Food & Drink

7 Places to Sample Indy's Craft Spirits

Published On 11/23/2016 Published On 11/23/2016
Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery
Courtesy of Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery

Making and selling craft spirits has only been legal in Indiana since 2013, but already a small cadre of entrepreneurs is turning out everything from award-winning whiskeys to niche oddities like bizarrely flavored liqueurs and fruit-infused gins. If you’d like a nip (by the bottle, cocktail, or flight) visit the tasting rooms of these Hoosier spirit makers. Who knows, you might even meet the guy (or gal) who made the very drink you’re imbibing.

Bear Wallow Distillery

Bear Wallow Distillery

Gnaw Bone

Bear Wallow is situated in the tiny town of Gnaw Bone (a name we’re totally not making up) about an hour south of Indy,  and made its reputation with moonshine. Most of Indiana’s artisan distillers also dabble in this product because it’s one of the quickest spirits to make -- just put feedstock and water into a vat, ferment, run it through a still and you’ve got a ready-to-serve beverage that’s clear as a baby’s conscience and hits harder than Conor McGregor. Unlike vodka, however, moonshine has a distinct “green” flavor —a corny bouquet imparted by the Indiana-grown grain used in the mash.
       
Though Bear Wallow (named after an area moonshiner who escaped the law by hiding in a bear wallow) also offers house-made bourbon, rye and other aged whiskeys, its moonshine still rules. Grab a seat in the distillery’s ample, barn-like tasting room and sample Hoosier Hooch Corn Whiskey Moonshine (100 proof fire water that hews closely to traditional backwoods recipes), Hoosier Hooch Flavored Corn Whiskey Moonshine (infused with fruit essences), and Bear Trap Barrel Strength White Whiskey -- a pure, straight-from-the-still product that might also come in handy for, say, stripping oil off your car’s engine block. Get the lay of the land by trying the Whiskey Lovers Sample Flight. If you’d like your rocket fuel with a twist, get a Moonshine Shake-up -- a moonshine-based cocktail civilized with fruit essences and other mixers.

Broken Beaker Distillery

Broken Beaker Distillery

Mass Ave

This outfit gets its vaguely science-y name from its owner, a former chemist. Not surprisingly, there’s a bit of a mad scientist vibe to its products, including Isotope Liqueur that’s offered in rhubarb, ginger and cranberry flavors, with more iterations rolling out regularly. Broken Beaker also offers lots of infused gins (Goji Berry Mint Gin, anybody?) along with fruity takes on the joint’s signature Pendulum Vodka.

If vodka’s your thing, you might visit Broken Beaker’s full-service bar for a Bill Nye Elysium (seriously, the science theme is everywhere), made with grapefruit juice, orange zest syrup and strawberry-basil infused vodka. The menu is packed with fancifully named stuff, and the bar’s mixologists crank out new cocktails constantly. Drinks are served in actual beakers, because of course they are. But try not to break them. The establishment’s name is a joke, not a suggestion.

Courtesy of Cardinal Spirits

Cardinal Spirits

Bloomington

This Bloomington outfit’s state-of-the-art still is fit for experimentation. Its ever-expanding lineup includes a utilitarian-sounding Standard Dry Gin, vodka (no clever name, just vodka), Terra Botanical Gin, Lake House Spiced Rum, Songbird Coffee Liqueur, and Tiki Rum. You can sample three spirits in a $5 tasting flight, then get $5 off if you buy a bottle of anything.
       
If liqueur is your thing, give the Songbird Floral Liqueur a shot. Made with raspberries, elderflower, jasmine and hibiscus, then sweetened with agave nectar, it tastes the same way a garden smells. Or if you’d like something hearty for winter, try the Black Bear Bierschnaps, which is distilled from Upland’s Teddy Bear Kisses stout -- a powerful beer obtained from the nearby Upland Brewing Co. Take it by the shot, or visit the establishment’s vaguely modernistic tasting room/bar for a Paddington Flip (Bierschnaps, Tiki Rum, raspberry and egg white).

Cardinal Spirits really, really wants you to try its Moscow Mule, but everybody’s drinking those these days. So instead, switch it up and sample the Bramble Mule, which gets its kick from Cardinal’s Black Raspberry Bramble, infused with black raspberries, hibiscus leaves and agave nectar.

Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery

Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery

Fletcher Place

Located in a refurbished 19th century carriage house, Hotel Tango is the brainchild of distiller and ex-Marine Travis Barnes and his wife, Hillary. The first letters of both their names are expressed via the military phonetic alphabet as Hotel and Tango—hence the name -- and the distillery’s spirits get similar treatment, including the Victor Vodka, Mike Moonshine, Romeo Rum, Lima Limoncello, and Golf Gin.
     
