Comparison: Home Base / MB Roland / Tom’s Foolery

HOME BASE BOURBON BATCH #10
Single Barrel #B9 (2019)

MASH BILL – 60% corn, 10% rye, 30% barley

PROOF – 90

AGE – 36 months

DISTILLERY – Home Base Spirits

PRICE – $60

MB ROLAND KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON
Batch #54 (2019)

MASH BILL – 78% corn, 17% rye, 5% barley

PROOF – 107

AGE – 2 years

DISTILLERY – MB Roland

PRICE – $55

TOM’S FOOLERY CASK STRENGTH BOURBON
K&L Single Barrel #121 (2019)

MASH BILL – 56% corn, 25% rye, 19% barley

PROOF – 109.1

AGE – 5 years 11 months

DISTILLERY – Tom’s Foolery Distillery

PRICE – $60

This comparison is of three small-distillery craft bourbons with flavor profiles that feature certain bready and woody characteristics. I’ll first nutshell my impressions, then talk a bit more about the comparison.

COLOR

Home Base – golden amber

MB Roland – orange toasted amber

Tom’s Foolery – slightly lighter orange toasted amber

 

NOSE

Home Base – breadier

MB Roland – smokier

Tom’s Foolery – grassier

 

TASTE

Home Base – honey, lemon, sweet Spring oak, fresh baked bread

MB Roland – honey, walnut shell, BBQ smoke

Tom’s Foolery – honey, prickly pepper, pine

 

FINISH

Home Base – warm heat and lightly spiced

MB Roland – sharper heat and honey BBQ glaze

Tom’s Foolery – prickly heat and honey glazed pine

 

OVERALL

Home Base – most pleasant

MB Roland – most unusual

Tom’s Foolery – most “craft”

 

BUY AGAIN?

Home Base – Not likely, but only due to the combo of price and this flavor profile area not being top of my list. But I do look forward to future Home Base batches!

MB Roland – No. Not until some older batches come out.

Tom’s Foolery – No. But I’d like to try another batch with a more standard bourbon mash bill, given my other Tom’s Foolery experiences.

I compared this trio of bourbons for a couple of reasons. Notably, they each come from relatively new and small distilleries. Home Base Spirits was founded in 2015 by Alexandra and Samantha Blatteis, twin sisters born and raised in Oakland, California, adjacent to Berkeley where their operation is based. MB Roland Distillery was founded in 2009 in Pembroke, Kentucky, by Paul and Merry Beth (the “MB” of MB Roland) Tomaszewski. Tom’s Foolery Distillery was founded in 2008 by Tom and Lianne Herbruck in Burton, Ohio. All three distilleries emphasize small batches, local ingredients, and are refreshingly transparent about their mash bills, aging, and other details of their processes.

Sampling these bourbons separately, I recognized similar aspects in their flavor profiles, which is surprising given their very distinct regional climates and ingredients. It left me wondering why so many smaller, craft distillery bourbons often feature these flavors—namely a certain breadiness, a woodiness tending toward young, and, in these examples, a distinct honey aspect.

There are other bourbons I could line up next to these for similar reasons. Woodinville Bourbon and Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Bourbon both come immediately to mind. It was those two, in fact, together with another Tom’s Foolery bottling for K&L—the very different 2017 single barrel #31 (5 years old, 72% corn / 16% rye / 12% barley, bottled in bond)—that first grabbed the attention of my pallet with regard to this seemingly “craft” taste profile.

Initially I wasn’t sure what I thought about that 2017 Tom’s Foolery K&L single barrel #31. It was so unusual in my experiences up to that point. But I’d just recently had both the Woodinville and Big Level, and something clicked. Comparing them helped me tease out that it was the dominating sweet bready notes that were at once throwing me and intriguing me. In that comparison’s case it wasn’t also a honey note they shared, but bright stone fruits like apricot and peach. And unlike a number of young American craft whiskeys, none of these three bottlings were too young in their woodiness, something that can put me off very fast—that taste of pencil shavings, sappy young pine, or wet wood glue. These bourbons were all delightful, easy, and unusual. I grew to quite appreciate all three bottles, managed to nab the very last bottle of Tom’s Foolery K&L single barrel #31, and very much look forward to uncorking a cask strength Woodinville currently waiting patiently on my shelf.

But back to what’s currently on the red table.

On the nose they are all bready, smoky, and grassy, though each has a remarkably distinct emphasis on one of those notes over the other two. Honey unites them on the pallet, and from there they diverge in brighter, darker, or fierier directions, each with the wood making itself known as described above—in oak, nutshell, or pine. Each finishes with warm heat, with differing qualities to the heat’s attack.

Of course, the conditioning of American capitalism inevitably compels the question, Which is the “best” and therefore most worth my money? But that simple question isn’t of interest to me with these bottles. It’s true I’m disappointed with the Tom’s Foolery #121, which pales in comparison to the 2017 #31. But I’ll give Tom’s Foolery another shot, for sure. Next time I’ll seek out a mash bill closer to the #31, which featured a more typical bourbon grain ratio. Maybe that’s the key factor? I’ve also had a Tom’s Foolery rye (single barrel #150, again for K&L, and, like bourbon #31, bottled in bond) which I very much liked for its striking chocolatey, buttery, grassy profile. For these reasons Tom’s Foolery remains a distillery I’ll follow.

The MB Roland Batch #54 is a much more pleasing experience to me than their Dark Fired Whiskey, which was so over the top with the BBQ sauce aspect I couldn’t finish it and gave the bottle away. But this Batch #54 I will eventually finish. The BBQ aspect is less intense here, more smoke than sauce, and more enjoyable. But ultimately it simply may not be for me. We’ll see how it continues to air out. Even though I enjoy this MB Roland more than the Tom’s Foolery #121, I think I’m less likely to continue exploring the MB Roland offerings until they start putting out some significantly older batches. Tom’s Foolery has wowed me two out of three bottles, whereas MB Roland has alienated me once and interested me only somewhat this second time. 

My clear preference among these is the easygoing, easy to like, young but not at all naïve Home Base Bourbon Batch #10. I might not buy another bottle of it. (Then again…) But I will without doubt try future Home Base batches—which surprises me, I’ll admit. I had actually tried one among their very early batches back in 2016. It was aged 12 months and tasted to me like splinters of raw, raw, very young wood. So I was surprised I found this 3-year-old batch so good.

But it is! I’m going to have another pour right now.

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