National Siblings Day Comparison: Three Home Base Spirits Whiskeys

HOME BASE BOURBON 
single barrel Batch #13 (2020)

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

PROOF – 92.4

AGE – 2 years 10 months

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

PRICE – $58

HOME BASE BOURBON 
cask strength single barrel picked by Cask, San Francisco (2020)

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

PROOF – 122.8

AGE – 2 years 4 months

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

PRICE – $75

HOME BASE RED FLINT CORN WHISKEY 
cask strength release (2019)

MASH BILL – 100% organic red flint corn

PROOF – 123.2

AGE – 2 years 6 months

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

PRICE – $78

In recognition of National Siblings Day 2020, I lined up three Home Base Spirits bottlings. I chose these bottles for National Siblings Day in honor of Home Base founders Ali and Sam Blatteis, twin sisters born and raised in Oakland, CA. Their commitment to using organic grains, small and often local farmers, and sustainable practices throughout their process makes their whiskeys very particular to Northern California, where my own sibling and I grew up. The full details of that regional commitment can be read in the interview I conducted with the Blatteis sisters back in November 2019. Read it if you haven’t already. Home Base is a unique operation, and among the few fully women owned and operated distilleries in the country.

Ali and Sam Blatteis

This particular trio of whiskeys share a few points of interest. All were aged in the same Berkeley warehouse and feature mash bills made with organic corn from small California farms. The two bourbons, Batch #13 and the Cask store-pick, feature the same mash bill, are both single barrel bottlings, but differ in age by 6 months and in proof by 20.4 degrees. The whiskey, on the other hand, has a unique 100% red flint corn mash bill, but is close to the Cask store bourbon’s age by 2 months and its proof by 0.04 degrees.

I thought these similarities and differences might provide insight into what defines the Home Base personality. So I lined them up one night for a side-by-side comparison. I tasted them in order of ascending proof. This positioned the Cask store pick like a bridge between its mash bill bourbon sister, Batch #13, and their age/proof cousin, the red flint corn whiskey. The bourbons had been open already for about three weeks and were just a couple shots in. The corn whiskey had been open for about three months and was a little over a third into the bottle.

Here first are the notes in brief:

COLOR

BATCH #13 – an almost pumpkin copper orange

CASK – a darker, russet copper orange

CORN – pale yellow orange, lightest of the three

NOSE

BATCH #13 – bright and textured overall, fresh bread dough, apricot, a citric zing, some young cut oak and freshly dried herbs

CASK – sweet caramelly corn, vanilla, a squeeze of that citric zest, a bit of the dried herbs dusting the surface

CORN – deeply sweet, exceptionally rich corn in soft gooey caramel, front to back

TASTE

BATCH #13 – very easy and smooth, fresh baked apricot bread, rich vanilla, what was herbal in the nose goes a bit sarsaparilla here

CASK – rich tangy caramelly corn, then a soft splash of pepperiness from the proof, the dusting of herbs returning at the end to float on the vanilla-caramel-corn base

CORN – rich, simultaneously drying and mouthwateringly succulent, a paradox of caramel, corn, and grilled herbal elements, the latter making a surprise appearance after the herb-free nose.

FINISH

BATCH #13 – the rich vanilla and baked apricot dominate, lingering a surprisingly long time given the 92.4 proof, before fading into a longer lingering soft warmth with just a dash of the herbs…

CASK – gently tingling pepperiness around a lingering vanilla-caramel center with a bit of sweet corn, the vibrant warmth lingering longest…

CORN – a sense of vibrant shimmering as the proof tingle, grilled herbed-corn, and caramel all fade out very slowly hand in hand…

OVERALL

BATCH #13 – like cozying up with a fresh loaf of chewy home baked fruit bread, made from dang good ingredients at the height of Spring…

CASK – like a decadent, sweet, old fashioned caramel corn candy concoction of some kind had at the local Summer County Fair…

CORN – very like the Cask store-pick in its bright decadence and Summer County Fair integrity, but leaning more into its grilled sweet corn aspects over the caramels, herbs, or breads…

BUY AGAIN?

ALL – No, and only because I know Home Base continues to put out new batches and to work on new experiments. Given their craft distiller pricing, I’m content to enjoy each offering once and look forward to the next…

To begin with, it’s worth noting that these three Home Base offerings, like others I’ve had, have all benefitted from time airing out after uncorking. At uncorking, I’ve found Home Base whiskeys tend to showcase their harsher edges up front, then to soften as they open up with time and air. I remember Batch #10 (2019) striking me oddly at first, young and a bit bitter, but then gradually developing into one of my very favorite pours. Now I look back on it as a benchmark when comparing subsequent batches. Batch #10 was an even 3 years old. Batch #13, just 2 months shy of 3 years, has taken a similar route, though I’d say it was even better than Batch #10 at uncorking. I’m excited to see how it continues to evolve.

This flavor-journey pattern was not shared by the younger Batches #11 and #12, both aged 2 years 1 month. Those never fully lost their initially raw, harsh aspects. This suggests that what Home Base is doing starts to find its balance around the 3-year mark, and as their future offerings continue to age they may likewise also continue to soften and deepen.

I’ll admit that when I wrote up notes on Batches #11 and #12, both bottlings benefitted from my fondness for the Home Base Spirits project overall. After posting notes on those batches, as they continued to air out they did not evolve substantially and grew increasingly less appealing to me. Had I done my tasting later on they may not have faired so well. Timing is everything!

In addition to the impact of age, the influence of the proof and grain selection is likewise becoming more apparent. At higher proofs, the fruitiness from the high barley content of the mash bill really steps forward, and the full richness of the organic corn selections literally explodes. It’s this rich combination of orchard fruit flavors from the barley and fresh-picked sweetness from the corn that together seem to define the foundation of the Home Base flavor profile.

I greatly appreciate and I share the Blatteis sisters’ valuing of organic, local ingredients and sustainable business practices. I likewise appreciate their intent to find what is uniquely Northern Californian in whiskey. Born and raised in this region myself, one thing that has become very apparent to me in my ongoing whiskey journey is just how much my experiences growing up in an agricultural mountain area have shaped my palate. As the American craft whiskey world continues to expand beyond the dominant influences of Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Scotland, and Ireland, regionality becomes increasingly important—and interesting! Woodinville Distillery, for example, has found something very unique to their region of Washington. Similarly, Home Base is honing in on what is specific to the central Northern California terroir.

With the three bottles tasted here, I can now say with confidence that it is not simply my bias toward the distillers’ intentions that makes these whiskeys so pleasing to me. They are each remarkably and uniquely enjoyable. I don’t experience quite the same general combination of flavors in other whiskeys, craft or otherwise.

I am left all the more curious to see what will happen as the Home Base whiskey stocks continue to get more years under their belts. The difference between 2 and 3 years in the various batches I’ve tasted up to now has been remarkable. Also, the benefits of higher proofs are striking. Even Batch #13’s 92.4 proof as compared to its many predecessors’ 90 proof, a mere 2.4 degree difference, makes a notable impact. And the careful grain selection seems to pay off in rich, sweet, vibrant flavors that taste fresh and fully alive.

What’s up next, Home Base?

Cheers!

The nicely balanced Batch #13 (L), Cask store pick (C), and red flint corn whiskey (R).

Watch this short documentary segment
about Home Base Spirits
from Northern California Public Media

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