By Paige Harden
GNAW BONE – Surrounded by prohibition era jugs and stills and a bar made of Brown County red oak milled just a few miles away, Bear Wallow Distillery offers guests a glimpse into the past and a taste of the future. Susan and her son Adam Spagnuolo opened Bear Wallow in 2014, after an inspiring visit to a distillery in North Carolina. “We’ve always loved the Bourbon Trail, but I had never seen a distillery on a small scale before,” Susan said. “When I saw it on a small scale, I instantly thought, ‘Let’s open a distillery. That’s so Brown County.’” Susan, who has degrees in business and finance, immediately thought of her son Adam who was finishing up his business/ entrepreneurship degree at Ball State. He then obtained an internship at a distillery in Chicago. “I knew the two of us could make this work,” Susan said. “Not only is there a long storied history of making moonshine in Brown County, but we really thought tourists would enjoy coming to see how Indiana corn and wheat could be made into spirits.”
Located between Columbus and Nashville, Bear Wallow distills whiskey in small batches with 100 percent of the grains used purchased from Indiana farmers. Today, while moonshine is still a highlight, Bear Wallow sells bourbon, made from 120-proof distillate and aged two years in charred American White Oak barrels. All spirits are handcrafted in a 250-gallon copper pot made by renowned still maker Vendome, known for making stills for Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam. Visitors can watch the copper masterpiece in action through a wall of windows while tasting Bear Wallows’ finished products. Those who want to know more about how whiskey is made can take a $6 “Farm to Fifth” tour, which includes a tour of the distilling process and six samples.
Once a quarter, Bear Wallow offers a “Bourbon Experience,” a three-hour, hands-on extended tour. Participants learn about the history of moonshine and bourbon, open barrels and taste bourbon, wax dip bottles and enjoy a meal with every item made with bourbon.
“It’s really fun to educate people on the process,” Susan said. “We enjoy demonstrating how we use local products from start to finish. We went out of our way to make sure everything was local. That was very important to us.”
Bottled spirits include three different proofs of moonshine, also called un-aged corn whiskey, 80-proof Hidden Holler, 100-proof Hoosier Hooch, and 120-proof Bear Trap. Aged whiskeys include 100-proof Gnaw Bone Bourbon, 100-proof Liar’s Bench Rye, and 100-proof Wolf Creek Whiskey. While the Gnaw Bone Bourbon is the most popular, the Moonshine Shakeups, a moonshine mixed drink, take a close second. They are so popular that the Spagnuolos started bottling the flavored moonshine after numerous requests from customers. Flavors include lemonade, peach, blackberry, apple pie, maple, salted caramel, and chocolate raspberry. “The cocktails are wildly popular,” Susan said. “We want to show people that you can use a good smooth whiskey in a cocktail instead of rum, tequila, or vodka.”
For 2017, Susan said her focus will be on continued growth in distribution. Bear Wallow products are currently sold at Kroger, Crown Liquors, and Big Red Liquors, but Susan hopes to appear on shelves in several additional retailers. She also plans to attend more events and festivals to introduce more people to Indiana-crafted moonshine and bourbon. The atmosphere at Bear Wallow is fun and casual, and guests are encouraged to ask questions. Guests who are up for a challenge can buy a kit to make their own bourbon which includes a handmade white oak, charred barrel. After adding your favorite un-aged whiskey (moonshine), you will have your homemade bourbon in just one month.
The Spagnuolos sell numerous whiskey related products produced by other small Indiana businesses in a project they call “Spirited Collaboration.” Products include bourbon mustard, Indiana pickles brined in Hoosier Hooch moonshine, and Indiana maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels for seven months. Enlist a designated driver and make it a full adult beverage day by making stops at the nearby Brown County Winery, Chateau Thomas Winery, and Big Woods Brewing Company.
Indiana’s first certified farm distillery
Name: Bear Wallow Distillery
Location: 4484 E Old State Road 46, about five miles east of Nashville.
Owners: Susan and Mike Spagnuolo. Their son, Adam Spagnuolo, is the Head Distiller.
Opened: August 1, 2014
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11-5, Friday-Saturday 11-6, Sunday 12-5 (Hours subject to change, please check website for seasonal hours)
Handcrafted Whiskeys: Bear Trap, Hoosier Hooch and Hidden Holler Moonshine. Gnaw Bone Bourbon, Liar’s Bench Rye, and Wolf Creek Whiskey. Eight varieties of flavored moonshine.
Tours: Distillery tours are offered daily, featuring history of craft whiskey making in Southern Indiana and the process from selecting the grains to pouring whiskey in the glass.