciness. It's still got some of youthful, new make notes, but it's tasty just the same, and it does give a sense of the Charbay style.Charbay S
, Lot S211A (for D&M), 49.5% abv ($70)
This is the D&M bottling, so it's a bit younger than the general release of Charbay S. The nose is hoppy and very beer like, like nosing a stout with lots of rich malt character. The palate is lighter than I would have expected, with hops and spice. The spice on the stout is more akin to baking spices like clove and ginger, similar to some of the notes in a rye whiskey. Toward the end of the palate it has sweet vanilla notes which trail off in to the finish.
The R5 and S are quite similar with the stout being a bit sweeter and a bit more balanced overall. They both have some young whiskey notes and are clearly still developing; it will be interesting to see where they go with more aging.
Since Charbay's first release of hopped whiskey, a few other American distilleries have tried it as well. Just last month, Anchor released a distilled batch of their Christmas Ale, though it was unaged and not labeled as whiskey. I'd love to see more hopped whiskey on the market, but for now, I'll be clutching my Charbays when the big one hits.Disclaimer: The Charbay III reviewed above was a sample from a bottle that Charbay sent to the LA Whiskey Society. The R5 and S were purchased at retail.
To read more of Steven's reviews, check out his Blog:
The NEW YORK TIMES,
Wednesday February 6, 2013
For years, the craft-beer and craft-distilling movements have
toiled away at their parallel but separate efforts.
Now the two have a shared enthusiasm to talk about.
A Hand full of Hops
Jim Wilson / The New York Times Feb. 6, 2013
Hops, the plants that give beers their bitter edge and much of their aroma — and the favorite plaything of hop-happy brewers — have been adopted by a handful of American distillers as the predominant flavor note in a number of new spirits.
Charbay, the hypercreative Napa Valley winery and distillery, has produced hopped whiskeys; .......For each product, the hops are introduced at different points in the distilling process, but the liquors share an aggressive, spicy pungency. As in beer, hops in spirits are no wallflowers.
In the brash craft-distilling industry, where every new flavor concept is entertained and every orthodoxy is giddily challenged, the notion of marrying spirits with hops is not as big a leap of logic as it might seem. Whiskey, after all, begins with a beerlike mixture of malted grain and water, called a wash.
“Growing up in a distilling family, learning about everything that is distilled, I knew whiskey is distilled from beer,” said Marko Karakasevic, Charbay’s master distiller. “So I’m brewing beer, you know, and I was talking to my dad, saying, ‘Why can’t I just distill the delicious beer I like to drink?’ ”
His father saw no reason not to. So in 1999, Mr. Karakasevic sent 20,000 gallons of pilsner from the Benziger Winery (which for a time dabbled in beer) through the stills. He has since created two whiskeys distilled from Bear Republic Brewing’s Racer 5 I.P.A. — one aged 22 months in used French oak barrels, another aged in stainless steel — named R5 Aged and R5 Clear, respectively.
“It seems the whiskey world these days is all about sherry barrels and bourbon barrels in order to get a different flavor from their whiskey,” Mr. Karakasevic said. “But, hey, why not just try to start with a different beer?” That is, instead of using a barely drinkable wash, distill a fully fashioned brew.
Ward III, a bar in TriBeCa, serves Charbay’s “S” Hop Flavored Whiskey, distilled from Bear Republic’s Big Black Bear Stout. “To me, it redefines what whiskey is,” said Michael J. Neff, one of the bar’s owners. “It’s not a traditional flavor profile. The viscosity and mouthfeel are amazing.”
Unlike whiskey, though, vodka and hops enjoy no natural connection. But when your company is known as much for its beer as its spirits, you get ideas.
Lew Bryson, the managing editor of Whisky Advocate, said beer lovers may be the prime audience for hopped spirits. “I think they’re finding common consumers,” he said of the experimental distillers.
But Mr. Neff sees potential beyond that. “Whenever I start with something with a big flavor, I go back to the most basic classics,” he said. “What does it taste like in a sour? In a manhattan?”
