Kindred spirits

Minden’s new estate distillery sits on a historical Nevada site

Learn more about Bently Heritage Estate Distillery here:

I’ve been writing about drinking lately on assignment for the RN&R. Last time for my boozy shenanigans, I wound up being escorted by security out of the El Dorado Casino, after which my evening spiraled into a dance party at the Loving Cup. This story isn’t anything like that, but it’s still about drinking.

This is a story for the type of person who likes to pour a nice cocktail at home every now and again. They might dabble with bitters or vermouth from their liquor cabinet. If asked, they could intellectually conjure the smoky finish of scotch indexed in their cerebral card catalog of highbrow tastes and experiences.

If you’re still with me on this hypothetical persona experiment, now imagine yourself on a rainy day in Scotland—even if you haven’t been there. (I haven’t been myself.) You’ve been traveling for weeks, and you really miss Nevada. What spirit could you rummage from the bottle collection that might slap you in the face with nostalgia and longing to be back out in the sagebrush hills?

I think those bottles of spirits are being produced right now at Bently Heritage Estate Distillery at 1601 Water St. in Minden.

The new distillery that opened in February is wholly Nevadan. It’s housed in the old Minden Flour Mill—the tallest building in Minden for over 100 years. Both the mill and its neighboring Minden Creamery are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The brick facade of the creamery was designed by Nevada architect Frederic DeLongchamps. His is an important Nevada name to know for sophisticated cocktail hour conversations. I’m sure you already knew it.

Bently Heritage Distillery sits on the 65,000-acre Bently Ranch. There’s a lot happening on those 65,000 acres, and I’ll get to all that after some quick history.

A man named Heinrich Friedrich Dangberg built the Home Ranch in the Carson Valley in 1856 (prior to Nevada statehood), but in order to build a city (future Minden), the family had to dig a well. Fast-forward to today; Minden is still standing. The site of the well is across the cobblestone driveway at the distillery, and the water is an essential ingredient in the production of Bently Heritage spirits. Their line of vodka is called Source One Vodka – the “source” referencing that original well.

Long after the time of the Dangbergs, and way after the heyday of the Minden Flour Mill, a man named Donald Bently acquired the land that is now the Bently Ranch. I’m more or less just Wikipedia-ing, but I know he was a Nevada-based engineer and an entrepreneur starting in the 1960s. His success paved the way for his son, Chris Bently, to do something wonderfully extravagant with the property upon which he grew up. The Bently Ranch now includes a high-end beef cattle ranch and butcher, an antique car restoration facility (called the “creation station”) and thousands of acres of barley and grain for fermenting and distilling into spirits.

To be considered an “estate” distillery, as the name suggests, 85 percent of the raw materials for the spirits must be grown, processed and bottled on the property. This criteria was defined in a 2017 bill passed by the Nevada Legislature—and lobbied for by Bently and the proprietors of Frey Ranch Estate Distillery in Fallon.

At the time of this writing I haven’t met Chris Bently, but I seriously hope I do. I hear he is well-dressed and has a big presence. Sometimes he’s traveling the world with his wife, Camille. Sometimes he’s sharing stories with visitors in the distillery’s tasting room. His staff and other journalists tout him as a visionary, and the more I drink his Source One Vodka, the more I agree.

Bently’s attention to detail is present in the aesthetic of the grounds and buildings. The distillery is a gorgeous combination of archival restoration and technological modernization. Visitors sip from their glasses over three floors of the old flour mill, ascending a spiral staircase towards a dazzling glass chandelier that glints from the sun through the windows at all hours of the day. Reclaimed wooden beams are accented by structurally reinforcing black steel. The mid-century leather couches, the glassware, the artwork are all part of a designer experience for drinking lovely spirits and creative cocktails. From vantage points all over, visitors can look through glass panes down into the preserved skeleton of the mill silos. On the bottom floor are two copper stills, imaginatively illuminated by theatrical lighting. The staff will remind you that the building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified.

The copper stills are just a fraction of the entire production, however. They’re responsible for the single malt whiskey, which was Bently’s inspiration for opening a distillery. The whiskey will take years to age before it’s available for general consumption.

Over in the old creamery stands the most mechanically advanced booze factory I’ve toured. (And I’ve toured a few.) The production team is fewer than 10 people. Its led by master distiller John Jeffery. Despite a small workforce, I was informed the entire operation, from valves to pumps to bottling and tank cleaning, is automated with an iPad. This reduces the opportunity for human error. And the precision programming reassures the consistency of the artfully crafted recipes. They want you to experience the taste of ingredients that were grown as part of the landscape of northern Nevada—and it’s actually there. You don’t have to have be a graduate-level connoisseur of spirits to taste the flavors of home.

There’s a quality assurance lab on-site. Typically, these processes are contracted through a third party, but KassaDee Herring runs the lab at Bently Heritage. It is full of scientific vials, machines and data represented in techy visualizations illustrating the compounds that make up the thumbprint of every batch.

The remaining production buildings on site include a malting facility, where grain is processed before delivery to the distillery in the creamery. The combination of mechanics and biology happening in there is entirely over my head, plus that building wasn’t open during my tour.

There are also two barrel-aging facilities. Some of the barrels are old sherry casks filled with vodka to generate the signature Sherry Rested Vodka. (I’ve never heard of anything like this. It tastes like those rich, booze-filled chocolate-covered cherries you get around the holiday season.) Other barrels are filled with spirits that will still be years in the making before they’re released. This includes the single malt whiskey, the bourbon and the rye.

On my visit to Bently Heritage Distillery, I was paraded around by the events and mixology director, Lucas Huff. He provided the spiel and the aforementioned stories. At the end, he whipped up cocktails that were entirely new experiences for my palate, but with essences that were familiar—Nevadan.

Huff is Nevadan; he’s from Minden, specifically. He graduated from Douglas High School. Like kids from small towns do, he took off to figure out what else this world had to offer. Truthfully, Chris Bently didn’t spend his whole upbringing in Minden, either. He lived in the Bay Area. He’s traveled the world. They’re both back now.

Huff’s journey delivered him a short way up the road to Truckee, where he cut his teeth in the high-end service industry; then over to the Bay Area, where he became a certified wine sommelier (no small feat). Eventually, he met a patron who asked him, “Have you ever heard of this place called Minden, Nevada?” The guy told Huff there was distillery burgeoning, and Huff put his name in the running to work the tasting room back in his hometown.

Huff’s story is like most things in Nevada—a combination of hard work and happenstance. The same is true for the spirits at Bently Heritage Distillery. Chris Bently could have built a luxury distillery anywhere, but he built it here as a way of attempting to preserve the aromas, tastes and character of our piece of this state. From one Nevadan to the next: It’s spot on.