Why we use bottle-ready beer to make our Whiskey2022-10-25T15:50:23-07:00

All whiskeys start out as beer, but it’s not the delicious kind we all enjoy. It’s an un-hopped, fermented liquid called distiller’s beer that tastes nothing like your favorite IPA. It made Marko wonder what would happen if we started with delicious, hopped beer (ready to be bottled and enjoyed) instead. 

As Marko says, “When we distill in the pot still, it’s twenty to one reduction, so if you start out with something delicious, you’re going to concentrate delicious.”

A simple sounding idea, but rarely practiced for many reasons including high cost, extra time and effort required, and the challenge to distill with a carbonated beer. But as master distillers and pioneers, the opportunity to take whiskey making up a notch was a challenge we couldn’t pass up. 

So in 1999, we started turning pilsner beer into whiskey. Known as the Pilsner Series, we released five batches in different waves, the last being Release V, with over 20 years of aging. It was the first, and perhaps most recognized, whiskey to be distilled from a bottle-ready IPA in the US. Our next whiskey adventure was distilling highly-regarded Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, called Charbay Whiskey R5. 

We’ve been perfecting the art of making top shelf whiskey starting with delicious bottle-ready beer ever since. Many have followed our pioneering ways but we are the original….

Why we use an Alambic pot still2022-11-10T21:14:02-08:00

We like a whiskey with a full flavor and a smooth finish. Don’t you? This is why we choose to distill with a copper Alambic pot still. A pot still is run on a batch by batch process, unlike a column still which is a continuous process. This allows us to create a complex flavor profile, through a double-distillation. The first run is for building the body of the distillate. The second run is to fill that body with the best parts of the entire run, which becomes your finished product. It takes years of experience to know what to look for, an abundance of patience to wait for the crucial moment to make the best cuts, and intense concentration for multiple days straight to get the fullness of flavor you’ll be able to feel. It’s so worth it!

In the words of Marko –

“I like to showcase the flavor, develop the body, and let the finish speak for itself.” 

Why is vodka filtered?2023-01-20T02:26:45-08:00

Our Clear Vodka isn’t filtered through charcoal or diamond dust or any kind of filter agent. Why not? Because when you distill it properly the first time, there’s no impurities or contaminants to filter out. Plus filtering strips the body and mouthfeel out of your vodka.

The key is to start with the best. Like the philosophy behind all of our spirits, when you start with delicious, you concentrate delicious. Crafting the vodka portfolio is no different. We distill from 100% pure grain (a mix of corn and rye) sourced directly from farmers in the Midwest, then blend with crystal clear Northern California water. Distilled correctly, one time only, in a 4-column still, we build a body with a silky, smooth mouthfeel you can taste. Why would you want to strip away any of that incredible flavor?

Would you like to know Marko’s point of view on the filtering of vodkas?

“If you have a dirty pair of jeans and have to wash them 5x, they were filthy. Same thing with vodka. If you have to filter the hell out of it, it was dirty to start with.”

Why is our Rum so expensive?2023-01-19T21:05:34-08:00

For many reasons, including our extremely particular ingredient sourcing, our eight year double aging process, and we hate to think about it, but a volume of rum literally dissipates into thin air along the way…We don’t cut corners, we take our time, and we think you should do the same when you enjoy sipping our smooth, refined, and overproof Rum.

Why is our Brandy so expensive?2023-09-12T20:26:58-07:00

For a number of very good reasons that all relate to producing the best quality Brandy possible.

  1. Reduction. We lose a lot in the process of production. Why would we do that? To achieve a flavor that is outstanding. Basically it’s a 10 to 1 reduction. Meaning, when we start with 10 gallons of wine, the final distillate will be 1 gallon. 
  2. Fruit quality. We start with expensive Napa Valley grapes because they are the highest quality we can source. Starting with quality means we end with quality.
  3. Evaporation. It’s affectionately known as the angel share. It’s the loss that occurs through the barrel aging process. Typically 2-3% annually. You can imagine how this really added up when we aged Brandy No.83 for 27 years and Brandy No. 89 for 24 years.
Why is Charbay Rum so hard to find?2023-01-19T21:07:39-08:00

Made in 2016, we could only make 120 cases in total. Why such a limited production? With every product we make, we must be sure the ingredients are of the highest quality. As we say with our whiskeys, when you start with delicious, you concentrate delicious. This led us to a very limited source of sugar cane syrup we liked from Maui. Not just any syrup though. First it was extracted in a vacuum still, making it four times purer than molasses, then fermented with champagne yeast, to be aged for a week on lees. Our reason for all this hard work? To develop a richer, deeper character than an ordinary rum. You’ll experience and appreciate these layers of complexity, gently expressed in the long, lingering finish of our Charbay Rum. 

