** This is the second post in a new series by Mack McConnell called West Coast Whiskey. Mack’s a contributing writer for Cocktail Enthusiast. When he’s not writing about whiskey, he’s probably drinking it. He also runs Taster’s Club Whiskey of the Month. **
Moving up the coast from last week’s close-up on St. George Spirits, let’s take a look at the Charbay Distillery in Napa. This innovative group is pushing the envelope of the whiskey world.
Located in St. Helena, CA, Charbay is an independent, family-owned winery and distillery. Known originally for its wine, high-end brandies and eau-de-vie, they now make everything from flavored vodkas to pastis to pot still rum. But they recently entered the whiskey business. And that’s where things got wild.
Charbay’s Master Distiller Marko Karakasevic is a big fan of Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA. So the enterprising gent decided to take that Racer 5 IPA, and turn it into whiskey. To start, he sourced 6,000 gallons of the stuff – no easy feat – and started to distill it down. The beer, also from California, is a hop-head’s dream, with Chinoook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial hops. So Charbay was quickly on its way to creating the world’s first “hop-flavored whiskey.”
After distillation, the whiskey was aged for 22 months — some in French oak barrels, and some in stainless steel vats (to make oak-matured and clear versions, respectively). Then earlier this summer, Charbay released its experimental whiskey to the world, naming it “R5” in tribute to the beer.
Color: Medium-deep gold
Nose: Heady, grassy aromas. The hops and malt are very apparent, with a touch of light spice. It smells fresh and vegetal – more like newly cut grass than hay.
Taste: More hops. Smooth and fresh on the palate with a fruity sweet/bright flavor – think mango or honeydew melon — that’s absent in the aroma. There are more earthy, vegetal flavors, and some bitterness on the finish as the hops become front and center.
– 49.5% Alcohol by Volume
Taking their influence from the Californian craft beer movement makes this a truly unique and Californian whiskey. Hats off to Charbay for doing something new.