Alcohol and Indiana haven’t always mixed -- they’re not even really shaken together. Indiana distilleries in particular have had a clunky time sidling up to the bar, kind of like a nerdy kid trying to buy a drink now that he’s finally 21.
“Indiana and alcohol has always had an awkward relationship,” said Jeff Wuslich, co-founder of Cardinal Spirits, which opened in 2015. “I always joke that we're like in the 'friend zone' when it comes to alcohol in Indiana. We're not like 'really together.’”
Prohibition ended in 1933, but it wasn’t until 2013 (that’s 80 years, folks) that Indiana distillers got the rights to legally launch their craft spirit businesses. Just three years ago, the Indiana Legislature created the Indiana Artisan Distiller’s Permit, which allowed distillers in Indiana to sell directly to consumers. The permit launched a small industry of craft distillers throughout the state, which are now aiming to become tourist destinations in their own right.
Since the permit process opened, six distilleries and tasting rooms have started operations: Bloomington’s Cardinal Spirits, Bear Wallow in Nashville, Indiana Whiskey Company in South Bend, Huber’s Starlight Distillery in Borden, and in Indianapolis, Broken Beaker Distillery, and Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery.
“See where the product is made, meet the guy who distilled it, and then try it in a cocktail. That is a very unique part of the Indiana law,” said Travis Barnes, president of Hotel Tango, which he opened with a bunch of his law school buddies in 2014.
That little word “artisan” is very important. With it, distilleries are able to to sell direct to the consumer as opposed to through a distributor or at the grocery store.
“The artisan moniker, that little word, allows us to sell by the sample, by the bottle or by the cocktail,” said Barnes. “So you can own a federal distilling permit in Indiana and sell [liquor] through distribution, but you cannot sell it directly to a consumer.”
But it’s not that simple. The Indiana State Legislature still has strict limitations on distilling, Wuslich said.