Whisky Advocate

Review: Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, Batch #2

January 11th, 2009

I have some small U.S. craft distillery whiskeys which I’ll be posting reviews up on over the next few day. Here’s the first one.

Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, Batch #2, 55%, $325
A unique and quite intriguing whiskey. A “bottle ready” California Pilsner beer was given an extra dose of hops and then distilled in a pot still and aged in new oak for six years. Then it was aged in stainless steel for another three years. Five barrels were bottled. (When I traveled through Europe some of the breweries let me taste “Hop Schnapps” which they had a distiller produce from their own beer. It was always just for their own private consumption, not for sale. This Charbay release reminds me of that, only aged into a mature whiskey.) It’s a complex whiskey, accentuated naturally by hops, exotic teas, marijuana (seriously!) candied fruit, lavender, dark berries, raspberry (red and black), juniper, freshly ground tellicherry pepper, and light Caribbean rum. A nice “change of pace” whiskey.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 81

21 Responses to “Review: Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, Batch #2”

  1. Leo says:

    Is there another whiskey out there you can compare it to? I’d love to figure out what that’d taste like!

  2. John Hansell says:

    The only thing that comes close is their Batch #1. This whiskey is unique.

  3. sku says:

    I’ve never tried a Charbay. I just can’t justify spending $300 plus for a young, American malt. I mean, who do they sell this stuff to?

  4. John Hansell says:

    It’s small quantity, very disctinctive, high-strength whiskey. Good quality too, and very artisinal. But yes, it’s young and at that price range, there’s a lot of very good whiskeys to choose from.

    Just wait until you see my next review. It will make $300 look like a bargain.

  5. Sku says:

    Just wait until you see my next review. It will make $300 look like a bargain.

    I believe it. I had a bone to pick with your top ten for the year on that note. What were there, four whiskies over $1,000 on it? I appreciate the reviews of these as I will likely never taste them, but it’s depressing hearing the whiskey media (most of whom I assume get free samples) go on and on about the greatness of Bowmore Black, HP 40 year old, the Last Drop, Ardbeg Double Barrel and other whiskies that are not just expensive, but way beyond the budget of all but the wealthiest consumers.

    It’s like the tree falling in the forest. Is a whiskey still great if no one can afford to taste it?

  6. Adam H. says:

    Point One: Charbay. I love this stuff. John, you hit it on the head with words like unique, intriguing, and very distinctive. My club scored a bottle of the First Release, and the more I drank of it (bottles last a few meetings), the more I really, really came to crave it. It has such a distinctive nose/palate that once you “get it,” sometimes it’s the only thing that’ll do the trick. I prefer the 1st to the 2nd release, although I’d take either any day if I’m not paying.

    Point Two: Price issues. Sku, your tree-falling analogy borders on profound (seriously). But on the other hand — John — if the best whisky you tasted last year cost a million dollars, then I still want to hear about it and it should be on your list. But, if the Top Ten is gonna include some ultra-super-ridiculously-pricey stuff, then maybe it should be more than “ten.” Like, “Well, the list is 13 this year, because three of my favorites are so expensive that you’re unlikely to run out and buy them.” Well, at least, that’s the bad version of the idea.

  7. John Hansell says:

    Sku, Adam: I sympathize with you about the high price of some of these whiskies. I don’t like it any more than you do, and I’m not the one setting the price. But our “Top Ten” list is simply that: the ten best whiskies I tasted in that given year, irrespective of price. Fortunately, there are some reasonably priced whiskies on that list too.

    There are also many other very good whiskies I review throughout the year–not necessarily in my Top Ten list, but very good whiskies nonetheless–and I make a point of posting these whiskies up here on my blog and publish them in Malt Advocate.

  8. sam k says:

    What I really love about your Top Ten, John, is that whiskeys selling for less than $50 usually share the same stage and stature with those astronomically priced bottlings. Makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something when I can get my hands on a world-class whiskey for not much more than the price of everyday stuff.

  9. JC Skinner says:

    There’s a lot about this sort of thing perplexes me. Like, why the three years in steel? What’s that achieving? And to what extent do the gimmick elements of a whisky like this inform the eye-watering price level?
    I’m not rich, but I love whisky and I am prepared to save my hard-earned cash and splash out on a really good bottle on occasion, even if it runs into three figures.
    But while I accept your view, John, and that of Adam who posted above, I’m simply not that convinced by some of the – to my mind – extremely expensive pricetags being attached to some young whiskies purely because they’ve got a gimmicky origin or production process and because they’re produced in limited amounts.
    Perhaps I’m being a traditionalist or perhaps I’m merely being cash-conscious and cautious. But if I’ve got a three-figure sum to spend on a single bottle, I’m not prepared to gamble on some youthful gimmick. I’m going for the known, the tried and tested, the universally acknowledged as excellent.
    For the price of this whisky (and I’m trembling in fear of what you’ve got lined up next!) I could buy three bottles of Bushmills 21 yo, a top-end whiskey I know and adore. I could go for two or three bottles of a Port Ellen 25 yo of Eighties vintage, a whisky I’m not familiar with but which gets almost universal acclaim and comes from a universally noted lineage of excellence. Do you see what I’m getting at?

