50,000 acres of farmland. An 8,000-barrel-capacity bourbon rickhouse. A state-of-the-art climate system.
It all adds up to “one hell of an operation” — one that Jody Horton and crew had the opportunity to visit it for a recent shoot. Simply put, Bently Heritage Estate Distillery has it all. New and renovated buildings house all production spaces, tasting rooms, and offices. The vast expanse of farmland provides the space to cultivate the grains that are the foundation of their spirits. And that state-of-the-art climate system? It’s in the rickhouse (a whiskey-aging warehouse) and “precisely recreates the average temperature and humidity of a Scottish distillery region known as Speyside … in real time.”
This was our first time working with Bently Heritage but hopefully not the last! We had not heard of them before and were pretty amazed at the facility. It was very impressive. I had also never heard of [that type of climate system] before.
Visit Bently Heritage’s website and you’ll see that the company has a distinct identity. The proprietors care deeply about their surroundings — the estate is buttressed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains — and the environment as a whole. Not only does Bently Heritage use locally-sourced grains, it also strives to preserve the area that produces them so that the coming generations can explore it in all its glory.
It’s perhaps most impressive to me that they grow all of the grain they need for spirits on land that they own. That’s really rare to have the resources to do that. I love that they aim to create world-class spirits but are centered on reflecting the spirit of their immediate surroundings.
Bently’s future-conscious mindset works in lockstep with its respect for history. According to the company’s website, the distillery “embrace[s] the techniques of the old-world masters” while simultaneously utilizing “new technologies that keep [their] operations safe, scientific, efficient, and sustainable.” This creates an open-minded, team-oriented atmosphere, of which Jody and his squad took full advantage.
I think the best part of the collaboration was how open they were to us trying ideas on the fly when we saw an opportunity. Everyone on the team was easy-going, friendly, and fun to be around.
We had a loose game plan going in and were given the freedom to make a lot of audibles based on the tech scout. Jae Henderson, Bently’s head of marketing, was there, which meant that we could have instant feedback on how useful a set of images might be. It’s always a pleasure to get to work in this fluid fashion, making decisions on the fly. For that reason, I think we covered a lot of ground.
Indeed, there are a host of moving parts that define the spirit-making process, meaning that Jody and friends had to capture as many steps as possible. They started by shooting distiller Bryce Butko as he harvested piñon cones for Bently’s Juniper Grove Alpine Gin.
From there, it was on to the rickhouse that holds up to 8,000 barrels of the good stuff. Here, the team got a shot of John Crumbley loading a barrel, which took a bit longer than you might imagine.
It probably took 75-100 shots to get the right moment of rotation, a good expression, and the proper shutter speed for the blur. We try to work in a little motion when we can. It can really make a difference with some images and can make a moment more dynamic. I think the blur gives this picture a little life.
Finally, Jody, assistant Whitney Arostegui, and digitech Chris Corona photographed Director of Mixology Lucas Huff as he, uh, mixologized.
We hoped to make this feel natural — like a moment of testing that Lucas would actually do. I like that it felt natural and right to him.
All of this led to the winning shot, which features Lucas burning tea leaves to make an Old Fashioned.
It was super fun [shooting this]. I’m always attracted to how dynamic smoke and fire shots can be. We did four takes to get this one. I could have done more but it was not named as a priority on the shot list, so we had to keep moving.
In case you were wondering, Jody and company did get a chance to sample the fare (and loved it all). In fact, one of the main goals of the shoot was to convey the idea that, by seeing all that goes into the process of making a product, both photographer and viewer can appreciate the product itself even more.
Experiencing a place often deepens your appreciation for the product you taste, be it a bottle of wine or a sip of whiskey.
This is the power of photography — offering a way for people to have a deeper connection to what something is and where it was made without having to physically be there. Because we are not purely analytical beings, the story behind something and the emotion that evokes definitely affects how we feel about it and even what we taste.
See more of Jody’s work at jodyhorton.com.
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