Charbay distiller Marko Karakasevic says: "I wanted to distill whiskey out of beer that I like to DRINK!!" So in 1999, he bought 20,000 gallons of beer from Benziger brewery. "Finished beer. Stuff they were selling to stores. That's the whole deal with me -- I'm not using the traditional 'wash' b.s." And he's not big on lots of time in oak. "I am so sick and tired of tasting whiskey from anywhere in the world, and having it taste like liquid lumber. So," he continues, "when you try Charbay side by side, blind with anything else out there, you will taste flavors of the pilsner beer, and the oak flavors will not be the dominating taste, which is what I really like."
Oh and another thing -- after barrel aging, Marko let the whiskey age in stainless for a number of years. He emphasizes that whiskey does age in stainless (and the bottle).
As of September 2010, I've decided that this deserves a straight "A" rating.
The other night, a few of us were once again sharing a bottle of this (and once again killing it). And AS said, "We all enjoy this so, so much, why aren't we all rating it a straight A?"
His point was a good one. Is it a perfect whiskey? No, I could wish for a couple "improvements." But on a level of pure enjoyment, I enjoy it just as much -- and often more so -- than any other whiskey I've graded an A. This is without a doubt one of my favorite whiskies of all time.
We also wondered why the heck we should even bother telling anyone this, as there as so few bottles left of it out there. Yes, it's ludicrously expensive, and it makes you wonder what kinds of suckers really pay that much for a bottle of (basically) 2-year-old malt. Well, apparently it's us. In discussing it, we're probably responsible for cleaning out most of the bottles around LA.
And we have little shame in that. Just thinner wallets.
Knowing nothing about this initially, I was at first impressed and then won over as I finished the glass, mainly by the unique characteristics... which I later learned were due to hops! There's a richness to the nose, once you realize that this is actually distilled real pilsner beer, you go "oh!" I see, interesting. Rich malty and spicy notes, sprinkled with fruit and floral notes, continuing through the palate and finish. The steep price is what gets me -- for this much, given the choice, I think I'd buy other things. But in a fair blind tasting, or if I'm not paying, I like it a whole lot!
Update Jan. '09: Having not tried this for a while, I was able to spend some time with a bottle recently (okay, I killed it, #322). It's sweeter than I recall, quite sweet. Huge, distinct flavors. The high ABV is the one problem here, for me -- I know it's suggested to be drank on the rocks, but I find it tastes best at full strength. And, yeah, I'm gonna stay on record as saying this is fantastic. If/when the American micro-whiskey-distilling industry finally takes hold, then years from now this bottle will be seen as pioneering a whole new style/flavor of malt whiskey. I'm not kidding.
Amazing nose! Hops and malt. Truly unique. Light oak. This is not what you would grab when you want Scotch, but it is delicious and the first totally UNIQUE whiskey I've tried in ages. Yet it's not worth the price -- but if it were $100, I'd buy it by the case.
Like many others here, I am having to upgrade to an A. First time I had this, I rated it as B- and beefy. The hops totally through me off.
Second time -- clear A. I hate hoppy beer and love this hoppy whisky. So unusual that I don't think I could register what I was tasting the first time. Later tastings have made this a favorite. It has only moderate complexity, but amazing power and finish. The flavors that are there are pleasant and warming once you aclimate -- like developing a taste for good coffee or cigars. Now I can't have enough of this.
I thought this was a little over the top (both in taste and abv) the first time I tried it, but I've since come to appreciate this very unique whiskey. Pine and citrus explode in a massive resinous attack that coats the mouth and lingers forever.
Unmistakably from beer - very hopped beer - without checking the actual history, it seems to have been from a strong IPA. The hopps are very strong and although this is incredibly unique and very, very good, the huge ABV along with the huge hopps puts this into small dram and savour realm. I tried to drink more of this as the night went on but it was simply too pungent (yes - I know....I could have watered it down.....I just don't like to do that either). I would most certainly want to own this and drink it in small pours.
N: Hops! Nice and piney, a bit oily and funky (in a good way). Fresh, light and beautifully green. Slight cedar wood character.
P: Oily but dry on the initial entry. Some heat, a nice low-level hop presence. Earthy and funky again (and again, in a good way). Some light sweetness; there's a quality that can only be described as pot here as well. Cedar wood again, light bitterness you'd expect from hops, and some overall hop "green"-ness.
F: Warm initially, fading; oily, with a nice blast of concentrated hop oil, some clingy qualities in the mouth. Light cedar, gentle sweetness in that defies description, and yes, the pot note again. A little orange zest too.
This lives up to the hype. Unlike anything else out there and really great. A really nice mix of subtle sweetness, nice hop oiliness (to me it's more of a concentrated hop oil presence), with the hop notes going earthy/green/slightly bitter instead of massively floral or citric.