Unfortunately the system breaks down for whisky, because the military phonetic designation for W is already whiskey. This isn’t an issue yet, because Hotel Tango’s first batch is still maturing in barrels. Until its debut, console yourself with the Romeo Rum (silver medalist at the 2015 New York International Spirits Competition) or the Golf Gin (bronze medalist the same year). This place is so big on gin that they’ve dedicated an entire still to its production. If you want to try some, repair to the cozy, brick-walled tasting area, cuddle up by the fireplace and have a Gin Mule, composed of lime, mint, ginger beer and Golf Gin. Or if you’d like something more winter-friendly, try the Hot Cider made with cinnamon, orange and that silver award-winning house rum. While you imbibe, say hi to the joint’s feline mascot, a tailless, grayish mixed breed named Fletcher.

Courtesy of Huber's Starlight Distillery

Huber’s Starlight Distillery

Starlight

This establishment two hours from Indianapolis is part of Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards, a southern Indiana tourist mecca that draws more than 600,000 visitors annually. It’s had a winery for years, and in 2001 secured the state’s only permit to make brandy (basically, distilled wine) using fruit grown on the property. Master distiller Ted Huber is really, really good at brandy—so good that he helped the staff at Mount Vernon make peach brandy based on George Washington’s own recipe. The company’s Barrel Aged Blueberry Liqueur recently won Best of Class: Distilled Spirits Specialty in the 2016 American Craft Spirits Awards.
     
Huber tinkered with his own bourbon and whiskey recipes for years before it became legal in Indiana to produce these spirits for sale. Now that it is legal, Huber and team have gone bonkers, distilling a long list of potables including 1794 Barrel Finished Gin; Blackberry Whiskey, Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, Apple Brandy, Private Reserve Brandy, and Peach Brandy (matured for more than two years in oak casks). If you want samples, head to the tasting loft at the next-door winery, which offers tastes of five spirits for $12--or $2 a taste if you want to go a la carte.

The Indiana Whiskey Company

Indiana Whiskey Company

South Bend

This operation strives to use only Indiana products in its beverages, from the grains to the still — a hulking, one-of-a-kind affair that was built by a local company and nicknamed Chester. Unlike the stills at most US operations, which use a water jacket to more evenly distribute heat, Chester relies on direct heating, just like old-timey Irish and Scottish whisky makers. Chester produces all of this distillery’s staples, including Silver Sweet Corn Whiskey, a clear, moonshine-y spirit made mostly from corn and bottled at a modest 80 proof, creating a slightly sweet concoction the company calls a “young and approachable drink.” It won the silver medal at the 2014 World Spirits Competition.

If you’re looking for a more traditional beverage, try the Straight Cardinal Red Whiskey, a mixing whisky aged two years, and one the management promises can “bring order to the most chaotic drinks.” Or try the Hoosier Heat, a more refined take on cinnamon whiskey, featuring locally sourced flavorings. Enjoy them in the distillery’s smallish tasting lounge, equipped with leather couches, a couple of chairs and a small bar. Hours are variable, but your best bet is Whiskey Wednesday, a weekly 5-to-9 pm. event.

12.05 Distillery

12.05 Distillery

Fletcher Place

The second of the two distilleries located in the Fletcher Place neighborhood, 12.05 takes its name after the date (Dec. 5) that Prohibition was repealed. The idiosyncratic lineup includes the only Indiana-made rye whiskey, Four Finger Rye (in remembrance of the Brad the distiller’s missing left pinky, sacrificed during 12.05’s construction), White on the Line Wheat (the only Indiana-made wheat whiskey), Barreled Porter (whiskey made from a porter beer from a local brewery), and 12.05 Gin, packed with nine different botanicals, including cucumber and peeled grapefruit, and an Artisan Spirits Awards silver medal winner.

The Repeal restaurant, located next door (but with a huge window opening onto the distilling space) serves as the 12:05 tasting room and its menu lineup can be just as quirky as the alcohol they serve. Recently they staged a “finger food” night to mark the second anniversary of the loss of Brad the distiller’s finger. For $8 bucks you can try a flight of four house-made whiskeys, or get the full “12.05 flight,” which adds a vodka and a gin

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Sam Stall lives in Indianapolis with his son, James. Certain members of his extended family have made “artisanal” Indiana spirits for decades -- usually deep in the backwoods, and without benefit of a state license.

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1. Bear Wallow Distillery 4484 Old State Rd 46, Nashville, IN 47448

Bear Wallow Distillery in Gnaw Bone was one of the first craft distilleries to open in Indiana. Using only locally grown grains, all of Bear Wallow’s spirits are made in an old-fashioned copper pot still. The space is a massive glorified tin shack, made to feel country-cozy with forest green brick walls, framed newspaper clippings, and a piece of American flag wall art constructed from a repurposed picket fence. Bear Wallow offers tours, tastings, and special events, and once you’re ready to sip on whiskey varieties like Hoosier Hooch Corn Whiskey Moonshine, Bear Trap Barrel Strength White Whiskey, Liar’s Bench Rye Whiskey, and Gnaw Bone Bourbon Whiskey, you’re encouraged to flavor your booze with any combo of syrups and mixers available at the distillery.

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2. Broken Beaker 643 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204 (Chatham Arch)

Broken Beaker Distillery on Mass Ave is run by the best kind of mad scientists, those who combine alcohol and experiments to produce mind-blowing concoctions like flavor-infused Pendulum Vodka, Hypotenuse Gin, and Isotope Liqueur, which comes in rhubarb, ginger, and cranberry. These are offered straight and in science-themed cocktails, like the Bill Nye Elysium, with strawberry-basil vodka, grapefruit juice, and orange zest syrup, and Alexander’s Albumin, with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, sweet vermouth, and egg white. Food selections are a bit less technical; on the menu of starters, charcuterie, soups and salads, paninis, and sides are highlights like quesadillas and the crostini with fig-onion jam, bleu cheese, tomato jam, or goat cheese.

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3. Cardinal Spirits 922 S Morton St, Bloomington, IN 47403

At Bloomington’s Cardinal Spirits, guests out front drink the distillery’s signature vodka that was made just feet away in the back. Spirits are produced by a single computer-controlled still called Penny, standing tall with three bright copper towers, selections include vodka, the juniper-forward Standard Dry Gin, Terra Botanical Gin, Tiki Rum made with active yeast, Lake House Spiced Rum, hibiscus and blackberry bramble, and the crowd favorite Coffee Liqueur. Each of these spirits is featured on a menu of cocktails to be enjoyed at a curved barstool in the distillery’s bar area that’s flooded with natural light. Snacks include chips, olives, beef jerky, a cheese board, and a charcuterie board, which should be paired with boozy ice creams and ganaches for dessert.

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4. Hotel Tango Whisky 702 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fletcher Place)

Hailing from military roots, Hotel Tango Whiskey is a veteran-owned artisan distillery in Fletcher Place, just outside of downtown Indianapolis. Inside Hotel Tango is a tasting room, bar, and retail establishment, all housed in a refurbished 19th-century carriage house. Poured up are Victor Vodka, Romeo Rum, Golf Gin, Lima Charlie Limoncello, and Mike Moonshine, all designated with military phonetic nomenclature. With high quality local ingredients like Indiana-grown corn, good ole American booze is made even better (is that possible?) when enjoyed by Hotel Tango’s cozy fireplace.

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5. Starlight Distillery 19816 Huber Rd, Borden, IN 47106

Housed in Huber Orchard and Winery is the Starlight Distillery, which specializes in brandy, wine, ports, gin, vodka, and whiskey. Alcohol production has been in the Huber family since 1843, but the Hubers ensure that an experience here is one for your whole family. You can enjoy nature at the petting zoo, lunch at the Starlight Café, which offers appetizers and sandwiches like the “Huber Rueben” or the turkey club, and snacks at the on-site ice cream and cheese shop. Knowledgeable hosts will guide you through the production facilities during the distillery’s 45-minute tours, as they explain the basics abut the distillation process and provide a tasting at the tour’s conclusion.

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6. The Indiana Whiskey Company 1115 W Sample St, South Bend, IN 46619

The only thing more American than bourbon is small-batch bourbon made by veterans with locally sourced machinery and materials at The Indiana Whiskey Company. In the long, low warehouse, Indiana Whiskey Co. distills about 150 bottles per week in small format charred Barrels: there is the approachable, award-winning Silver Sweet Corn Whiskey and the smooth Just Whiskey wheated bourbon with hints of vanilla. You can visit the South Bend distillery and tasting room and go home with a hearty helping of Hoosier pride instead of sending your money to Kentucky. Pro tip: keep you eye out for seasonal whiskeys like cinnamon flavored Hoosier Heat.

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7. 12.05 Distillery 636 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fletcher Place)

Named for the date prohibition was lifted, 12.05 Distillery covers all the important grain alcohol: gin, vodka, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. You can request a tour of the only female-owned distillery in the state and get a few tastings, or you can hit up Repeal Restaurant, 12.05’s neighbor, for excellent craft cocktails. Go all in with a 12.05 spirit flight, or treat yourself to Repeal’s chock-full Sixteen Candles, made with 12.05’s vodka, Carpano Bianco, cinnamon, brown sugar, apple cider reduction, lemon, fresh mint, and Prosecco, or the smooth and pleasant Home Alone, made with 12.05’s rye, blood orange reduction, lemon, and honey. Pair the cocktails with Repeal’s hearty American fare.

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