Charbay and Marko Karakasevic

Posted on Saturday, Nov 19, 2011 at 04:32 PM

Charbay logo

If you keep up with LAWS, you may know that we have an obsession with Charbay whiskey. We chase down bottles of Double Barrel Release One as if they cost a fraction of the $340 they usually retail for.

As a quick refresher, we're talking about the original 1999 distillate, which was made from bottle-ready pilsner beer from Sonoma Mountain Brewery (closed 1999).

Nearly everyone points out the high price tag. After all, that first release is only 2 year old whiskey, and typical American booze that age sells for, uh, maybe 10 bucks.

bottle picture
But this isn't typical American booze. Think about it this way: last time we opened a Release One, alongside it we also opened an Ardbeg ProvenanceSpringbank 21, and a fantastic Glendronach cask

The first bottle killed was the Charbay.

So on pure enjoyment alone, one could argue you're paying a fair value.

Anyhow, that first release is long gone. (If you can find one, it's a true piece of American distilling history). We're fans of Release II, but we also know that Marko Karakasevic -- the mad genius behind Charbay's whiskies -- is secretly holding onto a lot more of that 1999 distillate. Some of it is quitely stored in stainless, and some continues to age in oak.

So for the past few years, we've been bugging Marko to let us taste the still-barreled remaining 1999 Pilsner. At first it was out of the question. We suspected that maybe Marko wasn't proud of it. Or maybe that he just didn't want anyone telling him what to do with his booze. Or maybe he just didn't like us.

Well, all that was laid to rest at our last meeting. We finally had the pleasure of an evening with Marko Karakasevic. And his whiskies. Holy shit. What a guy and what a night!

We first tasted through five different versions of the 1999 pilsner. Release One, Release Two, and three unreleased versions.

Actually, that's not quite true -- because one of them is LAWS's own bottling. Our first private and exclusive whiskey is the now 12-year-old original 1999 Pilsner distillation. (Unfortunately, we can't sell you any.) Of the five variations tasted, the favorite was ours, of course! It would be too self-serving to post notes/ratings for it on our own website, so we're gonna refrain from congratulating ourselves more than what's been already done in this paragraph.

Distiller Marko Karakasevic standing in front of alambic still with hygrometer.
We then went on to taste Charbay's more recent whiskey creations -- in Marko's tradition, these are distilled from finished, bottle-ready beer.

We tasted two casks of IPA Whiskey, one distilled from Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA, and the other distilled from a custom "adjusted" Racer 5 batch (90 min vs 30 min). And we tasted two casks of Stout Whiskey, distilled from Bear Republic's Big Bear Black Stout.

To make things even more exciting, we tasted these whiskies alongside fresh kegs of the very beer they were distilled from, Racer 5 and Big Bear Stout. Pretty cool, and quite educational.

Now, Marko doesn't like a lot of oak on his whiskies -- in fact as far as we can tell, he doesn't seem to like any! But us LAWS guys being raised on single malts and bourbons tend to prefer more time in oak. With that said, the young samples of the IPA and Stout whiskies were pretty well received. One of our members was threatening to buy an entire barrel of 17-month-old Stout right then and there. (For better or worse, this offer was not taken seriously).

Suffice it to say that we have a very sharp eye on some barrels currently aging in Charbay's warehouse. 

So it was another great night on the books. Huge thanks again to Mr. Karakasevic. As the US craft distilling movement continues to boom, Marko continues to be at the forefront of it.

LAWS wants you to......

Posted on Sunday, Oct 2, 2011 at 10:13 PM


Bourbon and Rye have a great American heritage. 


September was National Bourbon Heritage Month and LAWS celebrated accordingly with a meeting focusing on American whiskey.  Chris and Sku led us through a tasting of three bourbons and three ryes from a range of distilleries and independent bottlers, all rare and out of production:

Bottled early 1980sBlack Maple Hill 21 Cask 5  
Weller Centennial 10

Very Very Old Fitzgerald 12
Vintage Rye 23
Willett 1984 Rye Barrel 618 (Doug Phillips/Ledger's Liquor)
Old Potrero Hotaling's Single Malt Rye 11

In case anyone's keeping track, that's two American whiskey meetings in a row for LAWS!  We'll soon turn our attention back to Scotland, but there's one more American meeting in the works for this year so stay tuned.

As usual, these were tasted blind, and while all were pretty well received, the most popular seemed to be the Very Very Old Fitzgerald and the Willett's Rye.   