  10. John Hansell says:

    JC: I’m not sure why the price is this high. I can’t speak for Charbay.

    know that Marko Karakasevic, the distiller for Charbay, is very sensitive to oak-aging and whiskeys becoming over oaked. I think this is why he put the whisky into stainless steel tanks. I also think he firmly believes that whiskeys do change while being stored in stainless.

    Marko, if you or someone from Charbay is lurking out there, feel free to chime in here on both issues.

  11. JC Skinner says:

    Overoaked after only six years? Even in new oak, that seems unlikely. Then again, I’ve never tried their spirit so I don’t know.
    But if it had sufficient oak after that period of time, why not just bottle it? I still fail to see the point of leaving it sitting in steel vats for years on end, unless that permits them to put an older age statement on the bottle, which to my mind it should not.
    If the distiller believes that inert steel imparts some flavour element to their whisky, I’d be intrigued to hear more. What sort of flavour effect does it have, and how do they believe this comes about?

  12. John Hansell says:

    All good questions, JC. I’ll see if we can get Marko from Charbay to respond.

  13. Greetings,
    Thank you very much for reviewing Charbay Whiskey II.
    Ever since I was about 10 I wanted to distill whiskey. The more I worked with my dad in our distillery, the more I was planning how my whiskey was going to taste. Finally in ’99 it all came together.
    Every whiskey is distilled from beer. Grains get fermented into a low alcohol solution 5, 6, 7% alcohol. The art of distillation is the ability to capture all the flavors, mouthfeel, and texture of what you are distilling. So if whiskey is distilled from beer, why not distill really good beer that tastes great, hops and all? It was time to get 20,000 gallons of pilsner beer.
    When the final product is around 20 to 1 reduction, I don’t want to distill a beer that is simply made to produce alcohol that then needs 22 years of barrel aging to make it taste like what people are used to. The barrel, not what’s in the barrel. I am not here to reproduce a style of whskey that other people know as a universal excellent product.
    Barrel aging. For this batch, I only wanted six years. I did not want our whskey to be oak forward. To me, thats not balanced flavor. So I took it out and cut it to bottle strength. When whiskey, brandy, rum, and tequila get cut, the product goes into shock, things fall out of solution, and it takes time for the distillate to bounce back. I aged our Whiskey II for 3 years at 110 proof (bottle strength) in stainless to give it time to settle down at 110 proof. I don’t think inert steel imparts some flavour element to our whisky JC.
    120 cases for the world is a small batch. Charbay Whiskey II is not for everybody. It has nothing to do with traditional whiskey. It is unique in the world and I can’t wait to distill more!
    John, Adam, thank you for your input, and your liver. Wait until you come up and see what’s almost ready for the bottle now!

  14. John Hansell says:

    Thanks Marko for taking time out of your schedule to respond.

  15. Kevin says:

    Being lucky enough to score a 750-ml bottle of the first release, and a 50-ml of the 2nd release, I have to agree that this is one of the most unique whiskies I have ever tasted. When I have whiskey loving friends over, its definitely the first bottle I pull out, just to rock their world a little bit. I find myself to be a bigger fan of the 2nd release than the first.

  16. […] friend of mine sent me a link to this blog post – Review: Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, Batch #2 by John Hansell, Malt Advocate Publisher & Editor. A “bottle ready” California Pilsner beer […]

  17. Danielle says:

    Marko makes great stuff. He love what he does & it shows. It seems that he is always thinking about the final product & it’s flavor profile. I would not say that he is ‘gimmicky’ at all, but rather innovative & thoughtful. I love whiskey 1 and whiskey 2, not only because they are unique, but because they taste great. Every product that I’ve tried in the Charbay family has intriguing flavors, while still striking balance, and subtlety — even at higher proofs. I really find their stuff impressive — and while some of it is expensive, I find that it is worth it. In a way, it pays for itself simply by turning an ordinary day into a celebration every time it gets pulled off the shelf.

  18. John Hansell says:

    Danielle, A celebration in a bottle. Nice way to put it.

  19. Nate Sanford says:

    I just got back from a tour of Napa Valley and we drove by Charbay on our way to another tasting appointment and saw that they (Charbay) were a distillery as well a winery. We decided to give it a shot, but unfortunately could not taste any spirits due to CA law. So we drove down to the local bar and bought a shot of the release II and it blew are minds how much flavor and complexity this had (and yes there is NO mistaking the pot taste). We rushed right back to Charbay and bought 2 bottles of it as well as 4 other bottles of their flavored vodkas (buy 6 or more bottles and get 10% off, that’s a $60 savings for just the whiskey alone!). I can’t wait for the bottles to come in the mail so I can have another nip.

  20. Paul says:

    Well then why doesn’t Charbay brew their own beer and distill it. That’s got to be better and cheaper to produce than distilling 20,000 gallons of Budwiser. Which, I’m betting is why it’s not more resonably priced. I’m never paying $300+ for a young american whiskey. I don’t like the bitter taste of hops.

  21. Jack G says:

    I was just recently at the Autumn Food & Wine event @ NothStar Tahoe and Charbay was pouring all their spirits at that event. I had a chance to taste this fine ass Whiskey and it was intensely flavored, great nose (Cognac like) and really, really smooth. I had no idea at the time until I went on-line that it had hops and was distilled from beer, Amazing drink!! I brew beer @ home and to have this in a whiskey is very unique and appreciative of a home brewer. Great work of art Marko!!

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