1983 must have been a great year in the area, because here we are celebrating yet another 30th anniversary – St. Helena-based brandy and spirits-maker Charbay is marking the successful end of its third decade by releasing the Alambic Collection, seven recent and vintage spirits produced over the years on the company’s copper Alambic Charentais Pot Stills, housed at their distillery up in Ukiah. That’s master distiller Marko Karakasevic up there with the stills, installed by his father Miles, who founded the company. Marko’s family has been in the business for at least 13 generations, but they only founded Domain Charbay, right on the Napa-Sonoma county line above St. Helena, in 1983.
The lineup starts with Brandy No. 89, distilled by Miles in 1989 using Pinot Noir & Sauvignon Blanc and aged in new French oak ever since. They say this only the second release from this batch. A bottle will retail around $93.
Next, chronologically speaking, is Whiskey III, brewed jointly by Marko and Miles in 1999, when Marko’s love of beer resulted in an experiment distilling 20,000 gallons of pilsner. Whiskey is normally made from a liquid that is much like beer, but is not actual finished beer, and learning how to distill this beer took the father-son team more than three weeks. It sat for eight years in oak and then moved to steel tanks. This is the third of four planned releases from this batch. Because of the extreme expense of using beer as a base, and the long storage time, a bottle of this will set you back more than $400.
Third is the 10-year-old barrel-aged rum, made by Marko and Miles in 2003 from cane sugar from Maui. There is no suggested retail price on this yet, but it may be pricey, the distillery warns. Most liquors have about a 10-to-1 ratio from the base material to a finished gallon of spirits, but this one turned out to be 15-to-1, making it potentially the most expensive liquor ever made by Charbay. This one may not hit the shelves until early 2014, they say since it is not quite ready. They are waiting for Miles to give the “Distiller’s Nod” that it is perfect and ready to go.
More recent is Lot 511A of Charbay’s R5 whiskey, made with Racer 5, the IPA from Bear Republic Brewing. This has been on the market for a while and has been popular with beer and whiskey fans alike. This particular batch has been aged in French oak for 29 months. A bottle will cost around $79, in line with previous releases of the R5.
Joining the lineup will be the new S Whiskey, which we told you about in September. This one is made from Bear Republic’s Big Bear Black Stout and aged in French oak. It has a lovely, smooth scotch-like flavor with just a little more kick from the hops in the beer. This will retail for around $140.
Rounding out the celebratory lineup are two ports: the 7-year-old Still House Port, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah and finished with 4-year-old Syrah Alambic Charentais brandy. This should retail around $50. The second is the Distiller’s Port, made in 2006 from late-picked Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon and finished with 6-year old barrel-aged Charbay Cabernet Franc Alambic Charentais brandy. Expect this one to cost around $75 in liquor stores.
Miles is still active in the business, but increasingly Marko is doing the heavy work. As we told you back in May, Marko is now training the 14th generation of Karakasevic distillers, having his toddler son Miles help turning the dials on the stills.
Incidentally, the other big 30th this year locally is Mendocino Brewing, which we told you about over the summer. I had their 30th anniversary single hop pale ale a week or so ago and it was delicious.
– Sean Scully