What Does It Mean to Be an Estate Distillery?


So often these days we’ve heard of the terms or movements: farm to glass, grain to bottle, field to bottle. Whatever you choose to call it, what exactly does that mean?
Grains waving in the sunset at the Bently Heritage Estate Distillery ranch.

We are an estate distillery. In accordance to Nevada state law, being an estate distillery means, “at least 85 percent of the thirteen agricultural raw materials from which distilled spirits are manufactured, in the fourteen aggregate, were grown on land owned or controlled by the owner of the distillery.” Well, what in the world does that mean? For us, it means quality!

Being an estate means that we have our hands on every part of the operation. We conduct all stages of production on site from growing, harvesting, malting, milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, maturing, bottling, labelling, and distributing. This ensures that everything is grown and stored appropriately. Our actions help to validate and give us confidence that our products are made with the greatest quality in mind. Quality throughout the full process is the key, but it has to start somewhere.

It starts with the grain.

Grain quality is very important and can reveal a ton of information, including:

  • Consistency of the grain. This can give us an idea of consistency and condition of the kernel, including but not limited to damage by frost, heat, mold or rot; moisture content; objectionable odor; and insect infestation.

  • Condition of equipment. If the grain is not properly milled, we can begin to evaluate the quality of our milling equipment. Is the equipment damaged? Have we set the machine to the correct settings? Is there something wrong with the machinery? Are the temperatures in the silos correct? Are there any insulation problems with the silos?

  • Quality of standardized procedures. It is important to conduct the most appropriate testing methods. We can assess whether our testing methods need modifying or evaluation in order to make sure that our processes continue to provide value and safety to our consumers.

Close-up, delicious grain being sorted.

Testing the Quality

Our testing for quality includes visual inspection, moisture analysis, and sensory.

Visual inspection

A visual inspection is very important to grain quality because it gives us an overview of the grain and can indicate possible issues. We look at both the whole and milled grain for insects, foreign materials (plastic, metal, etc.), moisture, color, mold, chaff, and particle size. Roller mills preserve more husk, producing larger particle sizes than those taken from a hammer mill.

Testing method

Other than visually looking at the grain and evaluating, we also conduct a sieve analysis. This method separates the grain by particle size into course, fine, and powder. We can visually calculate the percentage of each layer of milled grain. Sometimes having too much of one can be problematic during production causing issues such as clogging, increased pressure in the mash cooler, or straining liquid from wort, etc.

What are the benefits to sieve analysis?

  • Rapid testing

  • Helps identify storage conditions

  • Helps identify insect infestation

  • Gives a closer look at grain particles

  • Reveals any undesired grain parts, like chaff, at the milling process

The Bently Ranchlands

Moisture analysis

Moisture content is one of the most important factors to maintaining grain quality; it can indirectly affect the quality of the grain since it will spoil at moisture contents above those recommended for storage.

Two important key factors about moisture content worth noting:

  • Too low moisture: can cause grain to become brittle and break during storage and handling operation. This can be caused by prolonged drought seasons, improper watering, or poor temperature regulation of the silos.

  • Too high moisture: can facilitate the production of mycotoxins, DON, Ergot, or mold growth leading to deterioration of the grain. This can occur from extreme wet conditions, improper drying and storage of the grain, and insects. Even if the grain was properly dried when stored, insect infestation can increase moisture content in grain.

Low and high moisture content each have their own separate issues, but higher moisture tends to be more problematic. A major issue regarding high moisture content is fluidity, or the ability for the grain to flow easily while being moved. Fluidity can be affected during:

  • Silo storage, making it difficult to properly dry the grain

  • Delivery, making it difficult to unload out of the transfer truck

  • Transfer to cooker, making it difficult to move through the conveyance system.

Testing method

We analyze the moisture of our grain using a tabletop moisture analyzer. This technology utilizes infrared radiation to heat the sample of grain to the point that there is no longer moisture left in that sample. The loss of moisture is measured and calculated using the Loss on Drying method.

What are the benefits to Moisture Analysis?

  • Rapid testing

  • It is simple

  • Can identify storage conditions

  • Can help to identify insect infestation

  • Can identify the condition of the grain in the silos

The Malting Facility at Bently Heritage Estate Distillery

Sensory Analysis

Sensory can help identify attributes of the grain before it goes into production. It can also give us clues on the condition of the grain. If unpleasant aromas from the grain are detected, that batch of grain is not used for production. Although a new batch of grain will need to be milled, much time and money is saved by catching the probearly on.

Sensory can help to identify microbial growth. Microbial growth can give the grain a damp or moldy odor. Think of an old cellar or mildew. It can also give off a sour smell. These are not what we want our products to smell or taste like. Again, catching these characteristics early on helps ensure a quality product.

It is important when conducting sensory analysis to think about how the grain grows. Asking questions such as: are these typical or common odors that the grain type would normally emit? What was the environment or growing conditions of the grain? Would this carryover or be extracted out during downstream processes?

Testing method

We test sensory utilizing a steep method. We analyze the extracts for any potential flaws or notable characteristics. We prefer to always have good characteristics, but it is very important to note and pick out the flaws as well. Creating a database of common characteristics of the grain has been a helpful and beneficial tool.

What are the benefits of sensory analysis?

  • Very quick (15-20 minutes)

  • Helps establish a quick assessment of sensory profiles of the extractable flavors and aromas for each grain type

  • Gives a representation of what the wort would be like during production

  • Helps establish a database of sensory characteristics specific to each grain type

Here at Bently Heritage, we do our best to not overlook a single part of the process. That includes where it all begins: the grain. We take pride in each step, ensuring that we can provide the best estate product.

Resources:

  1. S.B.199_R1, vol. 1, 2017, p. 1-8. Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy Congress, www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/79th2017/Bills/SB/SB199_R1.pdf.