Producing whiskey requires fermented grain, a still, a barrel, and patience. Henebery Spirits has shown plenty of the latter.
2870 Scott Street #105, Vista
Jesse Fanning launched Henebery in 2013 with his wife Natalie and her family, including parents Annette and Art Johnson. The Johnsons wanted to revive an inherited whiskey brand founded by great-great-grandfather Matthew Henebery in Peoria, Illinois in 1851. Fanning, who says whiskey has been his "drink of choice" since dipping into his father's stash at age 15, dove headfirst into learning how to make it, including visiting Washington to shadow the well-established craft distillers thriving in the Pacific Northwest.
While the new Henebery has exclusively sold within the San Diego market during its first four years, to reduce start-up costs Fanning has been contract-distilling whiskey elsewhere. "It was kind of tricky," he recalls. "We came in as a San Diego company, but we were doing everything in Los Angeles."
All that’s changed, as Henbery has entered the next stage of its business plan: opening a craft distillery and tasting room in Vista. The new property brings production to San Diego and allows Henebery to expand its product line for the first time.
"We never really had time to showcase any innovation," Fanning says, explaining that, with only limited access to someone else's still, there was no room in the schedule for research and development, only production. Consequently, he adds, "We just have that one flagship to build around…. Now we're going to showcase a lot of innovative things."
That flagship is Henebery Celebrated Whiskey, a 95-percent rye grain whiskey infused with organic vanilla, cardamom, and orange rind that has established the Henebery brand in quite a few bars and restaurants around San Diego. With a new, custom-assembled distilling rig at his disposal, Fanning will be free to pursue single malts, peated whiskeys, and two kinds of bourbon — one derived from a blue corn mash.
These will mainly be served in the tasting room, along with a menu of barrel-aged cocktails. But not all at once. Fanning spent more than half a year refining the process and ingredients of Henebery's flagship rye, which includes what he terms a "layered infusion" — adding different elements at different stages of the whiskey's development. Before any new product makes it into a barrel, Fanning will now fine-tune his process in a new distillery boasting 2200 feet of pipe, reverse-osmosis water filtration, and a 300-gallon mash tun that doubles as what distillers term a stripping still.
The latter lets him produce a 30 percent "low wine" before final distillation — an optional step in whiskey production that boosts efficiency and results in cleaner, higher quality product that will age in wood until it's ready to drink.
"Our end game is just do fill as many barrels with great whiskey as we possibly can," Fanning says, "and keep pushing the envelope."