Indian Creek Distillery: A Rye Resurrection

Written by on March 25, 2013 in Liquor - 3 Comments

Joe and Melissa (Missy) Duer are bringing history alive at Staley Mill Farm in New Carlisle, OH. The farm has been in the family for at least 200 years and now Joe and Missy have revived a crucial part- the distillery. Indian Creek Distillery opened for business in December and the Duers are excited to reintroduce Missy’s family’s whiskey recipe in Ohio and beyond. The recipe for the Duer’s rye whiskey dates back to the Civil War era, a time when it was recommended by soldiers and doctors alike.

The Duers hosted a small tasting at Weiland’s in Clintonville, where Drink Up Columbus writers had a chance to try their product and talk with the distillers about what’s to come. Here is what DuC contributor Sage Wolfe had to say about Indian Creek’s white rye:

Elias Staley WhiskeyElias Staley Rye Whiskey is an un-aged, or white, whiskey. Unlike bourbon or Scotch, it has spent no time in a barrel, thus it’s colorless (or white). Also absent are many of the characteristic flavors of aged whiskey – vanilla, caramel, and charcoal. But that doesn’t mean that it’s without character. Though colorless, it is viscous and coats the glass heavily. It has an aroma that is both lightly floral and full of sweet fruit and vegetable smells – banana, pear, cooked corn, barley mash. The taste is less interesting than the aroma suggests, flat and muted, with a cooked grain sweetness and a dry mineral finish. On the other hand, its viscosity is pleasant and it is very smooth and sippable, with less harshness and heat than most 80 proof liquor. In summary, it is not a very exciting drink, though I am quite excited to try the aged version in the future. At the end of the day, flavor (mostly) comes from the barrel. The aroma, viscosity, and smoothness, when combined with the Duer’s unique barrels (outlined below), should make for a very interesting whiskey.”

You can find Elias Staley Rye at Weiland’s Market and Oldfield’s on High for $50 a bottle. If you’re feeling like a road trip, head west towards Dayton and visit the distillery. Tours are held on Saturdays at noon, 2pm and 4pm, where guests are welcomed by Missy to hear a little family history before Joe describes the distilling process. Together, Miss and Joe host the tasting at the end of the tour. The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes and costs $10 per person.

Joe and Missy did us a great favor by offering to answer some questions via email. Read all about Ohio’s latest distilling venture below:

What would you say was your largest obstacle as you prepared to open Indian Creek?
The largest obstacle in opening the distillery was the government paperwork and permit approval. The Federal permit was to take approximately 90 days—it took 6 months—the local Health Department was just an ongoing process with department heads sending letters, visiting the distillery and questioning our water systems.  As for the Ohio State Board of Liquor Control, they are the nicest, most helpful and accommodating of all the agencies that we have worked with. With no government intervention, we would have been up and running long before our “permitted” open date in mid-December of 2012.  We have started up several other small businesses in our lifetime and none have been as time consuming and stressful as it has been to get this distillery up and “legally” running. It made us want to run to the back of the farm and start “moonshining” but we persevered!

You mentioned using hickory inserts in the oak barrels used to age the rye whiskey. Is this a common practice, or something fairly unique to your product? How did you decide to do that?
Hickory inserts are the invention of the Black Swan Cooperage located in Minnesota. These “honey-combed,” lightly toasted wood inserts will increase the barrel time of our whiskey adding a wonderful honey, BBQ, cocoa type flavor to our already amazing white whiskey. We chose hickory because 200 years ago when my great-great-great grandfather barreled his whiskey, he used hickory as his wood of choice for the barrels. This type of wood added an incredible flavor to the whiskey, of which the Staley’s became known. They continued this type of barrel tradition until prohibition-it only made sense for Joe and I to keep this early American whiskey original as possible to my family’s way of thinking when it came to distilling.

What ingredients are used in your white rye whiskey? Would you mind briefly walking us through the distilling process you use?
We use the original recipe that my great-great-great grandfather used….rye, corn, malted barley and hops.  After an acceptable amount of time, yeast is added to the mash. As for the distilling process, the mash is prepared in the mash tub and ferments for approximately 3 days. Then it is pumped into the first still which is the beer stripping still. This first distillation produces what the old timers called “low wines or beer”. The proof runs about 20 percent. After 3 beer runs, we accumulate enough “beer” to distill in the second pot still which produces the highest proof alcohol. We collect this final run.

Your family has a rich history in Ohio distilling. What are some of your favorite family tales?
We have letters from Civil War soldiers asking for Elias and his sons to send them Staley Rye Whiskey!  I also have merchant letters requesting our rye whiskey to be shipped to them. Later in the 1800’s, local doctors sent notes stating that their “patient” should buy our whiskey for “medicinal purposes only”  we have lots of these scraps of paper-  that’s how they wrote their “prescriptions”.  And locals still stop by and tell us tales of their great grandfathers stopping by for a jug of whiskey to take home with them.

There are many Ohio liquor purveyors who have choice words for the state’s regulations and control process. Do you have any words to offer on this subject? 
We totally agree with our fellow artisan distillers in Ohio….as a distiller friend of ours says the Ohio liquor laws are Draconian. They are based on repealed Prohibition laws from the 1930s which are not relevant for artisan distillers. We pay way too much in taxes on our spirits which is pre-collected.  The thick bureaucracy that we tread for everything we do is ridiculous. It’s complicated and should be revised to aid and assist us small distillers instead of overwhelming us with a high tax rate and permits.  The state legislature should provide incentives for craft distiller’s like us in Ohio since we provide Heritage Tourism, use of local farm products and retail dollars. Both Joe and I do agree though, that the State Liquor Control employees are very nice and extremely helpful and try as best they can to assist us in the “selling of the revenue”.

Where do you see the distillery in five years? 100?
Ah, five years from now….  truthfully, I don’t think we’ve thought that far yet. We would like to be able to hire a fantastic stillhouse manager so that Joe can have some “free” time and our youngest daughter will be alongside us (her children will be in school by then).  We want a large, faithful, happy customer base and to be comfortable with the bottom line….that’s always important!  We’ve made a great investment and we would certainly hope that in five years we will have seen a good return on our money. In 100 years I hope that this amazing early American farm is still owned by the Staley family and expanding with another century’s ideas.  And that Indian Creek Distillery has been operating successfully for the past 100 years as well.

About the Author

Debbie is a glutarded dog mom that loves gin and Columbus. She prefers soda over tonic and lime over lemon. No cucumber.

Leave a Comment