High West Distillery

Posted on Tuesday, Aug 30, 2011 at 11:17 PM

High West Distillery 
At our last meeting, LAWS was treated to a massive tasting by David Perkins from High West. David founded High West in 2007 in Park City, Utah, and he's since quickly become known as one of the leading lights of the new breed of whiskey producers. Specializing in rye whiskey, High West sources and vats aged ryes from Kentucky and Indiana, in addition to distilling and ageing their own whiskey. 
We tasted a number of High West's sourced whiskeys including Rendezvous Rye, Double Rye, the 21 year old rye and the very limited release 12 year old rye. Their award winning Bourye, a blend of straight bourbon and rye, is not being made anymore (the sourced whiskeys are all gone) so David used us as willing guinea pigs to test out two "Son of Bourye" prototypes. The group was about evenly split on which they liked best -- sorry to High West to be no help at all with that one.

We also tasted a lot of David's own distillate as he led us through a super-advanced masterclass on distilling. Sampling heads and tails may have been a bit of a shock to our taste buds, but it provided a huge insight into the job the distiller does in separating out the hearts. David hasn't released any aged versions of his own distillate yet, but he gave us a taste of his aged oat, malt and rye whiskeys to see how they were progressing in the barrel -- he's not releasing them any time soon, but it's fair to say so far, so good! We then explored the role of yeast, tasting four Pennsylvania-style ryes that were the same mashbill except for the use of different yeasts.

After all that work, David treated us to a comparison of his barrel-aged Manhattan cocktail, 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan (the name refers to Utah's final vote to repeal prohibition) and a pre-barreled version.  Even in this group of whiskey purists who scoff at putting anything in their whiskey other than a few drops of water, the barreled Manhattan got pretty high marks. No wonder it doesn't stay on shelves for very long.
Thanks to David and High West for what may have been the most academic yet adventurous LAWS meeting in history. All that learnin' sure was fun!

Glenhaven Meeting

Posted on Sunday, Jun 26, 2011 at 10:16 AM

Glenhaven was an independent bottler located in Glasgow that supplied the American market with single cask bottlings in the 1990s. The whiskies were neither chill-filtered nor colored and were all at cask strength, usually quite high (around 60%). Apparently, the owner passed away in 1997 and the company shut its doors. Dusty bottles can still be found, however, on the shelves of some liquor stores. Six such rare finds were the subject of this meeting:Glenhaven single malt scotch

Glenmoray 1984 Glenhaven

Glentauchers 1976 Glenhaven

Highland Park 1975 Glenhaven

Macduff 1971 Glenhaven

Mannochmore 1978 Glenhaven

Tomatin 1977 Glenhaven


As usual, ratings/notes appear as members motivate.

Clynelish & Brora: An Historic Meeting

Posted on Monday, Feb 21, 2011 at 05:43 PM

For a long time, we've been wanting to do a Brora-Clynelish meeting, tracing the distillery's split with rare expressions -- and after four years of legwork, we finally had the bottles to put it together.


For those not familiar with the history of Clynelish, it briefly goes like this: in 1819, the original Clynelish distillery was built in the Northern Highlands of Scotland. It operated sporadically until 1967, when a new distillery was built next door to satisfy increased demand. Confusingly, this new distillery took the name "Clynelish" and the old Clynelish distillery was renamed "Brora." Brora originally supplied Islay-style malt, but peating levels soon decreased and it permanently closed not much later in 1983.

Our idea was to take a "tasting tour" starting with a pre-Brora Clynelish, following through with other bottlings up through the closing of Brora. The lineup was:

1. Clynelish 12 yo, OB (Ainslie & Heilbron)
. The juice in this bottle was likely distilled around 1965 and prior, making this the closest thing to "original Clynelish" we could find.

2. Clynelish 22 yo, 1972, Rare Malts.  This rare Rare Malts (sic) currently auctions for around $900.

3. Brora 21 yo, 1972, Connoiseurs Choice.  This "old map label" bottle is highy-respected by some some well-known tasters.

4 & 5. Brora 26 yo, 1981, Duncan Taylor Cask #1424, and Brora 25yo, 1981, Duncan Taylor Cask #1423. It was fun to see the differences between these sister casks, filled consecutively.

6. Clynelish 17 yo, 1981, Managers Dram.  Generally considered the best of the "Managers Dram" series, which are not intended for the general public.

7. Brora 22 yo, 1982, Lombard Jewels of Scotland
.  John Hansell scored this at 95 points so it seemed a tasty choice to exhibit the end of an era.

8. Brora 30 yo, 1972, Old Malt Cask, "Brorageddon" for PLOWED. We wanted to finish with something we knew would be massive, and were lucky to score this legendary sherry monster bottled for PLOWED back in 2003. (Thanks Tim of!)

The consensus was that most of these were great malts, and those that weren't were at least "interesting" in some sense. (Exception: Andy, our resident lowballer, professed mild distaste for... um... everything?). The Clynelish Managers Dram was a huge favorite, but the Brorageddon seemed to finally win the evening. Did we just start a new tradition when draining an exceptionally good bottle?


A destroyed Brorageddon bottle

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