HOME BASE WHISKEY
Single barrel selected by Bourbon County, San Francisco (2020)
MASH BILL – 60% organic corn, 30% malted barley, 10% rye
PROOF – 124.4
AGE – 3 years 3 months
DISTILLERY – Home Base Spirits
PRICE – $75
BUY AGAIN? – No, but not because of taste. Because of $$ and there being so few bottles available—I want other people to also enjoy it!
I’ve been following Home Base Spirits for some time now. About a year ago, I interviewed Ali and Sam Blatteis, the twin sisters who founded the company and comprise its staff. Their dedication to making whiskey that is truly local, and to exploring what exactly that means—from the grains and water used, the flavor profile that results, to the artists and artisans commissioned to create their labels and packaging—struck a chord with me.
Their story and product also struck a chord with Edmond Kubein, the owner of Bourbon County in San Francisco, who I have also interviewed for this blog. Edmond keeps Home Base products regularly in stock, and in late 2018 he passed on to them the used barrel of a Four Roses, barrel strength, single barrel store pick he’d done. That single barrel was of the Four Roses OESV recipe, aged 10 years 5 months.
The Blatteis sisters poured into it a bourbon that had already been aging in a new oak barrel for 1 year 6 months. So it spent another 1 year 9 months in the Four Roses barrel, for a total of 3 years 3 months of aging. Though technically and legally still a bourbon, given it spent a majority of its life in the Four Roses barrel rather than some shorter amount of months as with a typical “barrel finished” bourbon, they felt labeling it a “whiskey” was more true to its process.
When I interviewed Ali and Sam in the Fall of 2019, they did not yet know what they were going to do with this special barrel. I am so very glad it has come to pass that Edmond Kubein purchased it to sell as a private selection, bottled at barrel strength. It seems the most fitting result of this unique collaboration between two local—and locally minded—operations.
On a similar theme, this whiskey seemed an appropriate one to post notes about during this holiday week, when thoughts of home and travel commingle. In a way, this Home Base Spirits whiskey, with its local Northern California origins and aged in a once-used barrel that travelled from Kentucky to California, embodies these same Holiday notions. It’s both local and national, with neo- and classical bourbon influences—the younger and older generations—coming together in a spirit of camaraderie.
But how is the whiskey itself? Here are some brief notes, taken about two weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – a deep, vibrant orange with russet highlights
NOSE – fresh baked apricot bread, raw marzipan, apricot preserves, candied apricots (so much apricot!), a bit of sweet bright cherry, a dusting of baking spices
TASTE – those baked, preserved, dried and candied apricots follow through, surrounded by the soft fresh bread, a hint of caramel now soaking into the bread, a drop of that cherry juice, and with a nice billow of heat on swallowing
FINISH – a tingly pepperiness settles in, with the fresh bread getting chewier and the apricot aspects gradually fading, leaving a lingering warmth…
OVERALL – a brash apricot extravaganza, young for sure, but very confidently what it is and very delicious
Wow. In the nearly two weeks this bottle has been uncorked, it has already evolved noticeably. At uncorking, the familiar Home Base Spirits bread aspects, which can sometimes risk veering a bit into cardboard, were much more prominent, and not yet fully integrated into a surrounding spicy cinnamon-caramel. It seemed the Home Base and Four Roses elements had shaken hands but not yet fully embraced.
But now they are one. Gone is the division between Home Base baked bread and Four Roses spicy caramel. Now they’re joined in a celebration of apricot—a common fruit note in both brands—grounded by a richer breadiness, and without one shred of cardboard.
I’ve now had several Home Base Spirits bottlings. A common trait is how they evolve once uncorked. The second half of the bottle is almost inevitably better than the first. Their Bourbon Batch #10, for example, went from being fine to absolutely extraordinary. But their cask strength releases—like an early 2020 store pick from Cask in San Francisco, and the 2019 Red Flint Corn Whiskey—navigate this shift much more quickly. Right out of the gate they are already something special, and their characteristics quickly deepen. The present bottling is my third cask strength experience from Home Base, and I’m now pretty convinced that what they’re aiming to do in terms of creating a truly local flavor profile is best expressed without dilution.
California is a bit of a contradictory state, given to extremes. Miles of beige desert stretch out in contrast to wide green swaths of agriculture. Flat grassy plains meet densely forested mountains. People have come here from far and wide to reinvent themselves on their own terms. The land was stolen from its native peoples by the Spanish, Mexicans, ex-pat Americans, and finally the American government. Multiple gold rushes—for the metal itself, Hollywood-style celebrity, digital tech—have washed over it. It’s got old money and new money. It’s both liberal and conservative. Overly managed and wildly free. Persistently youthful and old as the hills. It makes sense to me that a local whiskey would be at its best when left undiluted, allowing its full range of nuances to unleash at its own pace.
If I have one complaint about Home Base Spirits products, it’s that they are indeed very young. This is often discernible in a certain grainy, unrefined quality, as well as a notable inconsistency from batch to batch. When a batch veers too far into raw grains or those cardboard notes, which I understand come from how much of the “tails” of the distillate (the latter portion of the distillation run) are retained, I find their bourbon disappointing. But when they hit it, as with the 2019 Batch #10 and 2020 Batch #13 releases, it’s a celebration of this bountiful region. The cask strength releases amp that celebration up with even more vibrant flavors.
And this very special one-off cask strength release, partly aged in a barrel that once aged Four Roses—among the most classic Kentucky bourbons—offers another uniquely Californian experience: Tradition traveling out west to meet the New Wave and make something uniquely American.
This Home Base Whiskey is only available at Bourbon County in San Francisco. As I understand it, there were only 120 or so bottles made. If you’re adventurous and you can nab one, do. It is young. But it is quite unique, and very tasty.