Which type of Tequila is the best for sipping?2022-10-17T19:14:37-07:00

The most well-known classifications of tequila are Blanco, Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo. Each have their virtues, but when it comes to sipping, most people prefer a tequila with some barrel aging. When a tequila rests inside a barrel, the liquid expands into the barrel’s wood, then contracts out again. As this natural process happens, day in day out, the liquid draws flavors and color from the wood, building complexity along the way. Being artisans of flavor, we like to offer spirits that delight you with their intricacies. And we believe in the purity of a well-made, handcrafted spirit, which is why we were drawn to the cult favorite, Tapatío. Like us, they are a family-owned, multi-generational distillery, producing high quality products people love. They don’t just deliver to the standards required of them, but go beyond to over-deliver for the customer. A great example of this in practice is the extra length of time Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo are aged in used barrels. It mightn’t make good business sense to age longer, but it sure makes sense from a flavor perspective…

Tapatío Reposado – 8 months (standard is 2 months)

Tapatío Añejo – 18 months (standard is 12 months)

Tapatío Excelencia Extra Añejo – 5 years (standard is 3 years). Additionally aged for 5 years in glass jugs.

Where does the name Charbay come from?2022-09-25T17:22:45-07:00

In 1983, the year we started distilling and making wine in the US, our business name was Domaine Karakash, a derivative of our family name Karakasevic. In 1987 we released the first Dessert Chardonnay, a barrel-fermented Chardonnay laced with hand-distilled Methode Charentais Brandy Liqueur. It was an original so we gave it an original name – Charbay, a creative merge of Chardonnay and Brandy. We felt this name represented our business and family philosophy of being pioneers so in 1991 we officially changed the business name to Domaine Charbay and later to just Charbay.

What kind of grapes are used in California Brandy?2022-09-24T17:42:25-07:00

Unlike Cognac with its strict rules associated with grape varietals, California Brandy has no such restrictions. The freedom to use any grape varietal is what puts California Brandy in a class of its own. However, there are some grape varietals better suited to Brandy production such as Pinot Noir, Riesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. For our No.83, we took the traditional path, sourcing a Californian-grown, Cognac varietal, called Folle Blanche. It’s a rare varietal, even in France today. For No.89 we were looking for a stronger Californian influence, selecting a blend of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. 

What is whole fruit vodka?2023-01-20T02:22:17-08:00

If you’re choosing a fruit vodka wouldn’t you want the taste to be of the entire fruit, and nothing else? Our fruit flavored vodkas are made with freshly-picked, sun-ripened whole fruit, with no dyes, no additives and no preservatives. This is why we only make it once a year, when the fruit is in season, at its most delicious. When it reaches ideal ripeness, it’s picked and sent directly to us. We take this nature ripened fruit and put the whole thing through our shredder. Why? We want you to taste the purity of the whole fruit, not just elements of it. The next step is the extraction process and depending on the fruit, takes anywhere between 68-90 days. The final step is the integration of this concentrated fruit into our award-winning Clear Vodka. It’s a long and time consuming process but the end product is magnificent, just like biting into the whole, real fruit. 

What is the difference between Tequila and Mezcal?2022-10-17T19:12:02-07:00

To be labeled as Tequila it must be made in one of five areas of Mexico (One state – Jalisco, and four municipalities – Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas) and be distilled from only one species of agave – Blue Agave.

To be labeled as Mezcal it must be made in one of nine areas of Mexico (Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Puebla, Durango, San Luís Potosí, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas) but can be distilled from any species of agave, not just Blue Agave.

