Home Base Spirits: California Crafted, Women Owned
This month, we’re excited to shine a spotlight on women-led producers in the Good Eggs Marketplace. We traveled to Berkeley for a tour of Home Base Spirits, where twin sisters Alexandra and Samantha Blatteis age, blend, and bottle their Home Base Bourbon.
Before starting Home Base in 2015, Ali and Sam spent years researching local distilleries and small family farms, and even started a women’s whiskey club. The Oakland natives are also contributing members of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild, which helps legislation catch up with the burgeoning craft spirits movement — changing state liquor laws for the first time since the end of Prohibition — and promotes small businesses like theirs. In addition to breaking into a historically male-dominated industry, Home Base Spirits has developed strong relationships with sustainable farmers and local distillers, resulting in a small-batch bourbon that is distinctly Californian.
We joined the two sisters in the shed where the magic happens. It smelled like oak and vanilla extract. Barrels covered most of the floor, along with a few big metal drums used for blending. There were handwritten recipes and notes scrawled on the wall. Ali and Sam invited us to taste an upcoming batch straight from the barrel. Ali pulled the bung from the side of one of the barrels, lowered in what looked like a giant eye dropper, and drew out a sample. As we sipped barrel-strength brew from mismatched liqueur glasses (Sam’s thrift store finds), the sisters described the ingredients, process, and flavors behind their flagship bourbon.
First of all, what makes bourbon bourbon? According to the Federal standards, it must be made in the US from at least 51 percent corn, distilled at no more than 160 proof, and aged at no more than 125 proof in new oak barrels. No, it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky, despite what some purists might say.
So what makes California bourbon special? California ingredients and California climate. When Ali and Sam first had the idea of starting Home Base, they noticed that the big spirits brands don’t include ingredients on the label. When there’s so much focus on where our food comes from, why wouldn’t we want to know what’s in our drinks too? Spirits are an agricultural product, and Ali and Sam believe that where and how the ingredients are grown matters.
“We want to give the growers some credit,” Sam said. Here at Good Eggs, we couldn’t agree more.
Beyond the 51 percent corn, the mixture can be any blend of grains, which leaves room for experimentation. “Doing the research and refining the recipe was the longest, hardest part of the process,” Ali told us. Their recipes are inspired by whiskeys from Japan and Scotland — climates similar to California. The cooler, foggy weather means the bourbon ages in the barrel differently from those made in Kentucky.
“Low and slow, that’s how we do things,” Sam said.
They describe “California style” flavor as grain-forward, highlighting the wheat, rye, and barley they source from California and Oregon. It’s lighter, younger, fresher, and brighter.
Home Base produces four to five batches of their bourbon every year, with just a few hundred bottles per batch. Where bigger brands strive for consistency, Ali and Sam embrace and celebrate the flavor variations from each batch, and even from barrel to barrel. Sam has a sweet tooth and Ali likes smokier flavors, “but we always agree on when a barrel’s ready,” Sam said. Home Base Bourbon drinkers can look forward to something new with each release — tasting notes can be found on their website and the batch and age statements are hand-written on every bottle.
When I asked how they would recommend a novice whiskey drinker like me (I did my best not to make my usual face when sampling the barrel-strength stuff) go about approaching the spirit for the first time, Sam and Ali were full of great ideas.
Sam said bourbon is a great place to start because of its range of flavors. “You can branch out from there based on what you like,” she said. “Go to a whiskey bar during an off hour when they’re not too busy. Tell the bartender what flavors you prefer — sweet or smoky — and ask for recommendations or a flight from their favorite bottles. They love talking about it and sharing their knowledge, it’s part of their job!”
“Bring a notebook so they know you’re serious,” Ali added. They suggest Acme Bar in Berkeley, Prizefighter in Emeryville, Elixir in San Francisco, or any bar with a good whiskey selection. If you want to go straight to the source, many local distilleries also offer tours and tastings, and some craft liquor stores like Cask, Alchemy Bottle Shop, and The Epicurean Trader host tasting events with producers.
Bringing home your own bottle of Home Base Bourbon (or getting one delivered by Good Eggs)? I asked the sisters what they pair it with. “Greasy, fatty things,” Sam said with a laugh. “When I’m doing a tasting I like to make a charcuterie board with cheese, salty nuts, meat, and olives.” Bourbon also goes great with dessert.
So, what’s next for Home Base Spirits? They currently work with two local distillers to craft their spirits, but someday they’d like to do their distilling in-house. In the nearer future, Ali and Sam are taking their experiments beyond bourbon — they plan to offer more spirits that take advantage of locally grown ingredients. Keep your eye out for a brandy made with Napa wine grapes, and an amaro, a bitter liqueur made with botanicals and citrus.
“Citrus is in season during the winter here, so it’ll be ready just in time to make refreshing spritzes in the summer,” Ali said. I’ll have one of those.