Meet Three Rivers Distilling Co. in Fort Wayne.
It’s northeast Indiana’s first artisan distillery. Fort Wayne’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. “Trail-blazing in this industry can be tough, but we’ve had great support,” co-owner Aaron Pence says.
And so the new business, founded in 2016, is in the forefront of changing the face of Fort Wayne’s riverfront. It’s tangible confidence in the renaissance of the city. Huge changes are forecast with the nearby General Electric campus, shuttered now but on its way to revitalizing the area as Electric Works, are-use mix of retail, restaurant, hospitality, entertainment and residential offerings along with modern business incubation.
“We want to be part of the growth of Fort Wayne,” Pence says.
Three Rivers welcomes visitors to 224 E. Wallace St., an old bakery building with a new look and a new purpose. Its upscale comfort accompanies its distinctive spirits.
Three Rivers is primarily veteran-owned, and it’s primarily veteran-operated. “We’re all very proud of our service,” Pence says.
That’s big with these guys, who learned to count on one other when they were
in the service. That bond extends to all veterans and actives. Somehow that story seems to find its way into just about every conversation that comes up here.
Military training has come into play, along with additional skills learned while growing up, in school, in other jobs. They’ve put their mechanically-minded heads together to modify equipment and streamline processes. There are financial backgrounds, marketing backgrounds, engineering backgrounds, …. And that can-do attitude.
Pence says three important pieces come together to produce quality spirits for this small-batch enterprise.
Item No.1: ingredients. Grains are organic non-GMO corn, wheat, barley and rye
from a farm in Lebanon, Ind. Three Rivers is committed to staying local as much as possible. The only non-Indiana ingredients are sugar cane and molasses for the rum.
Waste grain, after fermentation, goes to a nearby farm to feed livestock.
Item No. 2: barrels. “To make a quality bourbon, you have to have quality barrels,” Pence says. Right now there’s a huge shortage of barrels because of the explosive growth of the industry, and because the best barrels are made from oak that has been air seasoned for 42 months. Three Rivers’ barrels are made by a cooper who walked in one day and offered
his services. He’d just moved to Fort Wayne and wondered if Three Rivers might help him set up a business. The 5-gallon barrels he makes allows the distillers to accelerate the aging process.
Item No. 3: equipment. The owners’ tinkering has simplified cleaning, hastened cooling times, encouraged modified recipes.
Its new tasting/dining area with both inside and outside seating looks toward the southwest side of the downtown area. In addition to its own spirits, it offers soups, salads, sandwiches – foods that can be made without a deep fryer or oven. And there’s often live music.
Despite its youth, Three Rivers has already won national and state awards for its vodka, gin and bourbon. It’s also got a coffee liqueur which Pence says “will shake up the industry.”
“We military guys love black coffee,” Pence says. “That’s what we drink – black coffee.” So the liqueur has chocolate, vanilla, and the flavor and aroma of a bold, cold-brew coffee. “I truly believe our guys hit a home run with this.”
There are also honors for its labeling that subtly features Fort Wayne’s three rivers and, sometimes, the military.
Three Rivers’ products are already available at more than 230 retail locations in Indiana and 40 in Kentucky. Many are showcased in area restaurants. “They’re big cheerleaders for us,” Pence says.
Its first batch of rye whiskey was ready just before Thanksgiving. The facility manager, a Vietnam-era veteran, typically labels the bottles, so they asked him to put the label on that first bottle. That’s when he saw its name: Franklin B. rye whiskey.
“Wow!” Franklin Bruce Mevis exclaimed, then added a few other expressions. Despite misty eyes, he affixed the label perfectly, then grabbed a pen and autographed it.
It’s the first product Three Rivers has ever named in honor of anyone.
Three Rivers Distilling Co.
224 E. Wallace St.
Fort Wayne, IN 46803 (260) 745-9355