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.

Whiskey Master List
The Stores List
The Bars List
The Online List