Indiana beer maker looks to muscle in on bourbon business

Will Maker's Mark be getting some Hoosier competition?
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Indiana is cashing in on the phenomenal growth of the bourbon industry.

Last year, bourbon sales grew nine percent, more than doubling the rest of the US spirits industry. But the growth has come with some pains. The demand has taken a toll on supply.

Bourbon takes years to prepare, and a fire at a distillery can disrupt supply for years to come.

Higher end brands of bourbon - going for $100 per bottle or more - have become popular to the point where some of the brands are hard to find.

Zach Wilkes is the beverage manager for Harry & Izzy's and St. Elmo Steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis. He says the shortage of bourbon is driven by too much being exported.

"Japan is whiskey crazy right now. A lot of Kentucky bourbon is being exported straight to Japan before we can get our hands on it here in America," said Wilkes.

The demand for good bourbon has Wilkes going straight to Kentucky distillers.

The barrels are branded for St. Elmo Steakhouse and the bottles come with special lapels, buying barrels also guarantees a steady supply of bourbon for the restaurant, "that is one of the conversations that came up at the distillers and what we could actually get our hands on and what we couldn't get our hands on" says Wilkes.

The shortage of bourbon in Kentucky could have a solution right here in Indiana.

At Indianapolis-based Sun King Brewery, they too have been across the southern border for bourbon barrels, which are being used to age beer. Brewer Omar Robinson would like to see the beer in those barrels replaced with bourbon made in Indiana. He says when Makers Mark distillery announced they were cutting the alcohol content of their bourbon to stretch their supply, that only strengthened the demand for artisan and high-dollar bourbons.

Robinson has a still in mind along with a new building right behind the existing Sun King brewery. He is hoping the Indiana General assembly will change current law and allow for him and others to expand. Currently a brewery owner cannot own a distillery.

Bourbon could eventually become another economic boon for Indiana, but don't expect it anytime soon.

Robinson believes it would take at least three years, but more likely seven, to change the law.

There are three distillers in the state of Indiana. At one time Seagrams Whiskey operated the largest distillery in the country in Lawrenceburg.

Heartland Distillers

Harrison Bourbon