After years of rumors and speculation, Morgan Weber can finally come clean. The partner in Agricole Hospitality (Coltivare, Eight Row Flint, etc) announced Tuesday that he’s opening Indianola Distilling Company in conjunction with master distiller Dave Pickerell.
Weber acknowledged he was working on the project during a recent episode of the “What’s Eric Eating” podcast but said he wasn’t quite ready to discuss details. Now he can share the complex network of relationships he has tapped to bring Indianola to life.
“I think it’s an obvious next step for my personality, honestly,” Weber tells CultureMap. “What I’ve seen (in the market) is product that isn’t necessarily quality driven, it’s just pushed out as quickly as possible, which is not our goal.”
Instead of focusing on speedy production, Weber is working with Houston’s Gulf Coast Distillery and Castle & Key Distillery in Millville, Kentucky to bring the same farm-to-table ethos that powers the food at Coltivare and Revival Market to Indianola’s spirits.
Rather than follow the path of most non-distiller producers like Bulleit or High West who purchase spirits from other distilleries and blend them to create a specific flavor, Indianola will control every aspect of production from which grains are used in each spirit to the yeast used in the fermentation and the barrels they’re aged in. The goal is to produce products that are different than what already exists in the market by recreating the the flavors of the antique spirits that have become one of Weber's obsessions.
“What we’re able to do is say we want this percentage of corn at this percentage of the mash bill,” Weber says. “We’re cultivating our own yeast. The detail-orientation that we have in the barrels is insane.”
Those barrels are made for Indianola by Speyside Cooperage, an Ohio company with roots in Scotland. Compared to those used in regular bourbon production, Weber has selected barrels that are larger, have more growth rings, and a lighter amount of toasting.
To source the proper grains, he’s worked with Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills and David Shields of the University of South Carolina to identify heirloom varieties that were used in bourbons distilled generations ago. For example, Indianola’s Hoggshead Texas Bourbon uses a variety of corn that first came to Texas in the mid-1800s, and its sorghum whiskey, which Weber describes as “more of a rum,” starts with sorghum syrup made by the Anderle family in Yoakum, Texas that Weber has been eating since childhood.
For Indianola’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Weber has partnered with Castle & Key, which uses the Old Taylor distillery built by bourbon legend E.H. Taylor in the 1870s and is led by Marianne Barnes, Kentucky’s first female master distiller. It will be aged in a rickhouse Taylor built and released bottled-in-bond in 2021 when its four years old.
“What we wanted to do was produce bourbon the way we wanted to without a $10 to $15 million project to do it,” Weber says. “Our plan is to launch the brand, contract distill with people who are like-minded and will allow us to be involved with every aspect of the process until we can eventually do a brick and mortar the way we want to do.”
Indianola’s first products will be a peach brandy and an American whiskey that Weber and Pickerell sourced from the Lovell family from Mount Airy, Georgia. A gin made with brandy distilled from wine made with grapes grown in Texas will also be released in 2018. Expect to find Indianola’s products at bar and restaurants in Houston to start with plans for Austin to follow.
Achieving this dream has come at a cost for Weber. In order to avoid violating Texas laws that restrict people who sell alcohol from also making it, he says he’s divested from Agricole’s liquor licenses but remains involved with the restaurants. Weber also realizes his reputation is on the line.
“With as opinionated as I’ve been about bourbon, it has to be good, or people are going to call me out about it,” he says.