HOME BASE SINGLE MALT
Batch 1 (July 2021)
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 92
AGE – 3 years 6 months in ex-Home Base Bourbon casks
DISTILLERY – Home Base Spirits
PRICE – $76
WORTH BUYING? – Indeed!
I’ve been waiting for this release since I first heard about it back in 2019, when I interviewed Home Base founders Ali and Sam Blatteis in their Berkeley, CA, warehouse. On that visit they also shared with me an advanced sip of what they eventually released as a cask strength offering, their 2019 Red Flint Corn Whiskey. Their operation may be small, but quite a lot of interesting things are happening in that quiet little warehouse.
For the past handful of years I’ve been following Home Base Spirits, from a very early release of their bourbon, subsequent releases slowly climbing in age, and special releases like the 2020 Bourbon County private barrel, aged in a used Four Roses OESV cask that Bourbon County owner Edmond Kubein provided. Sampling various offerings, I’ve come to believe the Home Base mission to create whiskeys with a distinct Northern California identity and flavor profile has to date been most clearly manifested in their cask strength offerings. I’ve also noticed that a leap in depth seems to happen right around the 3-year mark.
Now this Single Malt has finally hit the shelves, and, even at uncorking, more than any previous Home Base release, my senses ping with Northern California aromas, flavors, and memories. It may also be the most refined Home Base release I’ve experienced to date.
With past Home Base bourbon bottlings, I’ve found time airing out in the bottle did much to open them up and release their depths. The cask strength releases have needed less time. This Single Malt is brought down to 92 proof, like the bourbon releases. But right out of the gate it already seems to have its flavor profile confidently in place, so let’s get right into it.
I’m tasting this now two days after uncorking, and three pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken in a traditional Glencairn after about 15 minutes in the glass.
COLOR – melted butter, apricot, and honey
NOSE – buttered bread, fresh and baked apricot, soft barley and malt, rose water, straw and hay, natural wicker, everything nicely blended and balanced
TASTE – a silky texture, butter, cream, the apricots now baked in a pie, then a soft bloom of peppery tingle around tart apricot preserves
FINISH – the peppery tingle, the apricot notes, sugary cinnamons, a faint potpourri of the various herbal notes
OVERALL – like a picnic on a sunny Spring afternoon with a nice breeze in the Northern California countryside
Every aroma and flavor in this whiskey I can locate in my memory. Fields I walked through endlessly as a kid growing up in Placerville, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Hikes around Echo Lake on the ridge above Lake Tahoe, the water clear and the wild flowers in bloom. Traipsing around one farm or another, the hay bails out for the livestock or scattered in and around the barn. Fresh baked fruit pies and pastries during harvest season every Autumn.
In some of the younger Home Base bourbon releases, I’ve picked up a note that tastes to me like cardboard. It’s a note I’ve come across in other young craft whiskeys as well, and not a note I’m fond of. Here I can smell and taste what may have once been that note, now further along its evolution, no longer coming across like cardboard at all. Now it’s a soft bundle of straw and hay and wicker. Here it’s an absolutely pleasant note. Does that come from how the distillate was cut? The 100% malted barley? The age?
What my journey with Home Base has helped me to better understand is the question of what “craft” means when it comes to American whiskey. In terms of flavor profiles, it can mean many things, of course. But with the national craft distillery community’s tendency toward using non-GMO grains from smaller farms, and honing in on the specificity of the grains and other aspects of the local terroir to get at new flavor profiles, they break from the Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana flavor traditions that effectively define our basic understanding of American whiskey. This has become for me what craft means. Not just small. Also not sourced. But local and specific.
At first, like many people, craft whiskeys didn’t taste “right” to me. Meaning, they didn’t taste like my expectations set by the three major bourbon states. I would often describe grain flavors as “grainy.” I wonder if I were to return to some of those early craft experiences—I’m thinking about Old Monroe, MB Roland, certain Tom’s Foolery expressions—would I assess them differently now? Certainly Indiana’s Spirits of French Lick, with their motto to “respect the grain” clearly manifested in their products, was a tipping point for me in this regard. It was with Spirits of French Lick’s Mattie Gladden Bourbon and Solomon Scott Rye in particular that I recognized the grains as grain, not “grainy.”
This is the experience I’m having with this Home Base Single Malt as well. The malted barley is a clear presence, and so refined and flavorful. Not grainy in either taste or texture. It comes across with the wonderful mix of textures one expects from excellent fresh bread, with its crisp crust and soft and flakey insides.
I hope Home Base Single Malts continue to be a regular feature in their lineup alongside their bourbon. Following this distillery continues to be a very enjoyable journey, like a nice country road—not without the occasional bumps, as one expects and even enjoys, yet ultimately enlivening and very refreshing.