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Women's History Month: Female craft distillery owner helped change Indiana law

Susan Spagnuolo opened Bear Wallow Distillery in Gnaw Bone, IN
Posted at 7:25 AM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 07:25:44-04

GNAW BONE — In honor of Women's History Month, WRTV is highlighting local woman who are blazing trails in their field and making a difference in our communities. For one Brown County business owner, her curiosity and determination helped to bring an entirely new industry to the Hoosier state.

Susan Spagnuolo gathers her tools behind the bar: a knife, a lemon, a bottle of bourbon, some simple syrup, bitters and peach juice.

"It's called a peach bourbon smash," says Spagnuolo as she squeezes the lemon into a mason jar. "We were talking about how do you introduce women to whiskey, this is a great way to introduce women to whiskey, ya!"

Spagnuolo's husband was the bourbon drinker in the household and she enjoyed a glass of wine, but while vacationing in the Carolinas nearly 11 years ago, the pair stumbled upon a little craft moonshine distillery.

The Columbus couple thought about the neighboring town of Nashville, IN and how it bustles with tourists and already is home to a decent amount of alcohol tourism from wine tastings and breweries.

"We thought, that would be pretty cool in Brown County knowing the moonshining history that was prevalent here in Brown County," saID Spagnuolo. "What would it take to open a little craft distillery in Brown County?"

That is when they hit their first road block. Craft distilling was not legal in the state of Indiana at the time, as it is a state by state law. But Spagnuolo did not give up and she contacted her local state senator.

She quickly met two other distilling hopefuls at the time who were already in the process of working to change the state law, who now run Starlight Distillery and Cardinals Spirits.

"Kind of as a group we banded together, and it took us about two and a half years to get that law changed in Indiana, but in 2013 craft distilling became legal in Indiana," Spagnuolo said.

Spagnuolo opened Bear Wallow Distillery in Gnaw Bone, Indiana just steps off of State Road 46. The distillery offers award-winning bourbons and a variety of flavored moonshines. Now that the pandemic is winding down, tours are back and they are preparing to release several new products.

"I mean we are an agritourism business; we use 100% Indiana grains," said Spagnuolo. "We do have 6 aged products. Our Gnaw Bone Bourbon is our best seller. We have a Maple-finished Bourbon that actually won Spirit of the Year in 2019 at the Indiana State Fair."

As a female distillery owner, Spagnuolo says she loves to find new ways introduce women to whiskey.

"I have been pleasantly surprised at how many women come in and are very familiar with whiskey and enjoy whiskey," says Spagnuolo as she tops off the cocktail with peach juice. She screws on the mason jar lids and shakes the cocktail. She explains that this cocktail has an ounce and a half of their 100 proof bourbon in it, but for someone less familiar with the spirit, they would never know.

"People think, oh a woman in the liquor business, that's pretty rare," said Spagnuolo. "And it is."

But as one of the first craft distillery owners in the state which now boasts nearly 50 craft distilleries, she says she tries to help other business owners just getting started by answering any questions she has to help get them going in the industry.

"So now when someone asks me that question, I can direct them," said Spagnuolo. "It doesn't take them as long to figure that out as maybe it took me to figure that out."

Bear Wallow is getting ready to release new products they worked on during the pandemic including a Hickory-finished Rye Whiskey, a Bourbon barrel-aged rum, and a port-finished whiskey.
To schedule a tour, find their spirits and learn more about Bear Wallow Distillery in Gnaw Bone, visit their website.

To visit more craft distilleries across the state, check out the tour from Indiana Grown.