Flight: Three Whiskeys From Home Base Spirits

HOME BASE BOURBON
Batch 11 (2019) blended from three New American Oak 30-gallon barrels, all Medium Char #3

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

PROOF – 90

AGE – 25 months

DISTILLERY – Distilled at Sutherland Distilling Company, CA. Aged in Oakland and Berkeley, CA, at Home Base Spirits.

PRICE – $58

HOME BASE BOURBON
Batch 12 (2019) blended from three barrels, New American Oak 53- and 25-gallon, all Medium Char #3

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

PROOF – 90

AGE – 25 months

DISTILLERY – Distilled at Sutherland Distilling Company, CA. Aged in Oakland and Berkeley, CA, at Home Base Spirits.

PRICE – $58

HOME BASE RED FLINT CORN WHISKEY
2019 blend of two used Home Base Bourbon American Oak 25-gallon barrels from​ Kelvin Cooperage

MASH BILL – 100% organic Red Flint Corn grown in Woodland, CA, at Tule Farm

PROOF – 123.2

AGE – 2 years 6 months

DISTILLERY – Distilled at Sutherland Distilling Company, CA. Aged in Oakland and Berkeley, CA, at Home Base Spirits.

PRICE – $78

I’ve been interested in Home Base Distillery since I first tried their bourbon back in 2016. That batch—the number of which I neglected to jot down at the time—was aged a year and some months, and was too young and woody for me. But this past spring, Batch #10, aged three years, made a lasting impression with its fresh bakery flavors. Then just recently I interviewed the founders of Home Base Spirits, twin sisters Ali and Sam Blatteis. Their values around transparency, and their collaborations with family farms and other small local businesses, position them at the forefront of articulating what a “California” bourbon might be—ethically, locally, and transparently made, with flavor profiles redolent of farm-fresh-ingredient baked goods.

I left the interview with a small sample of their bourbon Batch #12 in my pocket, and another of their Red Flint Corn Whiskey thieved straight from the barrel. The latter’s fate had yet to be decided. I found it remarkable at cask strength. Ali and Sam were still on the fence about whether to bottle it in its natural state or water it down. They’d also shared with me a sample that had been brought down to 98 proof. It was good. But at cask strength it was special. 

And so I was very glad when they decided to bottle the Red Flint Corn Whiskey undiluted, with only their usual minimal filtering to remove barrel bits, so it could speak entirely for itself. I picked up a bottle right away, of course. I already had a bottle of Batch #11 on the shelf, and had held on to the Batch #12 sample. A Home Base flight seemed in order.

Here are the notes in brief:

COLOR

BATCH 11 – toasted yellow-amber

BATCH 12 – toasted yellow/orange-amber

RED FLINT – vibrant honey-amber


NOSE

BATCH 11 – fresh bread, tangy honey, fresh cut oak, old parchment

BATCH 12 – apricot, wheat bread, a white desert wine

RED FLINT – sweet buttery corn drizzled with caramel


TASTE

BATCH 11 – fresh grain husk, sharply sweet sugars, ginger, a drop of cream, wet cardboard

BATCH 12 – corn on the cob, orange zest, apricot marmalade, a cup of coffee nearby with cream in it

RED FLINT – corn grilled with rustic herbs like tarragon and bay leaf, also mint, some grilled pineapple, and a melted buttery texture


FINISH

BATCH 11 – a bright warmth lingers most, with some fading baked sugars, oak, and the cardboard

BATCH 12 – bready, some caramel, a lingering sugary tang

RED FLINT – that corn, the herbs, butter, grilled pineapple, dried mango, and a soft peppery tingle


OVERALL

BATCH 11 – a bit young and underwhelming, with that cardboard aspect outstaying its welcome

BATCH 12 – young, still in search of itself, neither too this nor too that

RED FLINT – a very satisfying and unique corn-topia


BUY AGAIN?

BATCH 11 – No. But future older batches, yes.

BATCH 12 – No. But future older batches, yes.

RED FLINT – No, only due to $$ and my knowing Home Base will continue to bottle unique whiskeys I’ll want to try…

I had wondered about the youth of Batches #11 and #12. Batch #11 I’m trying freshly uncorked, and so its evolution remains to be seen. But my sense is that it will not likely evolve in a dramatically different direction. That 2016 batch I had remained quite true to its woody exuberance throughout its uncorked life. And though Batch #10 did grow richer with time, out of the gate it was already mature beyond its three short years and gradually became a bit more of what it already was.

This sample of Batch #12 is from an open bottle—open how long I don’t know—and has been living for the past two weeks in a wee screw-cap Ball jar. It’s had some time and air and I’ve enjoyed the small sips I’ve been siphoning off it for the past two weeks, during which it’s gradually moved away from the darker coffee and vanilla bean aspects toward the fruits and breads. 

All this suggests one trait of the Home Base bourbons may be that although they do evolve once uncorked, they remain true to their core. A nice balance between change and consistency.

