Spirits Are Moving: The Rise of Indiana’s Craft Distillers (Indianapolis Monthly)

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Indianapolis Monthly —  Not too long ago, ordering a beer generally meant choosing from a menu of taps that offered everything from Budweiser to Bud Light. Today, there’s a craft brewery on every other corner, a cleverly christened IPA for every town. In short order, beer went from something monopolized by a wagon-circled posse of famous names to an indicator of witty naming conventions, taste, and local pride. If the men and women on these pages have anything to say about it, the next logical step is upon us. “The spirits side is just getting to where beer is,” says Travis Barnes, founder of Hotel Tango. “We’re at the infancy of that cycle.”

Make no mistake, the boom is on: In 2017, the American Craft Spirits Association reported that more than 1,500 craft distilleries currently operate nationwide. In 2010, there were about 200. It’s lively locally, too: There are more than 20 in Indiana, and the number is going up. That’s largely thanks to the 2013 passing of the Indiana Artisan Distiller’s Permit, a law that allows distillers to sell directly to consumers. Initially, there was a catch: The long-delayed permit required distilleries to wait three years before being eligible. In 2017, that wait was reduced to 18 months.

As such, Indy’s distillery surge is partly due to legalese and paperwork. But it’s also cultural. We’re all good with craft beers, but, jeez, those have a lot of carbs. Mostly, spirits are the next evolution in the maker movement as it pertains to alcohol. “Craft beer’s been at it for a while, and craft wine for longer than that,” says Dave Colt, cofounder of Sun King, the city’s preeminent brewer, which is getting into the distillery game. “Spirits are the next wave, that natural progression.” And, as with the craft beer revolution, the local insurgents are taking dead aim at the big guys. “I don’t see 8th Day or Sun King as competition,” says Barnes. “We’re trying to flip the switch for guys who only buy Jack or Jim Beam to try local or state spirits. The rising tide lifts all ships.”

Meet the makers on the cover of this month’s Indianapolis Monthly. 

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About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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