HOME BASE CASK STRENGTH BOURBON
Batch 1 (2021)
MASH BILL – 58% is a 60% corn / 30% malted barley / 10% rye mash bill, and 42% is a 60% corn / 30% wheat / 10% malted barley mash bill
PROOF – 116
AGE – blend of 58% 3-year and 42% 4-year bourbons
DISTILLERY – Home Base Spirits
PRICE – $76
WORTH BUYING? – Indeed!
I’ve been a Home Base Spirits fan ever since I interviewed its founders, twin sisters Ali and Sam Blatteis, back in 2019. Their ethics, the way they center their locale in what they do, their embrace of small and family farms, that they credit the artists who create their labels—all of these details add to my experience of the whiskeys themselves.
I’ve posted notes about a range of their whiskeys since that 2019 interview. Tasting many releases, I’ve found that for me they really hit their stride around the three-year mark. At this point, each new release is at least that old, with some now approaching the four-year mark as well. New variations veer off from their flagship bourbon into unique one-off store picks, single malts, and now also this new cask strength release—a curious collaboration that truly embodies their mission to create distinctly northern California whiskeys.
Home Base embraces transparency. Highlighting the source of their grains, barrels, and who they partner with to distill, is central to their mission. Their whiskeys are like mini anthologies of local northern California stories—about distillers, farmers, artists, ethical choices around sustainable farming and production processes…
Home Base is also an uncommonly small and collaborative operation, forgoing their own distilling equipment in favor of partnering with other local distilleries to contract-distill their spirits before then aging and blending them in their Berkeley facility. Their own official notes on the blend in this cask strength release are as follows:
58% un-proofed Home Base Bourbon: 60% organic corn grown in Sacramento, CA at Adams Grains; 30% malted barley grown in CA, malted at Admiral Maltings in Alameda, CA; 10% organic rye grown in Sacramento, CA at Adams Grains. Distilled, barreled at 115 proof at Corbin Cash Distillery, Atwater, CA in new American oak 30 gallon barrels from Barrels Unlimited, Medium Char #3. Aged over 3 years in Atwater and Berkeley, CA, at Home Base Spirits.
42% barrel strength wheated bourbon: 60% organic corn grown in Sacramento, CA at Adams Grains; 30% organic wheat grown in Sacramento, CA at Adams Grains; 10% organic malted barley. Distilled, barreled at 120 proof at Spirit Works Distillery, Sebastopol, CA in new charred oak 53 gallon barrels. Aged over 4 years in Sebastopol and Berkeley, CA.
Notice the thorough crediting. And as usual, the artist who designed the label-art is credited on the bottle itself:
This level of transparency is very uncommon in whiskey. Mostly found with smaller craft distilleries, it makes a statement. I’m reminded here of my conversation with Jill Kuehler of Freeland Spirits in Portland, OR, who also spoke about spirits-making in terms of storytelling. The simple act of naming sources highlights the cast taking part in a broad collaborative effort to create something for people to enjoy in celebration of their own lives and stories.
To get further insight into the stories behind this cask strength release, I reached out to Ali and Sam Blatteis with some questions about their dual emphasis on transparency and collaboration. Here is Sam’s reply:
For this batch of the new cask strength bourbon, the Home Base Bourbon distilled at Corbin Cash was contracted by us (this blend uses barrels from the same distillation run as our current batch of flagship bourbon). The wheated Spirit Works bourbon we purchased as an aged product (not contracted by us) because we love their distilling philosophy, the quality and sourcing of their ingredients, their kick ass distillation team, and how well the bourbon tastes and compliments our own bourbon.
Our mission as a spirits producer has always been to source intentionally and be transparent in our ingredients and process. That was what we found to be lacking in the spirits industry and prompted us to make our own spirits, particularly whiskies. We also knew we wanted to base our company in the Bay Area – our hometown as well as the home of the farm-to-table movement – and utilize the abundant agricultural resources around us to capture the terroir of the west coast.
