Tag Archives: whiskey

Hotel Tango, Indianapolis

We had flown into Indianapolis for the Kentucky Derby and found ourselves wandering down Virginia Avenue. I spotted Hotel Tango, set back from the road, and was immediately drawn to the charming brick building.

Hotel Tango Facade

I was snapping photos when a cat with no tail sprinted out from around the corner of the building and slithered under a car in the parking lot. Minutes later a man emerged from the front door. “Have you seen a cat?” We pointed to the car, he coaxed the cat out, and all was right with the world. Hotel Tango wasn’t open for another hour, but Brian, the cat chaser, was kind enough to welcome us in.

Hotel Tango is an “artisan distillery.” What does that mean? All of their liquors are made with care in small batches and distributed mostly in Indiana and neighboring Ohio. It’s like a microbrewery in the liquor world. It’s about quality, not quantity. And that’s very apparent as soon as you walk into Hotel Tango.

Hotel Tango 7

The first thing that struck me was the lovely hand-built stone fireplace that serves as a focal point for the distillery and for the community, as chilly hipsters come in from the cold to warm their outsides by the fire and their insides with a craft cocktail.

Fletcher, the cat with no tail, watched over us as he lounged on the iron spiral staircase. We sat at the bar with Brian and let the artisan liquors trickle down our throats as he told us tales of rum, passion and Indy legend.

Hotel Tango 4

The Hipstory of the Building

The building that now houses Hotel Tango dates back to the late 1800s and was originally used as a carriage repair shop. You can still see the ridges in the floor where the mule turned the turnstyle. When a funeral home was built in what’s now the Hotel Tango parking lot, the distillery served as a repair shop for hearse carriages. This is when the building falls into the path of an Indianapolis legend.

Main Hotel Tango

In the 1910s, the local coroner began blackmailing the wealthy family members of Indianapolis deceased who had been brought to the funeral home. He would threaten to tell the courts that their deaths were suicides if the families didn’t fork over a portion of the life insurance money. The coroner was eventually found guilty and sent to prison.

When cars became ubiquitous in America, the building became a car repair shop, then a machine shop in the 1960s, and a garage again for a few years before Travis and Brian came along.

Hotel Tango 1

The Story of Hotel Tango

Owners Travis (aka “Tango”) and Brian met when Travis was in law school with Brian’s (now) wife. Brian was in real estate when Travis graduated and decided to leave the struggling housing market behind to join Travis in pursing their real passion: opening a craft distillery.

Hotel Tango 2

Travis and Brian got their permit to open a distillery in 2013, found an investor in 2014, and began the 100-day construction on the building in the summer of 2014. They thanked their lawyer wives for their support, brought in Travis’s brother Taylor as master distiller, and sandblasted the thick layers of green and white paint to uncover the beautiful brick facade that is now Hotel Tango.

Old doors from the building were used to build tables, and planks from the reconstruction were used to build the bar. Travis’s father, a third generation brick mason, built the stunning stone fireplace.

Hotel Tango 6

Brian and Travis opened their doors in September of 2014 as the first distillery in Indianapolis since before prohibition. Hotel Tango started with vodka and rum and have since dabbled with whiskey, gin, and some fruity liquors. And we tried them all.

The name “Hotel Tango” comes from the monogram of owner Travis and his wife Hilary. After having served multiple tours in Iraq, Travis was intimately familiar with the NATO phonetic alphabet. “Hotel” for Hilary and “Tango” for Travis. Voila. The distillery’s liquors follow suit: Golf Gin, Victor Vodka, and so on.

Hotel Tango 3

I had planned out several Hipstorical places to visit in Indy, but Hotel Tango was one that I just stumbled upon. Every traveler knows that it’s the hidden gems and the spontaneous local interactions that make for the most memorable travel experiences, and that’s certainly what Hotel Tango was for me. Brian was so incredibly kind to take the time to talk with us before the distillery had even opened for the day. He didn’t have to open the door, he didn’t have to tell us stories or offer us a drink, but I guess that’s kind of the Indianapolis spirit.

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Indiana? Email me and help me build my archives!

