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Locally-produced whiskey gets in the spirit of the holiday

December 3rd, 2018

By Gwen Clayton | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Just in time for the holiday party, stocking-stuffing and gift-giving season, Belmont Beverages and Chalet Party Shoppes have released their Jesse Truman craft bourbon and craft rye whiskey.

The whiskeys, named after the grandfather of Belmont owner Tom Druley, were distilled and bottled by Three Rivers Distilling Co. in Fort Wayne, and hit store shelves the week of Nov. 26.

"They're both really smooth," said Marc Gernhardt, marketing manager for Belmont Beverages and Chalet Party Shoppes. "They have plenty of flavor profiles that any and all bourbon and rye lovers will just fall in love with."

In 2017, TRDC approached Mike Hosier, spirits and cigars buyer for Belmont, with the idea of doing some sort of private label for the local liquor store.

"We had had a great existing relationship with them already from carrying our current line of spirits," said Aaron Pence, co-owner of Three Rivers Distilling Co. "We pitched the idea to him quite a while back and said, 'Hey, what do you think about doing something that's just exclusive to Belmont?' When we did that, it was a very open concept and then we started having discussions around the table about how, what's it going to be named and all that."

Hosier came up with the idea of honoring Druly's grandfather.

According to the Belmont Beverages website, Belmont was the first liquor store licensed in Fort Wayne after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The first shop, located at the corner of S. Calhoun and Lewis streets, was owned and operated by Carl Schwieters. Schwieters sold the store in 1971 to Tom Druley. Today, the company has 33 stores throughout Indiana.

Truman was born in 1875 in Richmond, Ind.

"Though he died at an early age, Jesse lived life to the fullest – sharing it with his beautiful wife and making a name for himself as an accomplished farmer," the website said. "He bred hogs and draft horses."

"We were all about it," Pence said. "It was all going to be done under their label anyway. We just thought that was a really cool story."

Last year, TRDC made a corn whiskey and a bourbon for the Jesse Truman line, but used juice sourced from MGP Distilling — a company headquartered in Kansas with a facility in Lawrenceburg, Ind. This year, the Jesse Truman line expanded with the all-local craft bourbon and rye.

"We decided to do more line extensions to that label," Gernhardt said. "We came up with a couple mash bills for our rye and a bourbon. They distilled that for the last six or eight months and then we bottled it about two or three weeks ago."

The grain bill, which is all the grains that go into the distiller's beer, is fermented before TRDC distills it. Using an accelerated aging process, TRDC was able to make a mature whiskey in just a few months.

"We went through different varieties," Pence said. "We picked out a grain bill that they liked and a flavor profile that they were going for."

The first two spirits to be sold under the Jesse Truman product line were the un-aged 90-proof corn whiskey and a 94-proof bourbon.

At the same time of the original release, TRDC started working on a craft bourbon made from 78 percent corn, 10 percent barley and 13 percent rye; and a craft rye made from 95 percent rye and 5 percent barley.

Hoosier born

All ingredients and barrels were sourced from companies in the Fort Wayne area.

"Everything was distilled inhouse for that," said Marla Schneider, president of Three Rivers Distilling Co. "We used Indiana, organic, non-GMO grain. It's from a co-op of farmers in Bluffton."

The 2018 bottles were all crafted at TRDC's Fort Wayne location and sent to Belmont Beverages and Chalet Party Shoppes the week after Thanksgiving. The small batches are currently in limited supply, but plans could change if the line proves to be successful.

"We hope for it to be a permanent thing," Gernhardt said. "If this really takes off, we'd like to keep it going."

Whiskey was an obvious choice to be the store's ambassador spirit.

"In the Midwest in general, bourbon is bigger (than other spirits)," Gernhardt said. "Kentucky, Tennessee and this whole area is just big on bourbons. It's hit a bit of a boom in the whole nation, but it's definitely been a huge boon here in the Midwest. Heavy bourbon seekers out there."

"The vast majority of grain that goes into Kentucky bourbon comes from Indiana," Pence said. "We just have really good corn fields here and that's why they get it."

The Jesse Truman whiskeys represent a genuine Hoosier partnership.

"That whole series is really cool, one because it's unique to Belmont and the story there, but it is also a reflection of the great relationships we have with the folks in the Fort Wayne area and how northeast Indiana supports northeast Indiana," Pence said. "It's businesses helping businesses. They're doing it to help us grow. We're doing it to give them something exclusive to them. It's just a really cool relationship that allows for that to happen."

Cap n' Cork

TRDC also partners with Cap n' Cork for a barrel select reserve bourbon.

"They come in every so often — it's usually every couple months," Schneider said. "We have them taste our bourbon barrels, and they choose a select bourbon barrel or multiple and then we will bottle them exclusively for Cap 'n' Cork but they're basically choosing our Three Rivers bourbon and then they put a special sticker on it, saying, 'Cap n' Cork Selective Single Barrel Cask-Strength Bourbon.'"

"It's the same recipe we use for any of the barrels that are out there (under the TRDC label)," Pence said. "Any of them could be selected as a private barrel select for Cap n' Cork, but also any of those barrels could end up in just a normal bottle of what we do for the wheated bourbon."

Representatives from Cap n' Cork pick what they think is the best tasting barrel.

"In the bourbon industry, that's what 'single barrel selections' are typically — the best stuff out there," Pence said. "It means we went through a bunch of them and this is the one that is the best of the best."

A single barrel only produces so many bottles. The number of bottles each barrel produces depends on the alcohol content in the barrel, the evaporation that happened over the aging period, how much was absorbed into the wood of the barrel, and what the final proof is.

"The normal wheated bourbon that we put out, just goes out as 90 proof," Pence said. "But when we go to finish that single barrel select, if it tastes better at 93 proof or 95 proof, we won't put as much water in there when we're proofing it down because we want it to be exactly what we want or what Cap n' Cork wants."

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