A Day on the Trail: Hard Truth Distilling Goes from Micro to Largest Craft Distillery in Indiana

Visiting a distillery never disappoints, each one is different and every one of them has their own unique personality. The large heritage distilleries, the ones that survived or started soon after Prohibition have mainly focused on one thing for the last 100 years and that’s making distilled spirits, volumes of it. That’s fine and they make some great spirits.

On the other hand, today’s craft spirits distilleries and startups tend to be a bit more creative, some of that creativity is innate while some of that creativity is thrust upon them in order to survive as a young business. Depending on state and local laws, craft distillery owners are often a “Jack of all Trades” from getting hands-on by driving a Bobcat to selecting their first spirits lineup to an overall business model. In the case of Hard Truth Distilling in Nashville, Indiana, their business model is like a three legged stool that’s focused on three things; running a distillery, a brewery and restaurants (six of them and counting.) But, as founding partner Jeff McCabe told us, it’s all really about one thing, “Creating great experiences.

The Big Woods Three Legged Stool – Restaurant, Brewery and Distillery

Their three legged stool started in 2008 when partners Ed Ryan and Jeff McCabe made an offer on a foreclosed building. About a year later, after some haggling, the bank accepted their original offer and in 2009, they opened their first brewpub along with Tim O’Bryan. Tim had been a home brewer and went to many craft beer exchanges. It seemed at every exchange he attended, his beer would always disappear. The three decided they were on to something so they started a brewpub together. They started small with an 800 square foot restaurant; brewing Sunday night through early Wednesday on a half barrel system and then they would open their brewpub up for customers Wednesday through Sunday. By Sunday night, all their beer was gone. They knew they had a winning recipe and decided to expand. First they expanded in the alley space behind the existing brewpub they started in. Then in 2011 they expanded across the alley to another building and opened up a family style restaurant. The popularity of their craft beer continued to outpace their own restaurant and in 2012, they purchased an old bowling alley a mile or so away and turned that into a full time brewery. Today, their Quaff ON beers are being poured from more than 1,000 taps throughout Indiana.

Location, Location, Location – 2 Million Tourists a Year

Watch the video above to learn more about Hard Truth Distilling and watch the new column stills get lifted and set into their new home.

One thing we should point out is that this restaurant, brewery and distillery business operates in Nashville, Indiana, not Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is a small rural town in the middle of the woods of central IN while Nashville, TN is one of the fastest growing big cities in the United States.

Other than the name, the thing that they have in common is that TN has the Great Smoky Mountains and a thriving tourist destination in Gatlinburg while Nashville, IN is a thriving tourist destination all its own. Nashville, IN is home to Brown County State Park, a park that has been nicknamed the “Little Smokies” because of the area’s resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg, TN. The park encompasses 16,000 acres of rugged hills, ridges and fog-shrouded ravines. It attracts between 1.5 and 2 million visitors each year. Watch the video and you’ll see us travel through the Ramp Creek Covered Bridge that welcomes visitors into the park. Originally built in 1838, it’s the oldest covered bridge in the state. The park sits on the outskirts of town and just happens to be about a five minute drive from the 325 acres of land that is the new home to Hard Truth Distilling.

The Launch of a Micro Distillery

Hard Truth Distilling first started making craft spirits in 2015 on the second floor of its Big Woods restaurant with a small liquid management still system. It’s a repurposed 4-bbl brew system. You can see the entire system in the photos below. They make gin, vodka, rum and an agave spirit. Head Distiller and General Manager Bryan Smith and Lead Distiller Cole Smith have a built in audience to test out his spirits with customers at the companies six restaurants. Based on the success of their initial spirits, the founders of the company decided to take the plunge and upgrade their distillation operation, big time. They also knew that they had a winning recipe with their downtown restaurant that will at times have a two hour wait. The wait can be longer during peak fall foliage season.

It was time to expand their three legged stool and build a new destination, one that would bring together the best of their tried and true restaurant expertise, their brewing expertise and their burgeoning distilling expertise. The company purchased a 325 acre tract of land just 90 seconds out of town to start their biggest project to date, a 40,000+ square foot restaurant and distillery destination.

From Micro Distillery to the Largest Craft Distillery in Indiana

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I visited Hard Truth Distilling on the day they were raising their new column stills. Quite a marquee day for this micro distiller turn full-time craft distillery. The current location allows them to distill about 40 gallons per week. The new place will allow them to distill about forty 53 gallon barrels per week or about 2,000 barrels a year. The new setup starts with three grain silos on the side of the distillery that will hold roughly one and a half truckloads of grain or 1,485 bushels. The grains enter the distillery and get crushed in a Mix-Mill Hammermill then on to the Vendome Copper & Brass Works 2,500 gallon stainless steel cooker/mashtun. From there it’s on to one of three Vendome 2,500 gallon open top fermentation tanks before mash enters the 3,500 gallon beer well. Then the next part of the journey will vary whether they are making bourbon, whiskey, gin, vodka, rum or their limited edition agave spirit. The bourbon or whiskey will head to their Vendome 27′ tall x 14″ all copper continuous still with 18 plates. After that, it’s on to the 95 gallon doubler where continuous cuts are made in real time utilizing Vendome technology before barreling. If they are making gin, vodka, rum or agave the journey will vary but, they have a Vendome hybrid 250 gallon pot still with six plates sitting on top. Then if making vodka, it’s off to the continuous column that’s 30′ tall x 12″ diameter copper column still with 20 plates. That’s 26 plates total for a single vodka run.

Heating of the distillate is controlled by a Sellers Manufacturing 80hp H-Series clean steam boiler. Unlike most boilers, this particular type of boiler does not require any chemicals added to the water providing for the cleanest possible distillate. Next to the boiler is an Advantage chiller for the condensers. This chiller provides over 1,000,000 BTU/hrs of cooling for the distillery to support all of its process cooling needs including the stills and fermentation tanks.

Welcome Center & Restaurant Now Open, Distilling to Start in August

The Hard Truth Distilling welcome center and restaurant are now open for tours, events and meals. The distillery equipment is making progress daily and is expected to be fully online sometime in August. The white spirits from the new equipment will be available soon while you’ll have to wait a few years for their bourbon. In the meantime, they do offer their rum, gin, vodka, bourbon and craft brews in their tasting room, bar and restaurant.

If you are in Nashville, Indiana stop in to grab a meal, a tour, or a tasting and take a bottle or three home with you.

On the ‘Jack of All Trades’ front, it’s not unusual to see partners Jeff, Tim, Ed or Jim shoveling mulch, driving a Bobcat, or hosing down a sidewalk. They are the real-deal.

Oh, and the other thing the two Nashville’s have in common – Bill Monroe. In 1951 the “Father of Bluegrass,” Bill Monroe purchased land in Brown County that became Bill Monroe’s Music Park & Campground. That Music Park is now home to the world’s longest consecutively running bluegrass festival.

Hard Truth Distilling Photo Tour

Click any image to enlarge.

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