Though last year was challenging for local businesses, one local husband and wife team successfully opened a new craft distillery in the midst of the pandemic.
Nate and Bonnie Randall opened Hinterhaus Distilling to the public in November of 2020, and the couple are now offering a variety of spirits produced on-site in Arnold.
“It has been really amazing,” Bonnie Randall said. “We have been incredibly busy. Our initial projection when we put together our business plan was that we would be lucky to be doing a quarter of the production and sales that we’ve done.”
Hinterhaus’ current offerings include two whiskeys, two liqueurs and a vodka, with more to come.
The distillery uses a 150-gallon hybrid still with 20 plates and a gin basket, and has an on-site bottle shop, tasting room and branded gear mercantile. Two large, fire-rated windows allow viewing of the production process.
Local twists give Hinterhaus’ products distinctive characteristics. The Calaveras Cask Finish Bourbon is finished in casks that previously aged county wines, with each batch reflecting a particular winery and grape varietal, and Hinterhaus Vodka is made from 100% California wine.
“All of the wine that we’ve sourced so far has come from this county,” Bonnie Randall said. “You have a lot of vodka to choose from, so we try to differentiate ours.”
The company is collaborating with local and regional partners, including Snowshoe Brewing Company, which recently fermented mash for Hinterhaus for an upcoming single malt whiskey.
“Everything we do is some kind of partnership,” Bonnie Randall said. “We really do depend on other partners and collaborations.”
The Randalls have been sourcing malted barley from Admiral Maltings in Alameda, which uses no-till, dry-farmed barley grown by small family farmers in Northern California and the floor malting process.
“This is a really laborious, intensive process of malting that almost no one does in our country anymore, but it creates these really amazing fragrances out of the whiskey,” Bonnie Randall said.
Hinterhaus is the only distillery in Calaveras County with on-site production, aging, bottle shop and tasting room.
Nate and Bonnie Randall were raised in Alaska and New Jersey, respectively, and spent many years in the Pacific Northwest. A new job brought them to the Bay Area in 2011, when Nate Randall began working in human resources for Tesla.
“He reported to Elon Musk directly, and it was a really interesting time,” Bonnie Randall said. “It was totally different work. He’s always been really mechanical, so he always knew, ‘I can only do this for so long.’”
Bonnie Randall previously worked a decade in the wine industry while also serving as a freelance writer and communications consultant. Before the couple opened Hinterhaus, she was working for a winery in Murphys.
The Randalls heard about Arnold shortly after moving to the Bay Area.
“People were saying ‘You guys have got to go up there,’” Bonnie Randall said. “So, we did, and we started renting cabins, and we knew as soon as we were ready to make some life changes, and career changes, and leave the Bay, there was no question that we were going to move up here.”
The couple bought a cabin and moved to Arnold full time in 2017. Shortly afterwards, Nate Randall began working for Dry Diggins Distilling in El Dorado Hills, learning the trade from their head distiller, Casey Newman.
“He was really instrumental in taking Nate under his wing, and Nate was just so keen on learning this, so it was really fortunate,” Bonnie Randall said. “You kind of have to have an ‘in’ if you really want to study it and learn it.”
While the couple hadn’t planned on opening a distillery when they moved to Arnold, Nate’s work for Dry Diggins sparked the idea. The Randalls bought a still from Baton Rouge, La., and signed a lease agreement for the site of the new business in early March of 2020, just before the state went into lockdown.
“We literally signed our lease on our site the week before COVID hit,” Bonnie Randall said. “And we had already purchased our still, which is the single biggest business expense of any distillery.”
After a frank discussion on how to proceed, the couple decided to move forward as planned. There were months of work needed on the building and permits to obtain before opening, and they felt that the lockdown would be relatively brief.
“Like most people, we did not think that COVID would be lasting this long,” Bonnie Randall said. “It worked out well, but definitely COVID has changed things. It’s kept us kind of adapting and being ready for this or that or the other thing.”
Although Hinterhaus had only been able to offer its products for pickup since opening, the Randalls got some good news from the state in mid-March, when they were informed that distilleries could begin offering outdoor tastings for small groups with reservations. Hinterhaus held its first tastings, along with tours of the facility, last weekend, and plans to hold tastings and tours during its regular hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
“It was super exciting because it finally feels like we can actually get underway and start implementing our business plan,” Bonnie Randall said.
While last weekend’s tastings were reserved for club members, this weekend Hinterhaus will welcome the general public for tastings for the first time since opening. Reservations can be made at hinterhausdistilling.com.
“This is here for this community, and we want people to be proud of that,” Bonnie Randall said. “It takes a lot of people, and it takes a lot of hands helping out.”
Support from the community was key to helping Hinterhaus navigate the pandemic.
“We’ve really been amazed at the demand, and we’re just trying to kick it into high gear and get some more inventory and get some new products out,” she said. “That’s totally and entirely a testament to this community. I mean, we have people that actually came and bought spirits before you could even taste them, and people are giving them as gifts, and people are talking about us.”
Hinterhaus is currently open from Friday through Sunday from 12 noon to 5 p.m. and midweek by appointment, and can be reached by phone at (209) 890-7084 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the county moves to the orange tier, tastings will be allowed indoors, and Hinterhaus may expand its hours.
“Very likely this next month, the hours will stay the same,” Bonnie Randall said. “Then, we’ll just kind of rock and roll as things open up and we can assess the best days and hours.”
Hinterhaus is located at 925 Highway 4 in Arnold. Reservations are needed for tastings and tours. For more information, visit hinterhausdistilling.com.