While your first image of the US state of Nevada is probably not one of rolling fields, it has a booming agricultural economy. One of the contributors to this is the Bently Heritage Estate in Minden – which is also one of the state’s foremost spirits producers and a dedicated advocate of sustainable distilling.
On its land near Lake Tahoe, Bently Heritage Estate Distilling (BHED) manages a sustainable farm, composting facility, cattle ranch, 10,000-ton malting operation, and not one but two distilleries, producing Bourbon, rye and single malt whiskies, vodka and gin.
Its co-founders Christopher and Camille Bently have a stated mission to set a new standard for sustainable distilling, not just in their home state but around the world. BHED’s master distiller Johnny Jeffery says, “Sustainability is a high priority for us at BHED. From the vendors from whom we source to our own initiatives, we focus on engaging in sustainable practices.”
The Bentlys chose to branch out into gin production while their whisky stocks were maturing – and it helps that most of the team love gin, too. BHED currently makes three gins under its Juniper Grove label: the classic American Dry, made with an oat-based spirit; the contemporary Atrium, made with 10 botanicals including lavender and chamomile; and the Alpine, infused with a piñon pine distillate for a true taste of Nevada.
“We knew that our whiskeys were going to take some time, ageing for a minimum of four years, so producing gin was a way to offer consumers a spirit they can enjoy now,” explains Johnny.
BHED is what is termed a ‘field-to-bottle’ or ‘grain-to-glass’ distiller, growing the grains for and producing its own neutral spirit for its whiskies, gin and vodka. It has a dedicated staff that plants and tends to around 6,000 acres of farmland, where it grows winter rye, wheat, oats and barley. Its 100-year-old grain mill is on the US’ National Register for Historic Places – although it has been renovated to high LEED-certified standards.
Once the grain is mixed and milled, it’s transported to the distillery to be mashed, fermented and distilled. In total the spirit for its gin is distilled three times: first in a stripping column, then in a hybrid pot still to bring it up to 95% ABV, then again in the still with all the necessary botanicals. What’s left after that third time is blended with water to bottling strength (46% ABV). Spent grain and botanicals from these processes are used in compost.
As well as producing its own grain, BHED is also exploring growing its own botanicals to reduce the carbon footprint of obtaining them. It has built a greenhouse which will be used to grow botanicals, while its ranch is certified ‘bee friendly’ and is maintained to support pollinators.
BHED is lucky to control its own grain production as well as its distilling, which has been a key pillar of its sustainable ethos. There are many distillers in the States who are looking at their raw material sourcing as a way to become more sustainable, from supporting local farmers to moving away from genetically modified crops and more ecologically harmful growing methods.
“Particularly in the craft distilling world, those businesses are part of their local communities, so they’re looking for sister operations around them to mutually support. This often means reducing their environmental impact, even if it’s just reducing their carbon footprint by sourcing local grain, thus supporting local farmers,” Johnny explains.
“Distilleries are also increasingly finding outlets for their spent grain – whether it be feeding hogs, sending out to existing composting operations, or even to biodigesters for sustainable biogas production.
“There are also a growing number of distilleries that contract directly with local farmers to grow specific grains for their spirits, and then purchase the entire lot. Often, this is not genetically modified grain because unmodified grains tend to have more flavour. The best result of these partnerships is that distilleries are helping to reduce the chemical load on the land, as unmodified grains do not require the massive pesticide use that modified grains do.
“The more distilleries that engage in sustainable processes, the more feasible it looks to others in our industry. At BHED, we hope we’re helping set an example of how distilleries can both be sustainable and produce high-quality products.”
BHED is currently working on a barrel-rested gin and an experimental series to “showcase the creativity of its distilling team”, which are set to be released in its tasting room in 2021.