The two entrepreneurs are childhood friends who grew up in the same remote section of Humboldt County, and they’re the proprietors of Wright & Brown Distilling, a new distillery that they say is the first one to open in Oakland in nearly a century. Even though their still was producing brandy — a relatively low-risk product to make while Wright, the head distiller, is getting a feel for his equipment, because all that’s required is a supply of inexpensive wine — during my visit, their plan is to primarily manufacture whiskeys.
The centerpiece of their West Oakland facility is an old-fashioned copper still that was hand-built by Vendome, a one-hundred-plus-year-old company based in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a gorgeous piece of machinery, all burnished metal, analog dials, and ancient-looking little portals, like some gadget out of a Jules Verne novel. And that’s fitting because Wright and Brown talk about wanting to produce craft spirits in a decidedly old-school way.
Brown said he remembers a trip, years ago, when he and Wright visited the Jim Beam factory in Kentucky and saw the company’s 65-foot-tall still, with every possible variable monitored via computer screens in an air-conditioned control room. At Wright & Brown, distilling brandy or whiskey appears to be as much art as science. Wright can manipulate the temperature of the brandy he’s distilling, but ultimately, he said, his palate is his most important piece of equipment. Hence, the constant tasting and re-tasting of each batch.