It's well-known that whiskey is, essentially, distilled beer. But there's a big difference between the beer that's created in the first step of the whiskey-making process and the IPA that's sitting in your fridge. The big difference? Hops. "Distiller's beer," as the whiskey-makers' stuff is known, doesn't have them. It's also intended to be distilled, not consumed. But what happens when you take a beer that's intended to be consumed as-is and then turn it into a whiskey? The California-based Charbay distillery has been finding out since 1999, when they created what they claim was the first whiskey distilled from bottle-ready beer. Charbay is positively ancient by American craft distillery standards — when they got started three and a haff decades ago, the craft spirits movement didn't yet exist. Small independent distilleries were almost unheard of. Now that the rest of the country has caught up to them, a few other distilleries have since experimented with hoppy whiskeys, among them Boston Harbor Distillery and Corsair. But for my money, Charbay is still the pacesetter.
To celebrate their 35th year in business — and really, because this is what they do — Charbay is unleashing Doubled & Twisted (45% ABV, $50). It's a blend, 50% of which is 3-year-old single malt, whipped up specifically for this bottling by the Bear Republic brewery in Sonoma County. 30% is 7 years old with a stout base; and 20% is 3 years old and pilsner-based. The pilsner comes out more on the nose, but on first taste, the stout really dominates with lots of rich chocolate notes. The lighter, more hoppy pilsner shows up again on the long, smooth finish.
I'm not really a beer drinker. I can tell the difference between a good beer and a crappy one, but I rarely drink beer voluntarily or for pleasure. But I'm a big fan of beer-based whiskey. Maybe hops are easier for me to down in concentrated form. I don't know. But whether or not my beer agnosticism disqualifies me from holding forth on Doubled & Twisted, I'll tell you that I love it. It's one of those drams that I find myself going back to far more often than I need to, ostensibly for "research" but actually because I enjoy drinking it. You will, too. And you'd better hurry — only 660 cases are being made available.