It’s not easy putting history in a bottle, but Joe and Missy Duer have resumed a very old family tradition that allows them to do just that with their Artisan Farm Distillery~ Indian Creek Distillery, located in southern Miami County.
“Making whiskey the old fashioned way, not the industrialized way, is an art and flows out of passion and intuition which makes for a very artistic process,” Missy said.
Missy Duer comes from a long line of millwrights and distillers by trade. Her forefathers moved from Pennsylvania and settled in Ohio before it was recognized as a state. Missy’s great great great grandfather Elias and his two brothers built a grist mill along Indian Creek which was completed in 1818. Elias purchased the farm in 1820 and built a brick distillery to utilize the excess grain from the large grist mill. The demand for whiskey was great- a bonus for the ambitious Staley family. Staley Rye Whiskey became known for its quality and customers traveled for miles to have their jugs filled. The business flourished for 100 years involving 3 generations of Staleys until Prohibition put a halt on whiskey production in 1920.
“From 1933 until about 15 years ago, you could not build a distillery in the state of Ohio, but recent law changes have allowed my husband Joe and I to bring my family’s distilling legacy back to life,” Missy said. “Most importantly was that my great-grandfather, George Washington Staley, saved the stills, mash tubs, fermenters and assorted distilling equipment from the revenuers during Prohibition. We also have the original Rye Whiskey recipe!”
The Duers have a modernized facility on their beautifully preserved family farm where the distilling takes place, but they operate with an “old school, old rules” mentality crafting whiskey like the Staley forefathers, including use of the original copper potstills. The stills are the oldest working stills in America today. They follow an old, open-top mashing and fermentation process where the weather plays an important role in the process.
“There are limitations with open-top fermentation and mashing. You run into weather considerations because changes in the weather give you different yields. The reason being, mashing — which is the conversion of starch to sugar with the mixture of grain and hot water that takes three or four hours — if there is a drop in the barometric pressure, the yield of sugar is reduced,” Joe said. “In fermentation, which is the conversion of sugar to alcohol, there can be situations where there is electricity in the air from thunderstorms that will stop the action of the yeast being used. Once the storm is passed, the yeast can be reactivated but that can delay fermentation and the production of alcohol. All of these limitations and problems could be solved by not doing the open-top fermentation but that’s not the way the old boys did it, so we aren’t doing it that way either.”
There were numerous challenges in figuring out how to make Pre-Prohibition whiskey; Joe did most of the distilling when they first re-opened in 2012 and he had a tremendous challenge learning what the Staleys used to know.
“It was a steep learning curve because we were recreating history, and all the old timers are gone who I could ask,” Joe said. “We had to interpret old letters and recipes where the initial guidelines were to ‘heat your water and cool your water.’ That’s very interesting to me because I didn’t know what that meant until I found that heating the water consisted of being able to hold your hand in the water for one minute and cooling the water meant bringing it down to the temperature of fresh milk from a cow, which proposed an issue, because I didn’t have a cow.”
Indian Creek Distillery’s whiskeys are available at the distillery and in over 150 state agencies in Ohio. The Duers also offer a delicious locally sourced maple syrup (StillHouse Maple Syrup) that is aged in their used rye whiskey barrels.
“The distillery is open seven days a week and attracts three types of people: historians, whiskey lovers, and whiskey historians,” Joe said. “I have applied everything I have learned in my life to this career because being self-employed can bring surprises. We knew coming into this we needed two things to make this work. First, you need a good product, and secondly and most importantly, you need a story, and we have that here in spades.”
“Our national history is a very personal one, at least it is for me,” Missy said. “Staley Mill Farm & Indian Creek Distillery tells the story of our country and of my family, one generation at a time. This beautifully preserved pioneer complex is a remarkably intact view into a vanishing landscape. My husband Joe and I share the past, the present and the future of our true heritage, timeless history and the spirit of liberty. We are preservationists by choice, pioneers by birth, dreamers of things to come and we are proud to produce America’s spirit… a true sip of history.”
Indian Creek Distillery is open year round at 7095 Staley Rd, New Carlisle, OH 45344. Hours are: Tuesday & Wednesday 12pm – 5pm, Thursday & Friday 12pm – 7pm, Saturday 12pm – 7pm (Tours available on Saturdays only at 12, 2, 4 and 6pm). Visit staleymillfarmanddistillery.com and Indian Creek Distillery on Facebook & Instagram to learn more, including their 2018 special events featuring the Staley Grist Mill 200th Birthday Celebrations, Mash Bill Music Series, Tour de Donut, Cocktails at the Creek and more.