Rosemary and I had an interesting visit to The Spirits of French Licks Distillery. Alan Bishop, The Distiller, has a great pride in his Indiana distilling heritage. His personal goal is to create a Bourbon different from Kentucky Bourbon: an Indiana style Bourbon. As he puts it the distilleries in Kentucky are doing a great job with traditional Bourbon and he wants to create a recipe that will distinguish Indiana Bourbon as something a little different and give customers a reason to purchase a bottle of his product.
Rosemary and I spent an afternoon with Alan at the distillery. We drove up to French Lick, Indiana and stayed at the historic West Baden Springs Hotel – a reason to visit in itself with its large dome atrium and parklike setting. Alan met us at the distillery where we were given a brief tour of the distillery and barrel warehousing.
The distillery has several different options for producing spirits including a pot still and a column still for production of spirits. They have a column designed to make the higher proof alcohol needed for vodka. There is a winery located on the premise as well; so, the fermenters are closed to help prevent cross contamination of the yeast strain. They do not have a rack system for aging but instead use the two barrel metal racks that allow them to be stacked and moved with a forklift. Alan has a low barrel entry proof for his whiskey with most going into the barrel at 105 proof. The barrel storage is in the same building as the distillery so temperature variations are about the same throughout the year.
Alan’s philosophy is that Kentucky is already making great traditional Bourbons made with corn, rye or wheat and malted barley. If he and other Indiana distillers are going to step out of the shadow of Kentucky Distillers, then they need to create a Bourbon style of their own. He is trying to do that with variations in mash bill that include heirloom corns and other grains. He favors using oats in his mash bill as a flavoring grain. He is also playing around with some brewer’s malts. He has yet to decide what his final recipe will be. That is the problem with distilling and aging whiskey – it can take years to get the final results, thus, this decision can take years to make. In the meantime, he is creating some very interesting whiskeys.
The Spirits of French Lick Distillery also makes an Apple Brandy that is quite good. Alan enjoys making Brandy and plans to continue to do so while experimenting with the Bourbons. He would love to do some other fruit brandies but he is limited by the fruit he can get. Since he is associated with a winery he does get to make some traditional Brandy, but peaches and pears also interest him as future brandies.
The Spirits of French Lick Distillery is a fairly new enterprise and it will take a few more years before they have products that are more than a couple of years old in the market. The whiskeys I tasted with Alan are excellent at two years old or less, but will be better in the future at four or more years old. They are creating labels that pay homage to Indiana distillers and citizens of the past as part of their project to create their own path in the Bourbon world. This is not an easy route to take but I do feel it will pay off in the long run. Alan Bishop is a talented distiller and a bit of a rebel against the norm so I think that he is on the right path. I look forward to tasting the future products that come from the Spirits of French Lick Distillery.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller