The Key Ingredient to Any Quality Spirit is Water
1601 Water Street– that’s the address of the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery in Minden, Nevada. Talk about a good location to have a distillery — it’s literally sitting on top of Well One, the first well drilled into the Carson Valley to provide water to the town of Minden.
The well still served that function until Bently Heritage received an agreement to have sole access. All of our spirits are made from this water, and our first, Source One Vodka, even got its name from there too. So, why is it so good?
The town of Minden is located at an elevation of approximately 4800 ft above sea level, and sits in the Carson Valley right below the Sierra Nevada mountain range and only 20-minutes from Lake Tahoe. The mountains are snow-capped much of the year, providing spring snow melt that flows down the mountains and gathers in the aquifer, right below the property. The mountains also feed the East and West Forks of the Carson River that in turn feeds irrigation channels and fills seasonal reservoirs. The river feeds our crops, and the aquifer is the source of water for making our high quality spirits.
In Nevada, to qualify as an estate distillery, you have to grow at least 85% of all the ingredients used to make your spirits; so, you need plenty of water. The Bently family have managed their land around the Carson Valley for decades now. They have figured out what grows best here, and how to manage their share of the water efficiently. Bently Ranch is part of the Estate, where around 2000 acres of land is allocated to growing all the grains for the distillery operation: barley, wheat, rye, oats and a variety of corns. Regenerative and sustainable agriculture is the result, and along with efficient water management, the grain supplies to the distillery are always fresh and at their highest quality. That’s important because the supply chain starts here.
To make the finest distilled spirits, you need quality water for the mash, but what’s good for the grains is not necessarily good for the spirits. We have to manage our water in different ways. After all, the whole point of being an estate distillery is to control all the links in the supply chain in order to achieve the highest quality of finished products.
The water supplied from Well One is what feeds both distilleries: one distillery dedicated to single malt whisky, and another for the bourbons, ryes, vodkas, gins and liqueurs. The water has several minerals that are picked up on its way down the mountain and into the aquifer. It is drinkable straight out of the well and had been feeding the town of Minden for decades now. Today, it is controlled entirely by the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery. Another tick in the good quality supply chain box.
Even though the water source is straight from nature, there’s always a need for some clean up before using it in the distillery. And not just for the spirits, think about all the vessels and miles of piping that are filled with steam. Good water chemistry is needed for boilers and the seven miles of piping that transfer heat to the process. Poor chemistry results in scaling and build up that can clog things up, but all that can be avoided with good water management. To achieve the quality required, the utilities area of the complex has a room dedicated to water filtration with carbon filtration and reverse osmosis units. So, it’s “well” managed, if you pardon the pun. Another tick in the good quality supply chain box.
All the spirits benefit from the water we get from Well One. It’s the main ingredient, and for spirits like vodka or gin, you want them to be “gin clear”, so to speak. The clarity is the first thing a gin or vodka connoisseur looks at. The whiskies all benefit from this too, and the raw spirits coming through the spirit safe are as clear as a bell, as you would expect.
During production, all the spirits are made to the required standards in terms of alcohol by volume (ABV), but when they are ready for bottling there’s another important water quality box to tick. To dilute a spirit down from its higher distilled, or cask strength, to bottling strength, you need pure water. The process is called “proofing”, and you can ruin a batch of really good spirit if you don’t do it with pure water and introduce it to the spirit at the right rate. It takes a lot of expertise and experience to get this step right, as you don’t want to overshoot and end up with a batch of product that’s below bottling strength.
Then, finally, when the bottle is opened and a glass is poured, there’s the aroma. Quality water is needed to carry all those congeners created during fermentation and make them available to your nose. There are certain expectations we set for ourselves when we take our first sip, and number one is it’s got to pass the smell test. If the spirit smells unclean, you wouldn’t want to put it in your mouth. It’s got to be clear, clean and inviting.
When you nose the Source One Vodka for example, a fresh, clean aroma hits you along with cereal notes that invite you to take a sip. In comparison to other vodkas, its smooth creaminess, mouthfeel and finish will surprise you. The result of a good supply chain that all starts with good water plus masterful distillation in hybrid, pot and column, stills.
The overall objective for Bently Heritage is for the consumer to have a smile on their face when they taste the difference of estate made spirits. From grains to grins, how’s that for a metaphor.