HOME BASE SINGLE MALT
Batch 5 (August 2022)
MASH BILL – 100% barley grown and malted at Mecca Grade Estate Malt in Madras, OR
PROOF – 91.6
AGE – 5 years 7 months in ex-Home Base Bourbon casks
DISTILLERY – Home Base Spirits
PRICE – $83
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
Home Base Spirits is a brand near and dear to my heart. In a way I feel that as a whiskey fan I’ve “grown up” alongside them. Oakland-born twin sisters, Ali and Sam Blatteis, founded Home Base in 2015. It was around then that I was just starting to migrate from wine and beer to whiskey.
Their first batch of bourbon was released in October 2016, just two months after my fateful trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, which I consider the official embarkation moment of my whiskey journey. I picked up a bottle of that first Home Base batch at one of San Francisco’s key artisanal goods destinations, Epicurean Trader. I loved that the brand was local, and that twin sisters were behind it. The label looked refreshingly nothing like other whiskey brands. But I found the bourbon itself too splintery and rough—not surprising considering it had aged a quick 15 months. Nevertheless an impression had been made.
Subsequent batches continued to be released every few months, most of them small batch blends of just two or three barrels, some of them single barrels left on their own, each a few months older than the last. I was struck by the level of transparency, how Home Base named not only their mash bills but the farms where they got the grains, as well as the distillers with which they contract-distilled their whiskeys before aging them in their own south Berkeley warehouse.
It wasn’t until January 2019 that I tried their bourbon again. Batch 10 had hit the 3-year mark, and what a difference between that and the spritely Batch 1! I tried the next few batches in succession, and began to discern flavor patterns connected with age, proof, and how the bourbons took air once opened. Around this time I interviewed the Blatteis sisters for The Right Spirit blog. I came away with a few samples in my pocket, and a great appreciation for their commitment to creating a local, west coast, Northern California bourbon accessible to everyone, rather than merely catering to the good ol’ boy and country club gentleman traditions that still follow bourbon around.
They hire San Francisco Bay Area artists to create their labels. They continue to explore a variety of west coast farm and distilling partners. Now 29 batches of bourbon in as I write this, they still bottle their flagship offering in single barrel or very small batches, often around 92 proof but with occasional variances to best capture what’s particular to the given batch. They’ve put out several unique store picks through local shops—among them a fantastic Bourbon County offering that was aged in a used Four Roses OESV barrel—as well as cask strength releases, a line of Bitters for use in cocktails, and their newer Single Malt line.
Their first Single Malt batch was released in July 2021, aged 3 years 6 months in ex-Home Base Spirits bourbon casks and bottled at 92 proof. Buttery, silky, both fruity and grassy, altogether I found it very like the experience of a picnic on a sunny spring afternoon in the Northern California countryside. It was young, for sure. But refreshingly so, not at all rough like the 2016 Bourbon Batch 1.
So it was with great anticipation I visited San Francisco’s Bottle Bacchanal for a Home Base whiskey tasting, and picked up this Single Malt Batch 5. Aged a full 5 years 7 months, it is the oldest whiskey of any variety I’ve had from Home Base to date.
How is it?
Here we are, one week after uncorking and three pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – straw and honey ambers
NOSE – straw, soft malt, nutty barley, dried ginger, green tea, dried and candied lemon peel, cream
TASTE – very true to the nose, with the drier straw and malted barley notes carried by a creamy texture that also helps pull forward the cream flavor and aroma, along with melted butter, more ginger both freshly cut and dried, that dried lemon peel, and now also some gently bitter oak
FINISH – soft oak tannin and grapefruit peel, straw, malt, nutty barley
OVERALL – a very consistent whiskey from nose to finish, with a dryness that feels nevertheless refreshing, like late summer when the fields of tall grasses have browned and stand out crisply and brightly beneath the clear blue sky
I glanced back at my notes from the Home Base Single Malt Batch 1, itself younger in addition to being the first outing in the series. They are similar. I’m struck by the distinct seasonal impressions, how spring-like Batch 1 was for me, and how late-summer the current batch feels.
Fans of sweeter, sherried single malts will likely find Home Base lacking. But anyone who appreciates softer, drier layers of flavor will have a lot to enjoy here. At 5 years 7 months old, it’s a young whiskey with the brightness and relative simplicity one would expect. But that simple image it conjures for me of a pale brown grassy field beneath a wide open clear blue sky, and the associated feelings of warmth and calm that come from that simplicity, as well as the subtle nuance to be found in it—the exact blue of the sky shifting subtly from the horizon upward, the subtle variations of color and texture across the field of summer-toasted grasses… What’s on offer there, and here, is a kind of zen simplicity, the opportunity to slow down rather than revving up with any brashness or spectacle.
If the flavor profile of Home Base Single Malt Batch 5 appeals, still the price might make some hesitate, especially given the whiskey’s relative youth. But actually it’s a quite typical price for American craft whiskeys. Smaller operations can’t afford to sell their bottles as low as the massive producers can do. The tradeoff, however, is an experience that can quite justifiably, often literally, be said to be handcrafted. Home Base whiskeys aren’t shuttled along by a conveyor belt at any stage of the process, only by hand. The neatly handwritten numberings on each bottle were not scanned in and digitally added to the label, they’re all actually handwritten, one by one, by Ali Blatteis. And long before these surface production aspects are carried out, the whiskey itself, produced barrel by barrel and in numbers small enough that Ali and Sam can account for each one personally, tracking them over time quite intimately—all this must have an impact on the particular experience offered by the final product.
So when I buy a Home Base whiskey, not only do I know now that I will likely enjoy it purely from a tasting standpoint, I also enjoy it as a consumer supporting a business I can relate to personally, and which I know is conducting every aspect of what they do ethically and with considered thought. Ali and Sam Blatteis are storytellers, in a way. Each new release makes a case for the many positive impacts of small local farming, of healthy foods ethically sourced and produced, of recycling in an economy dependent on waste, of highlighting other local artists and crafts people who themselves tell stories through their paintings or murals or graphic designs.
When I buy a bottle of Home Base whiskey, I’m buying all of that. And when I sip the whiskey, after the initial pleasure to the senses, I’m then thinking of all that, alongside whatever personal times, places, and experiences the whiskey conjures for me.
All to say, any good whiskey has its time and place, and every time and place its whiskey.
3 thoughts on “Home Base Single Malt Whiskey – Batch 5”
If I were a whiskey drinker I would certainly be on this bandwagon for so many reasons, none the least of which is their terrific labels. Labels are important. I took a bottle of very high end wine to restaurant the other night and asked for it to be decanted just so I didn’t have to look at the label which I found gross and disturbing. The wine was fabulous! If something is going to sit on my table, I need to enjoy the visual and these gals sure have that down.
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I’m so curious what a disturbing wine label would look like! In any case, if you did want to have one Home Base whiskey around the house this single malt 5 would make a good’n. Soft as summer in the Sierra Nevadas.
Good suggestion! I will consider it as soon as the current “house” single malt is gone! Thanks for reminding me about them….I should have photographed that bottle before I sent it away from the table. It was a gift and an excellent wine. I never would have bought it though!