“Spicy, complex and in your face” is how Farm Bureau member Missy Duer describes her family’s whiskey. For 100 years, Missy’s ancestors, the Staleys, produced rye whiskey on the farmstead where she and her husband Joe live in Miami County. The spirit was so popular that Civil War soldiers wrote the Staleys asking that it be shipped to them during the war. Business was brisk with 30-35 gallons a day being distilled and up to 100 barrels aging at a time.
Prohibition brought an abrupt end to the thriving business, and Missy’s great-grandfather George Washington Staley hid the stills from government officials. They remained hidden in the top of the bondhouse until 1997 when the Duers started doing tours of the farm, which includes a gristmill and sawmill.
Inspired by the Staleys’ old-time values, Missy and Joe decided to become pioneers themselves, making the hearty 1820 rye whiskey the old-fashioned way with a couple of modern twists. They are using the family recipe (called a mash bill), original stills, 1880 grinding mill and limestone water from nearby Indian Creek. Propane has replaced the wood fires and the water is pumped from the springs instead of being drawn from the millrace. But other than that, the process is the same as 200 years ago.
“Our whiskey is distinctive. It’s like no other one in the country,” said Missy, the sixth generation on the farm. “We’re making it the same way my great-great-great grandfather made it in the 1800s. It’s an expression of who we are. Having family in one place for so long means a lot.”
Pictures and artifacts displayed throughout the Duers’ distillery, Indian Creek Distillery, tell the rich history of the Staley family. Missy’s great-great-great grandfather Elias traveled from Pennsylvania to the Ohio wilderness to build a gristmill (used for grinding grain) in 1818. He bought 160 acres and built a brick house, fruit kiln used to dry fruit and herbs, sawmill, distillery and bondhouse. This type of farmstead is called a pioneer agricultural/industrial complex and is possibly the only one still in existence that is owned by the same family in the United States, Missy said.
“Elias was an entrepreneur. He saw the lay of the land and realized it would be conducive for making good whiskey,” Missy said.
Farmers and Indians would bring their grain to the gristmill to be ground and excess grain, which was perishable, could be used at the distillery to make the whiskey. The liquor was sold in barrels or jugs with some going to doctors who wrote notes requesting “whiskey for his patient.” It was “liquid gold” for the family, Missy said.
From field to bottle
Today, only the foundation of the brick distillery remains but the gristmill and sawmill are intact. The Duers live in the Federal style house that Elias built. Two years ago as they built their distillery, they got chills listening to the Amish workers talk in their Pennsylvania Dutch, the same dialect Missy’s ancestors spoke so many years ago.
“It was like a confirmation from my family saying ‘Yes, this is meant to be,’” Missy said.
Their dream became reality when a new state law went into effect in March 2012 making it easier for micro-distilleries to create and market their products. It allows customers to taste and buy the drinks at the businesses. After a lengthy permitting process, Indian Creek Distillery started making the 80 proof whiskey late last year. About half of the sales are made on-site; the rest are in Columbus stores and area upper-scale restaurants. Currently the Duers produce 50 bottles a week of their unaged Elias Staley Whiskey. Demand has been so strong that they are planning to increase weekly production to 150-200 bottles. The couple recently bought 10-gallon oak barrels (the only type allowed for aging) and hickory inserts so they can start aging the whiskey. Once done, the clear alcohol will become amber colored and highlight the complex flavor of the rye.
The whiskey consists of rye, crushed corn, malted barley and hops. The Duers buy 120 bushels of rye from Greg McGlinch, a Darke County Farm Bureau member, and about 2,000 pounds of corn from nearby farmers. The unmalted barley comes from out west. Visitors to Indian Creek Distillery are encouraged to watch the distillation process.
“People are really interested in seeing how the grain is turned into something they can drink,” Missy said.
The upstairs of the distillery is filled with historical artifacts and used for gatherings.
“Elias was a great entrepreneur. What he left behind can still be used today,” Missy said. “What an amazing place this is and I’m so proud that this is my heritage.”
Amy Beth Graves is a freelance writer from Upper Arlington.
Joe & Missy Duer
7095 Staley Road | New Carlisle