The explosion of the craft cocktail in bars and specialty distillers, driven largely by millenials and women, is skyrocketing the growth of distilled spirits.
It’s happening in across the globe, the U.S., and in Indiana. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, whiskey and bourbon exports surpassed one billion dollars in 2015 and the three years prior.
Distilleries are certainly popular in the Hoosier state. Official statistics can be hard to track down but Indiana featured 25 distilleries as recently as last year. Kentucky, home of brown spirits, had 68 distilleries for an increase of 250 percent in the last decade.
Ted Huber, of Huber Orchard and Winery along with Starlight Distillery, was and continues to be one of the pioneers in the Indiana artisan distiller business. Huber, whose family has roots in Southern Indiana near New Albany, leads one of the state’s most successful wineries. Adding a distiller was a natural part of his ever-continuing growth. He started with fortified wines in 1998 and started distilling in 2001. Changes in Indiana law now has Indiana distilled spirits on shelves across the state but only a handful of wineries have made the leap.
The iconic winery, situated in the rolling hills near Starlight, In, produces approximately 60,000 cases of wine. Three years ago Huber said he’d like to grow the distillery to about 50,000 cases. But the two products are different. Any given year’s grape harvest will produce a wine to go on the market within one to three or four years. Spirits take longer from a few years to 10 or more.
The distillery’s signature product is Carl T. Bourbon. The whiskey is named after Ted Huber’s grandfather Carl. Ted is the sixth generation winemaker and now distiller on the family farm. The Carl T. represents a growth product. It sells for $34.99 on the distillery’s website.
Production-wise Huber is making almost 50,000 cases but not yet selling nearly that much. “What we produce in the distillery is mainly bourbon (corn whiskey),” Huber explained. “After the bourbon comes rye and malt whiskey. So those finished products are a blend of four to six year barrells. So with the age requirements there is still another three years before we have enough product in the pipeline to hit those kind of numbers (50k).”
Huber said he wants to develop Carl T. with blends of 6-7-8 year old whiskeys. During a walking tour of one of his giant aging facilities, he poured several examples of bourbons aged and blended in several different ways.
“We need that age,” he said. “We were patient with our brandies. When they first came out we sold only 10- to 20-percent before upping production. Even today with our brandy production, even though we’re going on 18 years, we will never sell the same amount that we make. We’re getting older and older barrels in our warehouse for blending. And we plan to do that for several more years with our whisky.”
Huber has been a major player in numerous national and international brandy competitions winning top awards and awards for best in specific categories. His whiskeys are beginning to be recognized by top spirits critics as well. One critic wrote that Huber’s bourbon was one of the top 10 in the nation not made in Kentucky that afficionados must sample.
The boom in female brown spirits fan is not lost on the veteran winemaker. He said it’s been the biggest surprise during the growth of his spirit sales.
“Our clientele who came here for an experience of wine and spirits had the women dominate with wine and the men the spirits,” Huber said. “That is long gone over the past four years. We have as many women, or more women, coming here to enjoy and taste the different bourbons or whiskeys. The women who absolutely know their whiskeys from a quality standpoint has blown my mind.”
As a result of that burgeoning interest from women, Huber adjusts some single barrel whiskey’s to full cask strength (110-120 percent alcohol) and unfiltered. “And when we have clients come here from all over the United States to pick out barrels they are looking for products they think women will like. They’re looking for a little more complexity, a little bit more fruit and less oak.”
Huber wines are distributed in five states while the spirits are sold in 12 states. The Huber product line includes several whiskies, straight and flavored brandies, infusions and ports, rum, gin, and vodka.