Mr. Karakasevic is by no means done with hops, either. Several barrels of his original pilsner experiment, now a 14-year-old whiskey, will be released this year as Charbay Whiskey III. Some of the same distilled beer that led to the R5 whiskeys is also sitting in barrels. A six-year-old R5 will be released in 2016, with a 12-year-old following in 2022.
Thanks, New York Times, for sharing our story!
St. Helena Distiller combining whiskey, beer....
By SEAN SCULLY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After three decades of work, Marko Karakasevic finally has found a way to combine his favorite beverage, beer, with his family's three-century-old business, making distilled spirits.
Karakasevic's Charbay distillery in St. Helena is most famous for its high-end brandy and vodka, but he lately has been collaborating with Healdsburg's Bear Republic Brewing Co. to craft a line of whiskeys that capture the hop punch and malt complexity of brews from this star of the growing craft beer market.
He started with Bear Republic's flagship Racer 5, a classic West Coast India Pale Ale: rich, golden and highly hoppy. The whiskey is known as "R5" in honor of the source beer, and it has much of the same smooth mouthfeel and intense hop bitterness and aroma...............
R5 Whiskey in the News
R5 AGED HOP FLAVORED WHISKEY ($75):
“full of wonderful baking-spice and hops note”
For several years, Charbay has been experimenting with distilling craft beer into whiskey. The latest spirit, which was just released and is a potent 99-proof, begins as Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic Brewing Co. As a result, it’s full of wonderful baking-spice and hops note. $75/750 ML
- Charbay R5 Whiskey, Clear
93 "This is one of the most interesting and riotous options in the moonshine category. The aromatics are sweet and funky, with a sour hoppy note. Although it's hot - as would be expected at nearly 100 proof - bright flavors still emerge, tempered by a touch of sweetness and ginger-cinnamon fireworks. A surprising effervescence makes the flavors pop. $54/750 ML
Guardian Magazine / Virginia Miller:
Charbay R5 Whiskeys…
“…As an avowed whiskey lover, Marko Karakasevic’s (Charbay’s distiller, alongside his father, Miles) whiskeys are among the best I’ve had anywhere. But his fantastic beauties, like Release II  are out of the price range of many of us at $350 a bottle, though I would call it one of the few worth a splurge.
Thankfully, his new whiskies are on the way, each actually distilling Bear Republic’s http://www.bearrepublic.com/  finished beer, aging it in oak or stainless steel. Marko has been distilling bottle-ready beers for years, like the pilsner he used for his Release I whiskey in 1999….”
Distilling It Down - the Charbay Story by Nate Gartrell
Imbibe Magazine: Marko and his distilling
Visiting Charbay Winery & Distillery
The trip up to Charbay took us on a lovely sunlit drive through St. Helena and up into the hills. The road got a bit twisty, but the occasional views through the trees were stunning. Since the penalty for missing a turn would have been severe (100-foot drop or more), Nikki got to enjoy the views more than I did.
Charbay offers tastings by appointment only. No, it isn’t a manifestation of the elusive snobbery we’d heard about in the area – it’s just that they’re off the beaten path and it’s not practical to have regular tasting room hours. It’s well worth the very small effort it takes to make a reservation. One tip: give yourself 10 minutes more than you think you’ll need to get there. While the drive is lovely, you’ll get to a fairly narrow winding road where caution compels a safer (lower) speed.
The gate magically opens and you are almost there!
As we headed toward the building from the parking lot, a cute, friendly little dog named Snifter (Sniffy to friends) waddled out and greeted us (we later met Sniffy’s adorable companion, Sunny). We then walked past a couple of alembic stills next to a patio and went inside.
Nikki adds: The still was the legendary “Still on the Hill.” It was beautiful, imposing…and currently nonfunctional. As John told us, a significant fiscal investment to build a brick housing, as well as one heck of a lot of paperwork, new sewage and possibly some changes in local laws, would be required for that specific still to begin operating on the Charbay property. The active still operation, using identical (but functional) equipment, is about a hundred miles north in Ukiah.
I excused myself to use the restroom, and when I came out John, who was manning the tasting room that day, was taking pictures with Nikki’s phone, having her pose next to the large exotic-looking stills outside. It was immediately apparent that we were in the presence of a fun-loving, gregarious individual.
