The history-drenched Indian Creek Distillery, tucked into the southeast corner of Miami County, is expanding into new products, including one that would be welcome at the breakfast table.
The distillery that opened nearly three years ago also is basking in the glow of some national recognition: It was profiled in the Nov. 15 edition of Wine Spectator magazine as one of six craft distilleries singled out as “the most distinctive and exciting artisanal producers in the country today.”
The article was written by Lew Bryson, managing editor of Whisky Advocate magazine, a sister publication to Wine Spectator.
But Indian Creek Distillery founders Melissa and Joe Duer are not resting on their laurels. They’ve already started producing a maple syrup that has been aged in its gently used rye whiskey barrels, and were successful in placing their “Stillhouse Maple Syrup” in the local-food section of the Whole Foods Market store that opened earlier this year on Miamisburg-Centerville Road in Washington Twp.
In early-to-mid 2016, the Duers will release a new spirit, an aged corn whiskey, that has the tentative working name of “Medicine Man.”
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The distillery is expanding its offerings for one simple reason: “There is such a strong interest across the country right now in artisanal whiskies,” Melissa Duer said.
In fact, there has been a surge in interest in small-batch distilled spirits nationwide, and the number of small distilleries recently exceeded 750.
Southwest Ohio has done its part. There are a half-dozen distilleries of various sizes operating in various corners of the Miami Valley — and more are on the way. Star City Brewing in Miamisburg has said distilled spirits at the brewery and a distillery with the tentative name of Liberty Spirits are in the early stages of development in Butler County.
Craft distilleries in Ohio benefited from a change in state law nearly four years ago. Prior to March 2012, the number of licenses available to small-production distilleries was capped at three statewide.
“It just didn’t make sense to limit the opportunity,” former commerce department director David Goodman said at the time. “These are small companies producing unique products with local or niche audiences in mind.”
Goodman and other state officials predicted at the time that the easing of restrictions would trigger growth and expansion in an emerging industry, promote tourism, create jobs, generate tax revenues, and create new demand for Ohio agricultural products such as fruits and grains.
Legislators agreed, and the cap was lifted, as was a ban on sampling spirits in a distillery tasting room and on purchasing spirituous liquor from a craft distillery. The new law put strict limits on the amount and number of samples that a visitor can consume, and capped purchases to two bottles per person. But distillery owners said the removal of the outright ban against those activities was crucial to their success.
Since the new law took effect, the number of small-production distilleries in Ohio has grown from three to 31, with another 17 applications pending, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control said Friday.
Indian Creek was among the distilleries that has benefited from the change in laws — and it has plenty of history on its side.
Melissa Duer, the sixth generation of her family to live in her southeast Miami County farmhouse, and her husband Joe Duer built the distillery on the Staley Mill Farm, on the very land where Melissa’s great-great-great-grandfather Elias Staley used to distill rye whiskey in the early 19th century.
Among the documents in the Duers’ possession are doctor prescriptions from the 1800s prescribing “one quart of your finest whiskey” for various ailments, and letters from a Civil War soldier requesting that a bottle of Staley’s Rye Whiskey be sent to him.
The couple named their venture Indian Creek Distillery after the creek that flows through their property — and also because that’s the business name Elias Staley used in the early 1800s.
Prohibition put an abrupt halt to the family business in 1919, but Duer’s great-grandfather, George Washington Staley, hid the 1820s-era copper-pot stills from nosy federal agents, so they survived Prohibition intact.
The rye grain that is used to make Indian Creek’s two bottled spirits is grown in Darke County, and is ground on Duer’s farm using its 1880s-era grinding mill. The mash is stirred by hand, double-distilled in the pot stills by Joe Duer, and bottled, dipped in wax and labeled by the Duers.
The corn used to make Indian Creek’s not-yet-released new spirit comes from the same Darke County farm that produces rye for the Duers. The couple uses maple syrup from Miami County syrup producer Dean Dohner to produce their Stillhouse Maple Syrup.
“We take our barrels to him, and he fills them for us, then we age them here for just a few months, which is all it takes,” Melissa Duer said. “When that warm syrup first meets that whiskey barrel, the aroma is heavenly.”
The syrup is available at Whole Foods and at the distillery tasting room. Melissa Duer recommended it for drizzling over vanilla ice cream, marinating bacon or glazing salmon or ham.
Indian Creek’s rye whiskies are available at many liquor stores in the region, and recently expanded to Cincinnati-area spirits stores, Duer said. They’re also available at the distillery.
Indian Creek’s tasting room is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and tours are available on Saturdays. For more information, call (937) 846-1443 or go to staleymillfarmanddistillery.com.