What about the taste difference? Tequila tends to be more agave-forward, with a smoother, sweeter flavor. Mezcal is often considered to have a more savory and smoky flavor. But aging contributes to a richer flavor profile in Tequila, especially when aged for longer in used bourbon barrels as Tapatío Reposado, Añejo and Excelencia Extra Añejo are.

What is the difference between real fruit and “natural flavors” in flavored vodka?2023-01-20T02:24:49-08:00

When we say our vodkas are made from real fruit (or leaf) we mean exactly that. They are made from the whole fruit; zest, flesh, pith, everything. All of our fruits and the green tea leaves are picked at their ripest, most delicious point. This is as nature intended the flavor and it’s the taste you expect. We put our fruits through a piece of equipment, designed specifically by us, to extract the pure flavors over time, which we then blend with our own Clear Vodka. You can tell our vodkas are made with only real ingredients because of the sediment that is sometimes visible. Before we bottle we remove the chunks but because we pack so much flavor into the vodka by using real fruit, it can fall out of solution. Simply tip the bottle up and down a few times and watch the fruit settle back into the vodka.

How is this different to ‘natural flavor’ that is listed on some brands? Not easy to answer. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a natural flavor is defined as oils, resins, or other extracts derived from natural sources, which include animals, spices, fruits, vegetables and plants. That sounds okay but the problem is that the word “natural” has no formal legal definition. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group, things like solvents, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers and preservatives can make up 80% to 90% of natural flavors. Sounding a lot less ‘natural’ than we would like. We prefer our definition of natural – 100% whole fruit and nothing else. And others agree.

According to the Sam Davies, from Drinkhacker on our Meyer Lemon Vodka – “…not all that different from sucking on an actual lemon”.

Imbibe Magazine on our Green Tea Vodka – “The aroma is identical to that of freshly brewed tea…”


What is the difference between California Brandy and French Cognac?2022-09-24T17:35:00-07:00

A main difference relates to grape types. French Cognac has very strict regulations governing the varietal of grapes – only white wine and must be grown in the Cognac region. California Brandy places no restrictions on the varietal or location. This gives the distiller the freedom to craft a multi-dimensional Brandy using a collection of flavors rather than a limited range.

What is a sipping whiskey?2022-11-13T16:34:20-08:00

Nothing quite beats drinking a straight whiskey, in a perfectly balanced glass, especially at the end of a long day. All of our whiskeys are made to be sipped. Dilute them with ice or water, to your liking, but we craft them to be enjoyed straight. This is the sign of top shelf whiskey – flavorful, smooth, well-balanced, softly aromatic with a fresh nose and palate. Yes there is an intensity but a sipping whiskey shouldn’t ‘burn’.

We’re artisans of flavor, crafting a style you’ll find distinctive and memorable. Our process is super slow. We take the time and that makes the difference. With an alambic pot still, custom-made to our specifications, we create our whiskeys piece by piece. First we build the body, then fill that body with flavor.

Once the flavor from the still is right we barrel age all of our whiskeys, using new and used French oak. It could be anywhere from 29 months, as we do for R5 or 8 years for the Stout Whiskey in our Doubled & Twisted. We like to focus on the flavor of the whiskey much more than the flavor of the barrel. Nothing is released until we are confident it has reached its potential.

What is a liqueur?2023-11-28T15:33:18-08:00

The common definition of a liqueur is an alcoholic beverage (typically brandy) flavored with fruit, spices, nuts, herbs, or seeds. Yes, our Nostalgie Walnut Liqueur fits this description on a basic level but we never do basic. We build this liqueur piece by piece with only pure, natural flavors we make and extract ourselves. The black walnuts are hand-harvested, and soaked in our own 12-year-old Brandy for two years – creating a layered, complex extraction to which we add our family’s secret blend of herbs and spices to complete the picture.

What does it mean to be a Master Distiller?2022-11-13T16:31:43-08:00

Distilling means everything to us, as a multi-generational family-owned distillery. Titles aren’t everything but we do believe distilling is a trade and should be recognized like most other trades, at a professional level. After all, to create a spirit with great flavor, worthy of your admiration, takes great skill and many long years of dedication. The title of Master Distiller does exist but there isn’t a standard definition across the industry. We adhere to the classical definition of Master Distiller: “someone who has equaled or bettered the skill of his teacher”, which in our family’s case is our father.

