The Indiana Whiskey Co - The Spirit of Indiana

By+Laura Kinney, Portraits by Scott Tibbles

Smooth. Delicious. 100% Indiana.

SWEET SUCCESS

In an unassuming old warehouse on Sample Street in South Bend, a small business is finding its success is built on community and served up in a glass of whiskey. Charles Florance developed a business plan for a micro-distillery as an MBA candidate in the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business. Joined by a classmate he met during orientation, Braden Weldy, they were finalists in the McCloskey Business Plan Competition in which their project won a $5,000 “Best Financial Projections Award” from The First State Bank of Middlebury.  

With the shared knowledge and support of others in the program, Florance moved forward and began the process of bringing the many pieces together, along the way finding others who saw his vision and decided to become a part of it. Leasing the space, sourcing the materials, and finding manufacturers to fabricate equipment required networking and a lot of leg work. All this needed to be done around the same time the legalities were being addressed.

Using the online tool Indiegogo, which raises funds through “crowd-sourcing,” those interested in Indiana Whiskey were able to give financial support. For a $20 donation, supporters were given a half bottle, and a $50 donation bought an invitation to the Launch Party. The larger funders were incentivized with something Charlie calls a “Whiskituity” -  a bottle of whiskey every year for as long as the purchaser lives. With a goal of $10,000 and a funding duration that spanned the 6th of September through the 31st of October in 2012, the community went above and beyond expectations by raising more than $23,000. With that market support in hand, the commercial lenders at Centier Bank didn’t think twice about signing an SBA “Patriot Express” Loan so Florance could start setting up shop immediately.

 

ALL INDIANA

The twist to the Indiana Whiskey story is its unwavering dedication to keeping it local. The “Indiana” in the name not only refers to an office location, but a concerted effort to keep every dollar in the state, whether that be in paying its suppliers or its taxes. “Every single element that goes in the bottle comes from the state,” said Florance, and products are only available for purchase within Indiana. 

Florance notes that most of the whiskey produced in the US comes from Tennessee and Kentucky, but Indiana has such a similar agricultural background and he saw that there was an opportunity to create something to call our own. Finding a brand that people identified with meant staying true to Indiana.

“Indiana has a rich tradition in manufacturing and farming,” said Florance. The company is tapping into that and creating something Hoosiers can be proud of. Everything about the brand is sourced as close to home as possible. Florance designed an old-world copper pot still, custom welded by Deluxe Sheet Metal in South Bend. He said, “Knowing that we have essentially ten generations of sheet metal workers here in South Bend, it just made sense to use the assets we have.”

Although he originally hails from Virginia, Florance connected with Hoosiers during his time at Purdue University studying chemistry, and furthered that bond at Notre Dame. An Indiana resident for almost 10 years, Florance has lived in South Bend since 2009 and his daughter was born at Memorial Hospital. Braden, a Middlebury native, says of keeping their business local, “There is something valuable, something worth sticking around for here.”

 

VETERAN STRONG

For Florance, a veteran of the United States Army and National Guard, supporting other Indiana veterans is a priority. Florance served in the Army Infantry for 12 years, including overseas service in Romania and mobilization for Operation Iraqi Freedom. In May 2009, he was hospitalized with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which attacks the nerve’s protective coatings, causing paralysis and pain. With a physical recovery that kept him in the Wounded Warrior Program for 18 months, he said what was most cathartic was sharing stories of hope for the future with other vets. It was then that he discovered the bond people forge over quality brands, and he first came up with the idea for the company.

Operations Manager Braden Weldy served six years on a Naval Explosive Ordinance Disposal team, or “bomb squad,” and did a tour of duty in Iraq in 2008. Braden said, “When we engage with other veterans, we’re with familiar people.” 

It is for these reasons that Indiana Whiskey is proud to be “Veteran Owned and Operated.” Aside from offering paid internships to transitioning veterans, it also built a relationship with the Chapter 31 VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program for Northern Indiana and the Robert. L. Miller Sr. Veteran’s Center. Last year, the Indiana Whiskey team sponsored the 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry at a golf outing benefiting the Family Support and Adjutant Fund for the National Guard units of South Bend.

 

GOOD CHEMISTRY

Florance was taking a risk in distilling. Home distilling is illegal, and the vast array of still types and process controls leave very few options for meaningful experimentation. Crafting the final product had to wait until everything else was in place, including all the grains, equipment, and licenses. In true Infantry fashion, he dove right in anyway.  

With all the preparation that had gone into the product, taking that first sip was intimidating. On the day that first batch was ready for sampling, Braden admits they were all wondering, “What is this going to taste like?” But Florance’s background as a brewer and as a chemist made for excellent results: “we were actually shocked at how good it tasted right out of the still,” he recalls. 

 

AGING IN PLACE

With only a few months under its belt, Indiana Whiskey has big plans for the future. Under a new artisan distiller law, Indiana Whiskey will be able to sell directly to consumers from the distillery. It is also planning to relocate downtown in hopes of creating more foot traffic and further engaging with other businesses. Weldy says of choosing South Bend, “We’re not willing to bulldoze and start new, we believe there’s a lot of value in what’s already been built, and we can harness that and do a lot of great things.”

While in 2013 Indiana Whiskey offered one type of drink, the Silver Sweet Corn, 2015 will see the roll out of its next product- the Indiana Straight Whiskey. Customers already anticipate the 2017 release of the Indiana Bourbon, aged four years in special small format barrels. Offering new and interesting products is especially desirable for those interested in the “whiskituity.” For those who purchase one, it means a life-long supply, but for Indiana Whiskey it’s about something much better. “The Whiskituity causes the customer to come back to the distillery and re-engage to pick up the next one. It keeps people involved, and they can walk in and see the guys making their whiskey,” said Weldy. The program allows the customer to enjoy a real stake in the company. Customers who have made an investment want to know the company is doing well and delivers a good, consistent product.

Distributors and retailers have been very receptive to the product. “We don’t make 25-year-old scotch, but Kurt Janowsky was kind enough to feature us on the menu at the new Exchange Whiskey Bar and Mark McDonnell of LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern featured our whiskey during Restaurant Week,” Florance said. Whiskey tastings at various venues, including the Chicory Cafe, City Wide Liquors, and even within the distillery, have allowed the public to learn about the product and the humans behind it, strengthening bonds between people and the brand. 

The early successes of the company illustrate the opportunities out there for people willing to follow their passions with action. “Within a year we’ve gone from idea to actually producing whiskey and there are a lot of other businesses here that are going to be doing the same,” said Weldy. Such a venture takes a lot of patience and know how, but like the craft brewing culture, the real emphasis is on having a good time with people and enjoying a quality product.

 

DRINK RECIPE FROM LASALLE KITCHEN & TAVERN: THE SOUTHBENDER

2 oz Indiana Whiskey

3/4 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth

1/2 oz Quince & Apple Cherry Grenadine

Garnish with a Bada-Bing Cherry

Best served over ice in a rocks glass. Add ice, grenadine, and then vermouth & whiskey. Place cherry on top of ice.








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