Farm to Bottle: Corbin Returns

David Souza was in the store this week, tasting me on his new batch of Central Valley whiskey, as well as a few other new concoctions he's been working on. I asked him how it was going. He said something in return I've heard from many a producer: "If I would have known how hard this was going to be, I don't think I would have gone through with it." Unlike most small producers in the rye business, David set his retail price at around $50 (what he thought would be fair) and tried to work backward from there to set profitability. His is the only mature rye whiskey that I know of in the United States that is handled from farm to bottle by the same person. David planted the rye, grew the rye, harvested the rye, milled the rye, fermented the rye, distilled the rye, matured the rye whiskey for three years, and bottled it himself in his garage.

I don't think he's figured out how to get rich in the whiskey business yet, but he damn sure has figured out how to make a tasty rye whiskey. What I love about David is that he understands the long-term vision. He's not asking consumers to subsidize his growing pains, but rather is willing to eat the profit to ensure a fair whiskey for a fair price. As time goes on I'm sure he'll win over more consumers with that approach. Batch two is here! Enjoy.

Corbin Cash Merced Rye Whiskey $46.99- Corbin is a farm located in Atwater, California (just south of Modesto) that grows sweet potatoes. A few years back, David Souza, whose family has farmed in the region for a hundred years, decided to add a still to preserve the unused harvest (just like farmers have been doing for hundreds of years) and Corbin Sweet Potato Vodka was born. It turns out that Corbin hasn't only been distilling sweet potato vodka over the past few years; they've also been growing, harvesting, fermenting and distilling their own rye--purchasing custom-charred, 53 gallon white oak barrels from Missouri and filling them with their 100% farm-to-bottle distillate. The sandy soil of Atwater, however, leeches a lot of the nitrogen deep into the earth and a cover crop is needed to help remove some of the nitrogen before another round of sweet potatoes can be planted. It just so happens that rye is the perfect cover. Distilled on the same German Holstein still, the almost 4 year old rye (3.75 years) shows a perfectly-balanced nose of rich oak and rye grain aromas, and a leaner, more classically-styled mouthfeel with hints of baking spice from the barrel aging. It's not a full throttle high proof experience, nor is it a softer, gentler spirit like the Bulleit or Templeton products. The Corbin is its own thing--a purely Californian whiskey, 100% from farm to bottle. The Souzas planted the seeds and handled every step along the way until the booze was bottled. It's real deal whiskey from a local farm.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll