Why You May See More Craft Distilleries In Indiana

New state legislation allows Indiana craft distilleries to sell a range of spirits directly to consumers.

  • A Huber’s Winery employee pours some house brandy in the tasting room.

    Image 1 of 6

    Photo: Amanda Solliday / WFIU-WTIU

    A Huber’s Winery employee pours house brandy in the tasting room. The General Assembly issued the first farm winery brandy permit to Huber’s in 2001, which allowed the winery to offer tastings and sell brandy by glass or bottle. The 2013 legislation applies to all distilled spirits, not just brandy.

  • Stuart Hobson stands in front of his distilling equipment.

    Image 2 of 6

    Photo: Amanda Solliday / WFIU-WTIU

    Stuart Hobson stands in front of his distilling equipment made by the German company CARL. Hobson founded Heartland Distilleries in 2008.

  • Heartland Distillery products include Indiana Vodka, Spring Mill Bourbon and Sorgrhum.

    Image 3 of 6

    Photo: Amanda Solliday / WFIU-WTIU

    Indianapolis-based Heartland Distillery makes Indiana Vodka, Spring Mill Bourbon and Sorgrhum. The products ship to other states in the region and California.

  • Ted Huber points to his 2011 American Distillers Institute  “Brandy of the Year” award.

    Image 4 of 6

    Photo: Amanda Solliday / WFIU-WTIU

    Ted Huber points to his 2011 American Distillers Institute “Brandy of the Year” award. Huber’s reserve brandy won three years in a row, in the “brandy aged less than six years” category.

  • State Representative Ed Clere and Starlight Distillery owner Ted Huber take a peek at a batch of fermenting blueberries.

    Image 5 of 6

    Photo: Amanda Solliday / WFIU-WTIU

    State Representative Ed Clere and Starlight Distillery owner Ted Huber take a peek at a batch of fermenting blueberries. Clere says Starlight Distillery inspired him to sponsor the new artisan distillery legislation.

  • A handmade still sits in the distillery warehouse.

    Image 6 of 6

    Photo: Amanda Solliday / WFIU-WTIU

    A handmade still sits in Huber's warehouse. A neighbor owned this copper version, which is similar to the Huber family's first still.

If you walked by Stuart Hobson’s distillery in Indianapolis, you probably did not know it.

The unassuming property sits in a strip mall on the northeast side of the city, with no sign to give any indication of what is inside the building.

There used to be a Heartland Distillers sign out front, but Hobson took it down because visitors would stop in multiple times a day and ask to buy his liquor products.

“For last four years, I’ve had one customer here in the state of Indiana, and that’s my distributor,” Hobson says.

Because of the way Indiana used to licenses distilleries, they could not sell directly to consumers. Distillers had to work through a distributor to get their products on store shelves.

A law that took effect July 1 allows craft distillers to sell a range of products directly to consumers by the drink or bottle.

“So it’s our goal to eventually move to a new location, move hopefully somewhere downtown, somewhere more customer friendly,” Hobson says.

Bringing A Nationwide Trend To Indiana

Representative Ed Clere (R-72) sponsored the legislation.

“This wasn’t just about alcohol,” Clere says. “It’s about a lot more than alcohol. Namely, jobs and economic development, capital investment, tourism, all of those things.”

Distilling is a big business.

The American Distilling Institute counted 69 craft distillers among its ranks in 2003, the organization’s inaugural year. Now there are more than 400 members in North America.

Clere hopes to bring some of that business to Indiana.

“I think that there’s every reason to believe that artisan distilling will follow much the same pathway as what we’ve seen in Indiana with microbreweries and farm wineries,” Clere says. “And we now have dozens and dozens of successful farm wineries and dozens and dozens of successful microbreweries.”

Six distillers hold general licenses in Indiana. These currently operating distilleries can apply for the artisan distiller’s permit, as well as breweries, wineries and newcomers.

Clere says the growing industry will have a ripple effect on other businesses in the state.

Indiana distillers look across the Ohio River to Kentucky as an example.

“All the big distilleries that are down in Kentucky, they all have tasting rooms. They all have areas where you can purchase the product. It’s become it’s own little tourist industry down in Kentucky,” Hobson says.

Distillers want to create a unique Indiana brand to help develop this tourist industry.

Hobson uses grain grown here, including Indiana corn and sorghum. He even experimented with fruit, like paw paw and persimmon.

“One of the things we put out last year was our sorghum product, which is a sorghum-based rum,” Hobson says. “We have different products that will be off-shoots of that coming out, so some exciting things.”

And distillers will have more flexibility to try new things in these small batches because they can sell it retail – directly to the customers.

An Expansion Of A Previous State Law

More than 100 miles south of Hobson’s distillery, customers fill the tasting room at Ted Huber’s winery in Borden, Indiana.

“I’m the sixth generation born and raised here on the property. It was founded in 1843 by Simon Huber. So I’ve been brought up in the fruit production and wine production here my entire life,” Huber says.

For years, Huber has been selling his brandy at his winery, because he holds a Farm Winery Brandy permit. Under this narrow permit, since he already operated a winery, he was able to make brandy.

But Huber wanted to expand his operations into other spirits and offer tours, and he was actually the inspiration for Rep. Clere’s Indiana artisan distillery law.

“We’ll be able to take people that come to our property, take them on a tour and see the facility,” Huber says. “So you’ll be actually able to see where the products are fermenting, you’ll be able to see the still where they are distilling and where they are aging.”

The filing for permits opened last week, but it will likely be months or even years before we start seeing some of the new drinks. Product development takes awhile, and then dark liquors require even more time to age.

In Huber’s case, it was five years between when he got his permit and he sold his first bottle of brandy.

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