25 Oct Hi & Mighty Distillery, the Welcoming and Killer Artisan Distiller at the State Fairgrounds
A new artisan distiller has taken up residence in Indianapolis, and their unique location is just part of their appeal. Hi & Mighty Distillery has been selling their canned cocktails since the spring of this year, but now they are ramping up to open their tasting room and distilling their own spirits at the state fairgrounds. I spoke to co-owner Dan Fahrner about their enterprise and some of the unique aspects of their venture.
Indiana On Tap (IOT): What is the story behind the distillery’s name?
HI & Mighty Distillery (H&M): Two of our company values are “playful” and “neighborly” so when it came time for naming we knew it needed to fun, welcoming, and punchy. Hi & Mighty is a play on words: “Hi” is welcoming and inclusive. “Mighty” represents our ability to make a killer drink and show you a great time. Ultimately, Hi & Mighty is all about celebrating gifts and wins in life, big AND small.
IOT: Who are the people involved in the venture and what are their backgrounds? How did you all get together?
H&M: Our three founders have been close friends for over ten years. Jamie and Dan Fahrner have been married for 13 years with four boys in the family. They met Nick Traeger playing music at church about ten years ago, while he worked in fine dining. Jamie and Dan decided they wanted to start a business together based on their family value of celebration, and making cocktails has been a longtime fun hobby. Nick has been a self-professed local spirits nerd with an incredible palate. When the idea came up, it gelled quickly with the three co- founders owning portions of the business that suit their strengths and experience: Nick as head Distiller, drawing on his experience as a long time fine dining chef, Jamie will be the Tasting Room GM and mama bear/ultimate people person, Dan will act as the CEO to cover sales, marketing, finance, “business stuff”
IOT: How did you come to be located at the state fairgrounds?
H&M: The fair has been looking for unique ways to tell the story of Indiana agriculture, and to make the fairgrounds more of a regular destination. In late 2020, we were introduced through a close friend and it turned out they had a few buildings they were considering leasing. The co-founders all live within a few blocks of the fairgrounds so this was a bit of a dream scenario, and there was mutual interest right off the bat!
IOT: What are your current and planned products?
H&M: Our current products include our twin gins – the Big Hearted Floral Gin and the Big Fuss Savory Gin, as well as our Lemon Shake Up canned cocktail. Our future products will include a Campari/Aperol-like called Amore Amaro, an Aperol Spritz-like cocktail called Main Squeeze, a coffee with mint liqueur canned cocktail, and our American brandy.
IOT: What is your philosophy of distilling – very traditional, or innovative, or in between?
H&M: Our philosophy may be a bit more innovative than what you would typically see at a craft distillery. This is because we consider ourselves more of a cocktail company that makes its own spirits. We’re very interested in using local fruit, produce, and botanicals to make unique liqueurs, brandy, and spirits that will allow us to create fun cocktails at our tasting room, and also empower our audience to experiment with fun cocktails at home.
IOT: Do you have your artisan distillers permit?
H&M: We will have our artisan distillery permit in the fall of 2022. We currently have a state distiller’s permit, which allows us to produce the products, just not sell direct to consumers via a bar or tasting room.
IOT: Are you blending and bottling other people’s products or are you already producing spirits?
H&M: We are currently producing our own products exclusively. We are renting equipment at 8th Day Distillery to make this happen. They have been incredibly generous to us!
IOT: With your focus on cocktails, it is interesting that you are choosing to distill your own spirits instead of being a blender and canner. Why is it important to you to be the producer of your own juice?
H&M: This is something we wrestled with early on. With our brand value of celebration being the focal point of the business, we knew we wanted a physical space that would reflect that. The more we dug into it, we realized that making our own spirits in our own space allowed us to be more creative with limited releases and also to tell a better story. Plus it’s way more fun than simply buying spirits from suppliers.
IOT: When do you expect that your distillation and fermentation equipment will be ready to go at your location?
H&M: Most of our equipment will be ready in early November, while our still will likely be finished in December. There is a unique story about our still, we’re purchasing half of it from 8th Day Distillery! They are upgrading their pot still from 250 to 500 gallons, so we’re buying the 250 gallon pot from them, which is then being retrofitted with our custom brandy hat by Vendome copper down in Louisville. 8th Day’s column is also being retrofitted onto their new pot by Vendome. It’s a win-win for both of us.
IOT: Who made/is making your distilling and serving equipment?
H&M: Our still is a pot still made by Vendome down in Louisville. It’s unique in a few ways, including that it includes a copper brandy “hat” that will allow us to make brandy. We’re buying the base pot from 8th Day Distillery here in Indy, and the brandy hat will be retrofitted on top. This is possible because 8th Day is expanding and adding a larger pot to their own still. We’ll also be primarily serving draft cocktails at our bar, which will function more like a brewery including rotating taps, and special kegs that “stir” the cocktails.
IOT: What are your short-term and long-term plans – both licensing and production and tasting-wise?
H&M: Short term, we’re focused on getting our bar open at the fairgrounds, and releasing a few additional canned and bottled products to liquor stores and bars. Long term, we’re very interested in finding a few niche products that have legs and would allow us to expand regionally or nationally. We will always be experimenting with unique spirits and drinks via our tasting room to find these niche products.
IOT: Will you have food at the tasting room, and can you give me a feel of the amenities at the tasting room (TVs, games, décor, style, etc.)?
H&M: Yes, we are planning an “elevated concessions” style food option by partnering with Turchetti’s Salumeria and deli (Fountain Square) which will serve pizza by the slice, handmade sausages, etc. Think ‘food hall’ as far as how it will function within our space.
IOT: The State Fairgrounds charges a substantial fee to park, how will you handle parking for people coming to your taproom?
H&M: Thankfully, parking charges only occur during events, most days there is no parking fee at all! For days that have events, we’re working on a validation system with the fair so that people visiting Hi & Mighty won’t have to pay to park.
IOT: Are you selling in distribution? If yes, who is your distributor and what ratio of sales do you believe you will want to hone in on distro:tasting room?
H&M: Yes, we’re currently selling in distribution with Crossroad Vintners here in Indy. They distribute our canned cocktails as well as our “Twin Gin” bottled spirits. We estimate about 45% of our revenue will come from distribution over time, mainly via canned cocktails at first and eventually bottled spirits playing a larger role in our sales.
IOT: What haven’t I asked you about that you wish people to know?
H&M: Our tasting room bar will open in spring 2023 and a large cocktail garden will soon follow. Other than that… two of the cofounders are in a band called Willis Miller, which is led by our distiller Nick.
It sounds like Hi & Mighty has the right attitude to join the Indiana craft beverage scene. They care about the artisan nature of production, innovation as a way to push the envelope, and they look to care about their patrons and the experience they have at Hi & Mighty. Support them by finding their canned cocktails and gins in the stores and restaurants, and then make sure to visit them when they open in the spring of 2023.