L-R: Sniffy, Mike, Nikki, a shrub
Charbay is a distiller and a winemaker, but licensing restrictions prevent them from offering tastings of spirits in the tasting room. While we’d love to give their distilled spirits a try, we were there for wine, so it worked out just fine for us.
Now, who will we call when we need bail?
Inside the rustic tasting room, John told us about some of the finer points of distilling spirits, gave us a little background on the Charbay family, and then we got down to tasting some wine. Nikki adds: While you’re there, don’t miss the water! We’re not joking. It comes from a well on the property and is delicious.
It didn’t feel like a typical tasting room experience. It was much more like visiting an eclectic old friend with a great wine collection. Although we had just met John, we felt like old friends (in fact, if John and I had known each other when when we were kids I’m pretty sure we would have gotten into plenty of trouble, the kind where you might lose some fingers…).
2010 Chardonnay (St. Helena): Happy sunny aroma, with a very slight astringency that adds a little extra brightness! Flavor was mellow and estery, leaning toward buttery but stopping short of that. Bright but not tangy, with just a hint of oak. Nikki adds: We got to taste one that was freshly opened as well as one that had been open for a day or so. I found that the one that had breathed had a deep apple cider scent while the new one had hints of nougat, and the flavor changed too; the one that had breathed was VERY acidic, while the freshly opened bottle had more lemon and pink grapefruit to it.
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville): Very complex aroma and flavor. On the nose I detected caramel, raisins, chocolate… I almost thought I was smelling a port! The flavor was equally layered, adding cocoa, mushrooms, wood, with a slightly meaty quality. Nikki adds: I got unsweetened chocolate and cacao nibs in the flavor. My notes also say “Tiny spice.”
I found this very complex and different than more middle-of-the-road Cabs. It was delightful. That pour was from a bottle that had been open for a while. John also opened a new bottle and gave us a taste – it was tighter and the fruit and tannins were a little more prominent. I would have been impressed with the newly-opened one, but the one that had oxidized a bit had greater separation in the flavor elements and provided a deeper, more laid-back taste.
Nikki adds: Mike said “The problem with most cabs is that they think my tongue is a vampire and are trying to drive a stake through it. This one doesn’t do that.”
2006 Cabernet Franc (Napa Valley): The aroma shared some elements with the Cabernet Sauvignon, but with more caramel and a little smoke. On the tongue, there was a pop of tannins up front that then mellowed into sugared wood. On my second sip the tannins were mellower and I got more fruit. The finish was clean with a hint of grape peel. Many of the Cabernet Sauvignons and Francs I’ve tasted in my life have been pretty gosh-darned tannic and rather monolithic of flavor. The ones I tasted here showed me how much depth and complexity they can possess, especially when the tannins are so nicely balanced. Nikki adds: This made me think of what a port whiskey would be like. There was fruit in the front and oak in the back, with chocolate-covered hints.
Green Tea Aperitif: This tasted delightfully like someone had tried to replicate the flavor of Chartreuse using only traditional Chinese herbs and ingredients. The aroma and flavor were reminiscent of an herbal apothecary. It was slightly herbal, slightly sweet, and a mellow green tea flavor held the whole thing together. It was imaginative and delicious. Nikki adds: This reminded me of Black Qi from Hangar One, a liqueur that I love.
Pomegranate Dessert Wine: If I hadn’t seen the label my brain would have been chasing itself around going “It’s raspberry. No! It’s cherry! But there’s something else familiar… but it’s raspberry! No! It’s cherry!” It was very tasty with concentrated fruit, and of course much more convenient than eating a pomegranate and dealing with all the seeds. Nikki adds: My notes just say “Sheer perfection.”
1997 Distillers’ Port: Super-chocolaty aroma! The flavor had plenty of chocolate with elements of wood and hazelnut. It was like Christmas in a glass. Nikki adds: This port, made of cabernet sauvignon fortified with Charbay eight-year-old aged brandy, was in the barrel for 13 years. John told us, “This is a ‘Moorish’ port…because when you taste it you want more.” Mike said, “It’s like Santa Claus just climbed down my nose and left an bunch of presents on my tongue.”
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