Batches #11 and #12 are very similar in their specs. They share precisely the same mash bill and age, and both rested in medium char #3 barrels. However #11 combines three bourbons from 30-gallon barrels, whereas as #12 blends three bourbons from a combination of 53- and 25-gallon barrels. The ratio of liquid to barrel surface impacts flavor. As for timing around seasonal weather, #11 aged from March 2017 to April 2019, and #12 from July 2017 to August 2019—a four-month difference. No doubt other subtle differences in the distillation processes play a role as well.

Tasted in both brandy glasses and small tumblers, upon nosing I find Batch #12 more immediately pleasing than Batch #11. The #12 has familiar bready and fruity bourbon aspects to it, only more rustic and rowdier than one might expect from a bourbon that’s been around the block a few times. The #11 reminds me, actually, of some other young bourbons I’ve had that also verge into the wet cardboard area—Bertie’s Bear Gulch Bourbon and Garrison Brothers, for example—though far less intensely so. It’s my understanding that that cardboard area of flavor comes from the backend of the fresh distillate, called the third cut, or tails, which produces a range of off-putting elements. Just a small amount of a distillate’s third cut is typically retained, since in small amounts it can actually add positively to the overall flavor profile. Perhaps Batch #11 utilized more of the third cut than average?

Whatever the explanation, cardboard remains an item on the bourbon flavor wheel I’m personally unable to get past, and bourbons featuring this flavor area tend to be wasted on me. In the case of Bertie’s Bear Gulch, the experience was so intense I had difficulty understanding its having been selected for release, much less that anyone might enjoy it. But, taste being what it is, one person’s cardboard is another person’s savory pastry, so…

Home Base Bourbon Batch #11 is not nearly as intense an experience in these regards as Bertie’s Bear Gulch. The cardboard aspect was initially most apparent on the pallet. Once I’d tasted it, however, I could then smell it more readily in the aroma. It overwhelms the bourbon’s comparatively less prominent sweet, grain, and fruit aspects.

The Red Flint Corn Whiskey is a completely different animal than either Batch #11 or #12, from its 100% corn mash bill to the barrels used, the age, and it being left at its natural cask strength. Of the five Home Base Spirits products I’ve experienced to date, this one, for me, makes the strongest case for a “California” bourbon identity—all natural, intense, seemingly grilled in the sun, with a vibrant panache not unlike the varied California landscape. 

Similarly, Batch #10 from this past spring might make a good metaphor for the California Bay Area’s many locally owned bakeries, with their tendency toward fresh local ingredients left innocent of scientific interference. By contrast, Batch #12 has enough similarities to other familiar bourbon flavors and experiences that it doesn’t stand apart so clearly as a Left Coast product. And Batch #11 reminded me immediately of a couple of Texas bourbons. (Despite Texas and California being two very different states!)

Of the three Home Base whiskeys included in this flight, my own clear inclination is toward the Red Flint Corn. It is bold, distinct, unique, and offers a wonderful range of savory and sweet flavors, conjuring BBQ’s, sunny afternoons, and happy friends. Left at cask strength and made from expensive Red Flint Corn, it’s the pricier bottle of the three. But I’d rather pay more for the experience it offers than less for either Batch #11 or #12. The difference is I find the Red Flint Corn Whiskey to be both a unique experience and an unequivocally tasty one. Batches #11 and #12, on the other hand, each offer experiences akin to some other bourbons I’ve had. And their flavor profiles seem young, not yet fully cohesive in their personality, and also not enough to my tastes, to justify the cost. Someone else might really enjoy the young Batches #11 and #12, as I very much enjoyed their slightly older predecessor, Batch #10. That person and I could have an interesting conversation. And isn’t an interesting conversation what whiskey is for in the end?

What I appreciate about Ali and Sam Blatteis is that they are genuinely curious, experimental, and committed to making ethical and regional awareness a key ingredient of their whiskey. I think also of Tom’s Foolery in Ohio, which shares the Blatteis sisters’ commitment to transparency and local sourcing. Not every Tom’s Foolery bottle has appealed to me equally. Yet I remain a customer committed to exploring their experiments because enough of them work out so well, and I appreciate the values and ethics they so openly promote.

Home Base Spirits are local to me. I make a point to buy them specifically from Bourbon County, a shop run by someone born and raised in San Francisco. There is intentionality behind these simple consumer choices, just as there is intentionality behind Home Base Spirits and Bourbon County. Intention impacts experience. We know this from other aspects of life. I personally don’t click with the notion of separating out a whiskey’s taste from the other aspects that inform it—origin, story, intention, price, transparency or its lack. A whiskey is all these things, as well as the people you enjoy it with and the memories you make together. 

Though I won’t seek out additional bottles of Home Base Bourbon batches #11 and #12, or, for financial reasons, the Red Flint Corn Whiskey either, I will be back to Home Base again, to follow their ongoing articulation of what is “Californian” in whiskey. It’s been a very interesting conversation so far.

And look! They even credit the artist who designed their label! Who does that?!

Home Base Spirits does.

Cheers!

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