As for the number of farmers, maltsters and distillers we work with, we are constantly looking for the best ingredients, the best results, and the best timing for our distillation runs. Now that we have been distilling for close to seven years, we have developed strong relationships with a number of growers and distillers, and we will source/contract from any number of them depending on the time of year, the harvest, what we are distilling, the size of our distillation runs, etc. We will also jump at the chance to distill something new-to-us or grown-for-us so that we can continue to experiment and push the boundaries of California whiskey/spirits. We do feel that the farmers, maltsters and distillers are collaborators as our products wouldn’t be what they are without them, which is why we always include them in our batch specs.
There it is. Sam’s reply says it all. Notice in particular how she talks about the whiskey purchased for this blend from Spirit Works in Sebastopol, CA. Her reasoning for selecting the whiskey goes beyond its taste and quality to include her admiration for the philosophy of the “kick ass” Spirit Works distilling team. Terroir in whiskey is not only the landscape and regional weather patterns, but the intentions of the people doing the work there.
So let’s get to the whiskey itself. Tasted just over four weeks since uncorking, and nearly halfway into the bottle, these brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – deep, rich russet oranges
NOSE – fresh barley, baked bread loaves warm out of the oven and freshly broken open, an array of savory dry herbs, a dark apricot preserves note, some faint baked red cherry, a whiff of coffee
TASTE – a combo apricot/chocolate sauce, the barley and fresh bread notes, some creamy wheat, a drop of that nutty coffee, drying yet also syrupy and warm
FINISH – a bit of ginger baked into gingersnap cookies or some dense ginger cake, the savory herbs, some mint, a lingering warmth and peppery tingle around even darker apricot notes…
OVERALL – one of the richest Home Base whiskeys yet
Like its extraordinary color, the flavors are rich and dark and vibrant. The four grains involved and cask strength proofing help to deepen the youthful grit of the grains. I wouldn’t say it’s “grainy,” a descriptor often used as a pejorative meaning “too grainy” in taste or granular in texture. Rather, the forward grain notes add to the complexity, especially the barley’s fruitiness and the wheat’s creamy aspects.
The overall dryness of the whiskey is offset by a syrupy texture, which pulls forward the rich apricot notes. Barley and apricot are signature flavor notes in Home Base whiskeys. The dryness is also very familiar, which in combination with the various grain notes can have a roughness, most noticeable in the earlier ~2-year bourbon batches. Crossing the timeline into 3+ years makes a big difference in this regard. As these whiskeys continue to age, and the sweeter and more syrupy notes continue to gain prominence alongside the dry and savory herbal and grain notes, it will be interesting what else starts to ebb and tide in the Home Base flavor profile.
That’s me speculating, based on a lot of sense memory. Home Base is a brand I’ve spent significant time with, so my memories of it are strong. But there’s nothing like a side-by-side to reveal nuances in real time.
In any case, had on its own, this new cask strength four-grain release packs a solid punch. The Home Base mission to craft distinctly northern California whiskeys continues its persistent journey deeper into the local terroir. And their mutlilayered collaborative ethics offer a refreshing context for whiskey drinkers interested in the world outside the bottle and their own glass.
Five O’clock Somewhere
I put this Home Base Cask Strength Bourbon toward what might be the most boojie hipster cocktail possible—a good ol’ lowbrow Bourbon & Coke made with 100% highbrow ingredients:
1.5 ounces Home Base Cask Strength Bourbon
3 ounces Olipop Vintage Cola
1 organic lemon wedge
Ice made from filtered water
Served in a Norlan Rauk Heavy Tumbler
You already know from this post how organic-craft-artisnal-etcetera the Home Base is. Similarly, Olipop Vintage Cola is all those things, as well as local (to me), non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, paleo, prebiotic, low-sugar, and many other healthy things.
It was really good! The herbal and chocolate notes of the Home Base paired perfectly with the nutty cola notes of the Olipop. The lemon added just the right acidic zing to outline the sweeter caramelly flavors of the bourbon and cola.
Actual Coke is way too sugary for me, personally, and jacked up with ingredients made in labs that my grandmother would never recognize—a sure sign it shouldn’t go in your body. I also tried Olipop’s Root Beer. It was among the better root beers I’ve had, and that’s coming from a person whose childhood was soaked in root beer. I may need to try a Bourbon & Root Beer next!