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Three Rivers Distilling Company Starts Selling Spirits Locally

Fort Wayne’s first distilling company opened its doors in April. Starting this month, customers can buy its alcohol at area stores and bars. But the business still can’t sell its liquor out of its actual distillery.

In this week’s NorthEATS Indiana, WBOI’s Lisa Ryan reports on the history of distilling in Fort Wayne, and the challenges Three Rivers Distilling Company is facing when trying to sell its product.

Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News
The tables are made from barrels that can also store product as it's aged.

Three Rivers Distilling Company is housed in an old brick building on Wallace Street on the southern end of downtown Fort Wayne.

Co-owner Stephen Blevins says the building started as a bakery, but it’s now been transformed into a modern distillery that makes gin, rum and vodka. Bread and alcohol may seem like complete opposites, but Blevins says the two are more similar than people might think.

In the fermentation tank, the liquor can sit for 3-4 days as the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol. It smells like baking bread next to it, which Blevins sees as a connection to the building’s past. On one wall, there are pictures of the old bakery, with bread cooling on the racks.

“I just, I love it. It couldn’t be more perfect,” Blevins said. “It kind of starts life that way, and I certainly hope it finishes life with us here for a long time to come.”

Three Rivers Distilling Company is the first legal distillery in Fort Wayne. The building has many pictures lining the walls and even features old images of moonshiners in the area.

Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News
This is where spirits will be stored as they're aged.

Blevins points at a picture he says was taken in front of a house on Leo Road. The Allen County sheriff and a man holding a tommy gun is standing in front of the building.

“You can see the barrels of aging product and here’s the still right here,” Blevins said. “It’s pretty incredible, especially that it is truly local.”

The idea to create Three Rivers Distilling Company didn’t actually start with Blevins; it started with co-owner Travis Kraick. He says he got the idea after a tour of a craft distillery in Iowa.

“I had never been to a distillery myself, large or small, and from the moment we walked in the building to the moment we walked out with a bottle in hand, I knew that Fort Wayne had a future in craft distilling, but I wanted to be the reason,” Kraick said. “So here three years later almost, we’re here distilling the first legal spirits in Fort Wayne.”

"There's this intense science, and then there's this 20 percent element of craft, and so it's like finding the perfect marriage of those two pieces."

But it wasn’t an easy process. People who want to make beer and wine at home can find kits at their local supermarket. But home distilling is illegal without a permit. So before they even started to distill, Kraick and Blevins did their research. They went to other craft distilleries and read online blogs to find out how to distill spirits.

“There’s this intense science, and then there’s this 20 percent element of craft, and so it’s like finding the perfect marriage of those two pieces,” Blevins said. “It’s fascinating to me. I love it.”

Kraick and Blevins are Fort Wayne natives, and they incorporated their hometown pride in their product. Their spirits are named Summit City Gin, River City Rum and Harvester Vodka, after the now-closed International Harvester factory in Fort Wayne.

Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News
The tables are decorated with samples of ingredients.

Blevins says it’s important to them that the recipes, called a grain bill, use locally sourced ingredients when possible.

“We love this community,” Blevins said. “We love this momentum that’s been happening and this development and revitalization especially in the downtown area, and so we want to see those local economies grow and benefit from small business and we think that those decisions to source locally only foster more and more of that type of end result.”

Kraick says ingredients like the wheat and corn used in the vodka and gin are grown within 100 miles of the distillery.

But even for ingredients that can’t be grown in Indiana, like sugar cane for the rum, the two owners try to find local options. They buy sugar from Indiana Sugars in Gary.

“We understand that we can’t get all of our ingredients locally, like in the sense that it’s from Fort Wayne. Like juniper berries that we use in our gin do not grow in Fort Wayne,” Kraick said.

Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News

Anyone can go to Three Rivers Distilling Company to see the facility and get a tour, but Blevins says they can’t sell their spirits out of the building until January 5, 2019.

“Indiana code says that we have to wait 36 months before we can be granted an artisan distiller’s license.”

With that license, Blevins says the distillery will be able to give samples, serve cocktails and sell bottles. However, customers can still find the liquor at retailers like Belmont Beverage and Cap ‘n’ Cork. Restaurants are serving Three Rivers Distilling Company as well, including Tolon, Chop’s Wine Bar, The Hoppy Gnome, and the list continues to expand.

“I think we have the task in front of us of letting folks know that we’re here,” Blevins said. “A little bit of buzz is starting to come up and that’s really exciting for us and social media is a huge part of that. And we just hope the awareness continues to grow.”

So however you prefer your spirits—on the rocks or neat—you can now have it made from local liquor from the first distillery in Fort Wayne.

Additional places to find Three Rivers Distilling Company:

Belmont Beverage
Cap ‘n’ Cork
Chop’s Wine Bar
Hall’s Guest House
Hideout 125
Mad Anthony’s
Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits
The Hoppy Gnome
Winner’s Circle
The Brokaw Theatre
The Embassy Theatre

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