Kings County Distillery, New York

Tucked away behind the bricked gates of the Brooklyn Navy yard, at the corner of Sands Street and Navy Street, you’ll find an old Paymaster’s building—where the sailors once queued up to collect their paychecks. Inside that old brick building is a collection of copper stills, handmade wooden fermenters, a black cat named Jeffy, and hip young distillers including the one master-distiller and historian, Colin Spoelman, who co-founded the distillery with his partner David Haskell. Kings County Distillery is the oldest operating whiskey distillery in New York City… and it’s only five years old.

Brooklyn Navy Yard - Hipstorical
The gate to the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard

Your tour will begin in the garden outside, where Colin, a Kentucky native who grew up around moonshine and bootleggers, (or whoever your tour guide may be when you arrive at Kings County Distillery) will fill you in on a thorough history of liquor distilling in New York. Before Prohibition, New York State was home to hundreds of whiskey distilleries. It wasn’t until the passing of the Craft Distillers License in 2002 and then the Farm Distillers License in 2009 that the state saw the rebirth of the small-still liquor. The laws provides licenses to small distilleries with two caveats: they must not produce more than 35,000 gallons of liquor each year, and they must produce their liquor primarily using New York farm products. New York State actually now has more distilleries than any other state except Washington!

Kings County Distillery - Hipstorical

So that’s why the five-year-old Kings County Distillery can claim they are the oldest whiskey distillery in NYC (those sneaky bastards). Founded in 2010 in East Williamsburg, Kings County started as the smallest commercial distillery in the US. They continued to grow and in 2012 moved into their current location: an 1899 Paymaster Building in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. The distillery is named for Kings County, which shares the same boundaries as Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Distillery - Hipstorical

The building has since been the home to an officer’s club and, when the Navy Yard was decommissioned in 1966, it became an Orthodox Jewish shroud factory. The Navy Yard is just steps from the legendary site of the Brooklyn Whiskey Wars of 1860 and the former distillery district of Brooklyn (which your tour guide will tell you more about on your tour!)

Kings County Poster - Hipstorical

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was active from 1806 until 1966. Today, it is home to 200 private businesses including Steiner Studios, one of the largest production studios outside of California and Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, a museum which tells the story of the Navy Yard.

Brooklyn Navy Yard Bus - Hipstorical

Once we learned the full history of whiskey in Brooklyn and beyond, our guide lead us inside where we marveled at the copper stills and swallowed the scent of malting barley. Kings county creates handmade moonshine and bourbon using cracked organic corn from upstate New York. They use traditional distilling equipment including copper stills from Scotland, and only corn and malted barley (no rye)—making their whiskey more like scotch and European whiskeys than bourbon. “The flavor comes from the process, not the recipe,” says Colin.

Kings County Fermenters - Hipstorical

Kings produces 100 gallons of whiskey per day, including moonshine, bourbon, and spiced whiskeys. Their whiskeys age anywhere from 18 months to 10 years. They’re currently working on a 10-year-old whiskey that they won’t be able to taste for five more years. Colin says that the oldest whiskeys are indeed the most rare, but not necessarily the best. “There’s a sweet spot for every whiskey,” he says.

Kings County Stills - Hipstorical

Colin and his team of distillers are known for playing around with unusual, creative whiskeys in small, experimental barrels, adding flavors like chocolate and spices. “That’s the fun of being a small distillery,” says Colin. “You get to be creative.”

Kings County Distillery Barrel Room - Hipstorical

Stop by Kings County Distillery on a Saturday for a tasting. We tried the moonshine, bourbon, chocolate whiskey, and pumpkin spiced whiskey. The latter was by far my favorite, and I bought a bottle which I’ve since used to make some of the best hot toddies I’ve ever tasted.

Kings County Chocolate Whiskey - Hipstorical

A visit to King’s is a truly unique, neighborhood experience for local New Yorkers or those who have “been there, done that” when it comes to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Stop in, sip some whiskey, hear some history, and enjoy the #hipstorical all around you.

Suggestions for more hipstorical places in Chicago? Email me and help me build my archives!