East Bay Whiskey Arrives From Home Base Spirits and Wright & Brown Distilling Co.
Two local distillers with similar stories take their time getting their whiskies to the people.
Photo courtesy of Home Base
The frantic pace of modern urban cocktail culture, in which trend-hopping surpasses bar-hopping every breathless night, stands in almost paradoxical contrast to the near-glacial pace at which alcoholic spirits are actually produced. While East Bay watering holes open and go belly-up daily, and wild new cocktails hit Instagram hourly, dedicated distillers crafting the raw material for this frenzied scene measure their progress in years.
When it comes to making whiskey, one key skill is required: Patience. And two new up-and-coming East Bay companies are turning their patience into ambrosia by creating something unexpected amid all this tumult: Oakland whiskey.
“Whiskey is focused on time and tradition, so there’s a juxtaposition — a disconnect, really — between bar culture and spirit distillers,” mused Earl Brown, co-owner (along with lifelong friend and business partner Daniel Wright) of Wright & Brown Distilling Co. “Customers clamor for the latest and newest product you have, but our ‘latest’ cutting-edge release is something we’ve actually been planning for years.”
photo courtesy of wright & brown
Daniel Wright and Earl Brown are the co-owners of Wright & Brown Distilling Co.
“When we opened in 2015, we were the first distillery in Oakland since Prohibition, and possibly ever,” he continued. “Wright & Brown is still a very small operation — just the two of us, plus friends and family for bottling, working out of our facility on Magnolia Street, where we hope to open a tasting room next year. We focus entirely on barrel-aged spirits, doing every step of the process, from grain to glass, right here in West Oakland.”
Coincidentally, at almost the exact same moment that Wright & Brown launched in 2015, Oakland twins Alexandra and Samantha Blatteis inaugurated their own liquor company, Home Base Spirits.
“My sister and I started Home Base together — we fell in love with whiskey,” explained co-owner Samantha Blatteis. “We started out in Oakland, but just recently moved our facility to Seventh Street in southwest Berkeley, so I guess we’re a Berkeley company now. We have 50 barrels aging at the moment — a very limited amount. We’ll make in a year what any of the larger corporate distillers make in an hour.”
Not so coincidentally — the East Bay is at the heart of “sustainable” food and drink culture, after all — both Home Base and Wright & Brown are pioneering single-origin whiskeys using locally sourced heirloom grains as the starting points, even though the two companies have no connection with each other.
photo courtesy of home base
Twin sisters Alexandra and Samantha Blatteis are the duo behind the Home Base brand.
“We’re in the first stages of making heirloom whiskey with grains that fell out of favor a century ago — heirlooms from Scotland to Sebastopol, which we’re now growing ourselves up in Mattole Valley in far Northern California,” said Brown excitedly. “In two or three years, you should be able to try it at our planned tasting room.”
For their part, the Blatteis twins are charting a parallel and equally intriguing course.
“We’re experimenting with single-grain, single-source bourbon whiskey. It won’t be ready for a few years. It will be completely unique. For example, we have a fun bourbon in the works made with a single-origin heirloom red-flint corn.”
While Wright & Brown do the distilling in-house with a hulking 250-gallon handcrafted copper pot still, Home Base has no still of its own but instead brings the carefully curated grains for fermenting to other craft distilleries around the Bay Area, then transports the barrels to Berkeley for the long aging.
They key word here is “long.” In the whirligig world of East Bay drinking culture, these whiskey-making masters necessarily operate on a different time scale altogether, perfecting the art of the slow.
You can find retail bottles of Home Base Spirits bourbon and Wright & Brown Distilling Co. whiskey and rum in Oakland at Alchemy Bottle Shop, Eddie’s Drive-In Liquors, and Wine on Piedmont; in Berkeley at Ledger’s Liquors, Cask on College, and Northbrae Bottle Shop; in Alameda at Craft Beer & Wine — and you can also taste them by the glass at many of the best-known bars in the East Bay.