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Charbay Distillery - A Long Line of “Firsts” For Miles Karakasevic and Family

Charbay Distillery
Charbay Distillery
Charbay Distillery

The Karakasevic family, early pioneers in producing small-batch artisanal spirits, has maintained a devout passion for distilling over 13 generations. Despite Charbay Distillery’s start in 1983, Founder Milorad (Miles) Karakasevic had family ties to wine and brandy making dating back to the mid-1700s. Karakasevic joined his family’s tradition of winemaking in Yugoslavia in 1954. From there, Karakasevic injected his own sense of passion and creativity into his work which led to the achievement of many milestones during his illustrious distilling career.

Although Charbay is best known for spirits, particularly its whiskey and vodka, the company originally began making wine and brandy. Having earned his degree in Enology and Viticulture from the University of Belgrade as well as the title of Master Distiller in Yugoslavia, Karakasevic started his life in North America as a professional winemaker. After a stint as Assistant Winemaster at Beringer, Miles Karakasevic began producing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Alambic Methode Charentais Brandy under the family name Domaine Karakash.

A fusion of barrel-fermented Chardonnay with Methode Charentais Brandy Liqueur yielded CHARBAY, the first Dessert Chardonnay in 1987.

Upon changing the name of the family business to Domaine CHARBAY, the first (and only) Family Owned and Operated Winery & Alambic Charentais Distillery was born. The Karakasevic  family released a myriad of single barrel handcrafted spirits (liqueurs, grappa and brandy) that migrated to the menus of fine San Francisco restaurants.

In 1993, Miles Karakasevic designed the first true cognac style copper Pot-Still made in the U.S. This traditionally shaped still must meet exacting standards in aesthetics and function, utilizing copper for its high thermal and electrical conductivity, even heat distribution and efficient vapor cooling.

Another “first" for Karakasevic involves spirits distilled from the tubers of American sunflowers. PACHANGA Sunroot Spirit, released in 1994, was the first original American Spirit as well as the newest primal spirit distilled worldwide since Tequila. Karakasevic also created the formula for California’s first Pastis (released in 1998) although this anise-flavored liqueur originally came from France.

Charbay’s founder was also the first Grand Master Distiller when he earned the title in December, 2010. To become a Master Distiller, the apprentice must match or exceed the distilling skill of the teaching master. In order to earn Grand Master Distiller status, the distiller must have hands-on experience distilling the major spirits categories of Brandy, Rum, Tequila and Whiskey. The fact that Tequila must be distilled in Mexico makes this feat a more extraordinary accomplishment.

Fortunately, the Karakasevic family tradition of innovation in distilling will be carried on through Miles’s son Marko, who joined the business full time in 1995. Looking back to family descendants making brandies and wines in the 18th century, the Karakasevic family has come a long way in the artisanal distilling business. Their product line offers clear and flavored vodkas, including several made with whole fruit, double aged rum, double-distilled brandies, a selection of tequilas and, of course, a variety of award-winning whiskies. Not only did Esquire name Charbay’s R5 Hop Flavored Whiskey the “Best Whiskey in California 2019”, the 2019 Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Awards nominated Charbay and Marko for Spirit Brand/Distiller of the Year. Charbay has also added custom distilling of spirits to the company's product portfolio. Today, Charbay has expanded into two business entities. Domaine Charbay Family Winery is cared for under the watchful eye of Miles Karakasevic and his wife, Susan.  Meanwhile, Charbay Distillery falls under the jurisdiction of Marko Karakasevic (who handles product development as head distiller), while his wife Jenni Karakasevic oversees operations. They will be busy in 2020, with the anticipated releases of Vintage 1988 Apple Brandy and Vintage 1999 Pear Brandy. They are also eyeing some clear whiskies for the new year (more on that to come). With such a rich legacy of distilling prowess in the Karakasevic blood, surely there are more “firsts” to come in the new year and beyond.

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