The long awaited general release of Charbay’s whiskey made with Bear Republic’s Big Bear Black Stout is just weeks away, it seems. I ran into Charbay’s general manager, Charles Henning (that’s him up there with the bottle of the “S” whiskey) at the grand reopening party for the Calistoga Inn, which was closed for almost a year by damage from a major fire. He was passing out tastes of the stuff and it is very good – rich, malty, slick on the tongue, like a fine scotch but with a bit more of a bite. Charles was a popular conversation companion last night at the party.

The S Whiskey has been available at D&M Wine and Liquor in San Francisco since late last year, sort of a test market of the first 400 bottles, but master distiller Marko Karakasevic has been waiting to release the bottles to the general market. The time is coming in the next few weeks, Charles said. The only downside is that the liquor will sell for north of $100 per bottle because of the extraordinary expense of using a finished beer as the base of a whiskey (a normal base for a distilled spirit costs about 17 cents per gallon, Charles told us, but using the finished beer costs about $7 per gallon in bulk – and it takes 10 gallons of beer to make one gallon of whiskey, so the extra cost adds up quickly). But it is worth trying if only in the form of a shot a bar lucky enough to have a bottle.

The whiskey is the second Bear Republic-based whiskey by Charbay, a brandy and liquor maker in St. Helena. Here’s our piece from earlier this year discussing Marko’s first project, a whiskey based on Racer 5 IPA.

Meanwhile, the Calistoga Inn is back in full operation, looking spiffy at its year-long rehab, and the food and house-made beer were in good form. There was an excellent crowd for the reopening party, held on the anniversary of the fire. Here’s owner Michael Dunsford saluting the crowd during a break in the performance by San Francisco band Vinyl. Mike suggested he might make the fire party an annual event.

– Sean Scully