Just as the depths of the Lake of the Sky itself hold countless surprises, the Lake Tahoe area also has so much more to offer than initially meets the eye. One example is the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery.
Located in Minden, Nevada, just east of Lake Tahoe, it’s a quick drive over Spooner Summit. Savvy visitors will take the road less traveled and use State Route 207, more commonly known to locals as Kingsbury Grade. This option follows the historical Pony Express route and provides a view of the Carson Valley from the rim of the basin that is simply breathtaking.
Bently Heritage is definitely worth the short drive and has something to offer for everyone: from history buffs to luxury spirit enthusiasts to classic car aficionados, from those interested in sustainable business practices to those who simply enjoy the fruits of the High Sierra.
Bently Heritage is an Estate distillery, which under state law means that more than 85% of the raw materials that go into the process must originate on land owned by the distillery. Dedicated to the Estate concept, Bently Heritage actually grows and sources 100% of the wheat, rye, barley, corn and oats used at the distillery on their sister property, Bently Ranch. These grains are harvested, then malted, mashed and fermented, with the final product distilled and bottled, all right on site, a practice that gives Bently Heritage absolute quality control throughout the production cycle of the spirit.
While the local sourcing of raw materials allows for the Estate distillery designation, it also adds so much more to Bently Heritage, infusing the business – and the spirits – with the soul and the essence of the Sierra region. Take for example their use of earth tones dent corn and piñon pine distillate. Consider how each craft spirit is created with water drawn from the very first well that was drilled in the town, Well One, and ponder on the source of that water, the snowmelt from the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada, the mountain peaks that tower above both the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe itself.
Through the vision of owners Christopher and Camille Bently, the distillery operations are headed up by General Manager and Master Distiller John Jeffery and Distillery Supervisor Ryan Quinlan. One factor that contributes to the award-winning spirits produced at Bently Heritage is the combination of time-honored practices with new and innovative technology. Jeffery and Quinlan apply traditional Scottish floor malting methods as well as cutting-edge pneumatic malting systems. Classic wood fermenters operate in conjunction with automated processes, resulting in vodkas, gins, whiskies and liqueurs that retain old-world charm and quality while adhering to the sustainability ethos of the business.
In such a setting, it’s no surprise that the business holds the principles of sustainability and environmental stewardship in such high regard. Once the grains have been used in the distillery process, they are returned to the ranch to be used as composting material. The distillery facilities are housed in buildings that date back to the early 1900s – buildings such as the Flour Mill and Creamery that are included on the National Register of Historic Places and among which owner Christopher Bently can remember playing when he was a child – and that have been renovated to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold standards.
The spirits themselves also live up to the environment in which they are produced, each bottle providing a farm-to-glass taste of the Sierra. There are the Source One vodkas: the Single-Estate Vodka, a blend of wheat and oats with a smooth and creamy finish, and the Vodka Rested in Oak Sherry Casks, which features a deep and rich color and provides a taste experience that greets the tongue like whisky and has a smooth mouth-feel like a traditional vodka.
Those with a discerning palate will be able to identify the High Desert influences in the estate-made Juniper Grove Gin collection produced at Bently Heritage, as the distillers sought inspiration from the local environment in creating each of the three variants. Bright citrus notes add to the traditional London dry gin taste of the Juniper Grove American Dry Gin, a product that is triple distilled with five different botanicals. Juniper Grove Atrium Gin is the result of small batches, triple distilled with 10 botanicals and finished in copper pot stills, making for a bold spirit with floral-forward tastes. The Juniper Grove Alpine Gin is an estate-made gin featuring locally foraged piñon pine distillate and is exclusive to the Bently Heritage tasting room.
The distillery’s specialty liqueurs are named for the Greek goddess of potions and magic and include Hecate Coffee Liqueur and Hecate Cacao Liqueur. The liqueurs are available exclusively in northern Nevada.
The heart and soul, the raison d’etre of the operation, however, is the desire to create world-class whisky. And perfection takes time. Between the development, the creation and the barrel aging required for the quality level that Bently Heritage seeks, the release date of their first whiskies, including a bourbon and a rye, is set for early 2024.
With the safety of guests and staff being Bently’s top priority, the facility was closed during the pandemic, but reopened to the public in August of 2021. The distillery offers visitors an expansive view of the Eastern slope of the Sierra, a world-class cocktail program and tasting experience, impeccably preserved historic buildings, as well as in-depth tours spotlighting what it means to be an estate distillery with sustainable production. Tours will not be available right away but are planned to begin not too long after the reopening takes place; reservations will be required initially and can be made online.
Another way to experience Bently is to locate one of the area restaurants or retailers where the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery products are carried. On Tahoe’s South Shore, dining establishments that feature Bently Heritage vodka or gin among their offerings include the Loft, the Landing, Gunbarrel Tavern, Lake Tahoe Aleworx, Riva Grill on the Lake, Lucky Beaver, Edgewood Bistro and Blue Lake Tavern. Retailers who carry the spirits include the Raley’s on Emerald Bay Road, Dart Liquor at Stateline and the Safeway at Zephyr Cove.
In Incline Village, you can find Bently Heritage products at Bite American Tapas, Raley’s, Incline Spirits and Cigars and at Incline Liquor, and in Truckee you’ll find them at Schaffer’s Mill.
Visitors and locals alike know that the Tahoe region is so much more than just a place on the map. It’s an atmosphere. It’s a way of life. It’s a celebration of the land and of our place in the environment. It’s an appreciation of the past and of how we carry that appreciation forward into the future. And Bently Heritage Estate Distillery (impossibly, magically) manages to capture all of this in a bottle.