Miles earned the title of Master Distiller in 1956, following in the footsteps of 11 generations before him.

Marko gained his Master Distiller recognition in 2009, with the release of Doubled & Twisted Light Whiskey, distilled from bottle-ready beer.

What does hopped whiskey taste like?2022-11-13T16:30:59-08:00

Imagine a complex, smooth, aged whiskey with notes of caramel, vanilla and oak. Now layer on citrus, herbal and earthy aromatics and you have an idea of what a whiskey distilled from fully-brewed, bottle ready beer tastes like. Delicious, right?

As artisans of flavor, our family’s philosophy has always been that you need to start with delicious to end with delicious. This is why we distill with an Alambic pot still, in the traditional way of the many generations before us. An Alambic pot still is designed to concentrate the flavors. It’s a twenty to one reduction, meaning 20 liters at the beginning becomes 1 liter of finished product at the end of distillation. Hardly efficient from a business perspective, but it’s how we achieve our goal of crafting extremely flavorful products our customers appreciate.

And it’s why we distill with fully brewed, bottle-ready beer, rather than brewer’s beer. With our Alambic pot still we’re able to enhance the delicious hop and malted barley flavors already inherent in the starting product. All you need to do is choose the type of beer you want to sip, concentrated and distilled into a smooth, aged whiskey.

Our R5 Whiskey is distilled Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA.

Stout Whiskey, is Bear Republic’s Big Bear Black Stout.

And for Doubled & Twisted, it’s a triple blend of aged Straight Malt whiskey, Stout whiskey and Pilsner whiskey.

No matter which you choose, know you’ll be enjoying a full-bodied whiskey with forward flavors of hops and two row malted barley.

What does Green Tea vodka taste like?2022-09-24T17:33:57-07:00

Freshly brewed green tea with a touch of sweetness. We suggest you serve it on the rocks, or make a refreshing cocktail, mixing one part Green Tea Vodka with two parts lemonade, garnished with a sprig of mint.

Or as well explained by Imbibe Magazine – “The aroma is identical to that of freshly brewed tea with grassy and lightly floral notes and just a hint of sweetness, like green tea with honey, making it perfect for summer refreshers.”

What does full barrel strength mean?2022-09-24T22:02:17-07:00

Some of our spirits are released at full barrel strength because we want you to feel like you’re drinking out of the barrel with us. It also gives you more control. If you want it diluted, then add ice or water as you like. We’d prefer you decide on the dilution, rather than we decide for you.

What does double aged Rum mean?2023-01-19T21:03:12-08:00

It means exactly that… we double age it. First we aged Charbay Rum for five years in stainless steel as a clear rum, then we transferred it to French oak barrels for an additional three years. Eight years of aging in total. Why? We wanted you to taste the difference that time makes.

Aging in stainless steel allows the spirit to mellow and soften, without extracting additional flavor (from a barrel, for instance). Marko likes to age spirits to show off the actual spirit, not the barrel it’s aged in.

What does ‘making the cut’ mean in distilling?2022-11-13T16:33:00-08:00

‘Making the cut’ refers to the process of switching tanks. Our Alambic pot still has three tank attachments, designed to capture different parts of the run. While running the pot still, which could be continuously for 10 days, there are certain points in the process when you switch from tank to tank. 

The first part of the run is called the ‘heads’. It’s the highest alcohol. You wouldn’t want to drink this straight but you want to capture pieces of it, for adding complexity to the finished product.

The second part is called the ‘hearts’. These are the middle notes and are the most balanced.

The third and last part is called the ‘tails’. These are the lower notes and thicker in texture. Just like the heads, you don’t want a lot of tails, but you want just enough for the right level of texture to your finished product.

How do you determine when to ‘make the cut’? The critical decision point is driven by taste and smell. This is the art form of distilling that you can’t learn in a text book. Only a trained palate and nose can taste or smell anything over 100 proof, let alone create a masterpiece of deliciousness. 

