This is another whiskey distilled from beer and another sample from Sku, who we learned so much about a couple of days ago. This is a rather sober label, and doubtless represents Sku in the grip of his super-ego. But enough nonsense.
I’ve reviewed another Charbay distilled from hoppy bottle-ready beer before, and while I thought that was an interesting diversion this one is a completely different beast. While that R5 was very young (probably less than 2 years old, quoth Sku) this one is 12 years old. And it wasn’t a regular release; it was bottled for the Los Angeles Whiskey Society (Sku is a member, which says a lot about them, I think).
This has received a lot of rave reviews (from Serge, for example) and Sku says it may be his very favourite whiskey. Me, I’m only hoping that it won’t be as bad as the Whipnose.
Charbay 12, Barrel 1, LAWS Edition 1 (69.1%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Old leather (saddlebags), earthy, slightly musty. Hints of spice (clove, cinnamon) and also a slight fruity sweetness (dried cherries?). Dried mushrooms too. Gets sweeter and pinier as it sits but I’m not really getting the hoppy notes I got from their R5 (or Seven Stills’ Whipnose). With more time the hops begin to emerge but still not overbearing or floral/hard candy’ish; very rye-like, in fact, on the whole. With a lot more time darker notes of caramel and toffee show up. And with a few drops of water the caramel really expands, and it becomes quite bourbonny on the whole.
Palate: It starts almost in rye territory but then here come the hops—far more restrained here than on the younger hopped whiskies—and then a chocolatey note and some of the earthy stuff from the nose and pine to end. Gets maltier as it goes. Remarkably drinkable at full strength. With more time the red fruit shows up earlier and there’s a bitterness (partly herbal, partly bitter almonds). Okay, time for a bit of water. Water emphasizes the sweetness but really integrates everything beautifully. Tastes like a fine high-rye bourbon now.
Finish: Long. The pine and light hops hang out for a long time and are joined after a bit by some of the red fruit from the nose and some cinnamon. Oakier with time (but not tannic) and at the very end it’s the hops that remain. As on the palate with water.
Comments: There is no mistaking this for eau de vie or mezcal: this is whisky, through and through. It noses very much like a classy old sherried malt at first and then later there’s a big crossover with rye and then bourbon; it’s on the palate that the bottled beer DNA reveals itself. This cost way more than I would be willing to pay for it but it is certainly excellent, and certainly unique.
Rating: 90 points.
Thanks to Sku for the sample!