When Starlight Distillery opened in 2001, craft spirits were barely legal in Indiana. The state only permitted wholesale liquor sales, and few distilleries bothered. But like some of the country’s earliest distillers, the Hubers had a practical reason to try: the trees full of fruit on their seventh-generation family farm, established in 1843.
The family says that Simon Huber brought winemaking knowledge with him when he immigrated from Baden-Baden, Germany, to an eighty-acre farm—now three hundred acres—in Starlight, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville. They went pro 135 years later, in 1978, when they opened the state’s fourth modern-day winery. Today, Indiana claims about a hundred wineries, but Huber’s Orchard, Winery, and Vineyards still grows more wine grapes than any other operation in the Hoosier State.
But like some of the country’s earliest distillers, the Hubers had a practical reason to try: the trees full of fruit on their seventh-generation family farm, established in 1843.
The progression from wine to spirits came naturally. After all, the winery is just a stone’s throw from bourbon country. Unlike the big bourbon distilleries, though, this family-owned operation grows most of the crops behind its releases—from strawberry eau de vie to bourbons made entirely from homegrown corn.
They started with brandy. But eventually, of course, they had to try whiskey—their way. Having control of the growing process means having control of the final product. Some major distilleries use one recipe for all their whiskeys, but they have sixteen, enabled by a diverse selection of homegrown grains. About a hundred acres of the farm are planted in conventional corn, while fifty more grow heirloom varietals: Hopi Blue, Bloody Butcher, Yellow Dent, and Lancaster White.
The heirloom corns have distinctive flavors, adding spicy and nutty notes best enjoyed in the distillery’s rare single-barrel releases. But the wood still does most of the work, says Starlight marketing manager James Wood. To that end, Starlight works with six different cooperages in Kentucky, Missouri, and the Napa Valley.
Locally, bartenders love the product. Take it from Steven Cavanaugh, operating partner at Pints & Union in New Albany, Indiana, just twenty minutes or so from Starlight: “Their single-barrel offerings are some of the best products of their style out right now,” he says, “I’d put their latest single barrel rye up against damn near any rye whisky I’ve tried in the past three years.” And the distillery’s reputation is growing beyond southern Indiana. Last year, the American Craft Spirits Association named their Single-Barrel Bourbon one of the the two best bourbons in the Midwest.
For now, you can buy Starlight products—including some single-barrel selections—in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, along with a smattering of spots on the East Coast.