Oct. 21 2014 04:25 PM

An ancestor's legacy drives San Diego family's fledgling distillery

Jesse Fanning and his wife Natalie
Photo courtesy of Jesse Fanning

First question for Jesse Fanning, CEO of Henebery Whiskey: Who's this Matthew Henebery dude?

"He was one of the most philanthropic guys of his generation," Fanning says of his great, great, great grandfather-in-law. Indeed, Henebery was Peoria, Illinois' civic-booster extraordinaire in the mid-to-late 1800s: a member of the school board, president of the city's opera, director of its public library and at least a half-dozen other roles. The family motto is Dare maxima virtus: "Giving is the greatest virtue."

Henebery also made his fortune manufacturing and distributing liquor, most notably making infused whiskeys before the whole infused-spirits thing was even cool. 

Several years ago, Henebery's heirs started piecing together his history, Fanning says. While they don't have his recipes, they do know his technique and have applied that to the distilling process for their spice-infused rye, launching Henebery Celebrated Whiskey in late 2013. The whole family's involved the biz: Fanning's wife, her parents and her brother. Currently, Henebery's made in Los Angeles, at Greenbar Craft Distillery, but the headquarters is in La Jolla. Fanning says plans are in the works to open a distillery and tasting room in San Diego soon.

Several months ago, you might have spotted a bottle of Henebery on a few bar shelves here and there. Now it's at roughly 50 bars and restaurants in San Diego alone, including craft-cocktail spots like Sycamore Den, Lion's Share, Juniper & Ivy and JSix. The whiskey's earned a reputation for being versatile and nuanced (to really get a sense of that versatility, check out food-and-drink website forageandfir.com's Henebery cocktail creation).

As Fanning puts it, "It's innovative and different and still really respects what whiskey is."

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