What are the different types of stills used by distilleries?2022-11-10T21:15:52-08:00

Essentially there are two types – the pot still and the column still. The pot still, the original distilling equipment, is considered the best still to this day for producing full flavored spirits. It’s specifically designed to concentrate flavors. This is why we use a traditional Alambic pot still for our whiskey, brandy and liqueurs.  However a column still cooks out the flavors and distills to a higher proof, making it better suited for a clean, crisp taste experience. We distill our vodka to meet your expectations for a smooth, well-rounded, pure taste from the beginning.

Is Tequila Tapatío related to Tapatío hot sauce?2023-01-20T02:23:53-08:00

No they aren’t related but they share a common story.

“Tapatio” (m) or “Tapatia” (f) is a colloquial term to describe someone from the highlands of Mexico or from Guadalajara. Both are located in the state of Jalisco.

For the tequila, Jalisco is the premium growing region of blue weber agave and home to the most prestigious tequila distilleries, including Tapatío.

For the hot sauce, the company’s founders emigrated to America from Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco.

Is it Alembic or Alambic?2023-02-05T17:06:45-08:00

Either is correct. It’s possible the word is derived from the Arabic al-anbīq – a combination of the Arabic article al with the Greek word ambikos, meaning bowlThe term was later adapted to Latin as alembicum, to be slightly changed in the 14th Century to middle French as alambic. Whether you use Alembic or Alambic, what we know from experience is that its the best pot still for distilling flavorful spirits.

Is Charbay family owned?2022-11-10T20:43:14-08:00

Yes Charbay is family owned. We’ve been family owned and operated since the beginning and now we’re into our 13th generation. Our two sons, Milorad (Miles) and Ivan, are Generation 14. Even at a young age they show plenty of interest to continue the family tradition. Like their father Marko did as a young boy, they’ve helped out on the bottling line and when the ripe meyer lemons and blood oranges arrive, they love throwing them into the hopper, to start the extraction process.

Is Blanco Tequila aged?2022-10-17T22:15:39-07:00

Blanco is a clear tequila, therefore its name ‘blanco’, white in Spanish. It’s generally not aged in the traditional barrel way. But Tapatío Blanco and overproof Blanco 110 are rested for 6 months in stainless steel tanks. Why the rest? The time in tanks allows the oxidation process to occur, settling the flavors before bottling. The overall effect is a smoother taste naturally without dilution. As we believe at Charbay, Tapatío understands the importance of patience in distilling. Release nothing before its time.

How do you drink Nostalgie Walnut Liqueur?2023-11-29T18:45:54-08:00

Mostly straight. But enjoyable in so many ways – drizzle over vanilla ice cream, freshly baked chocolate brownies, or pumpkin pie, or simply add a shot to your Espresso. It’s a versatile liqueur so let your imagination run wild.

Can Tequila be distilled anywhere?2023-01-20T02:29:45-08:00

To be labeled Tequila it must be:

  1. Made in Mexico
  2. From one of five authorized areas – Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit or Tamaulipas
  3. Be distilled from 100% Blue Weber agave

If it doesn’t meet these requirements, it must be labeled as an “Agave Spirit” or Mezcal.

Tapatío Tequila meets all three conditions. It’s produced at the La Alteña distillery in the mountainous region of Jalisco, Mexico. This region is famous for growing the best blue weber agave.

Can I drink Nostalgie straight?2023-11-28T15:40:49-08:00

Yes, and we recommend it neat, no ice. We believe you want to taste the purity of our hand-crafted spirits and extracts, which is why every one of our products are distilled to be enjoyed on their own, including our Nostalgie Black Walnut Liqueur. After all, our belief is that only if it tastes good on its own, does it deserve to be used in a recipe or a cocktail.

Can Brandy be made from other fruits?2022-09-24T17:42:55-07:00

When most people think Brandy, they think grapes, but legally it doesn’t have to be. Brandy can be made fermenting other fruits, with the most popular being apples or pears. When this is the case it is usually referred to by its fruit name such as Apple Brandy or Pear Brandy. 

Are there many rums made in the US?2023-01-19T21:08:51-08:00

Yes many distillery friends produce rums from all corners of the US. According to the latest American Rum Report, there are 46 States producing rum. However, as humble distillers, never looking to be the center of attention, preferring to make products we enjoy drinking, we feel our Charbay Rum is a stand out. A claim well supported by many adoring fans and recognized by the experts. You’ll know what we mean on the first sip yourself…

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