10 Feb Interview: Hard Truth Distilling Speaks Its Truth About Making Award Winning Whiskey
Originally published on Feb. 8, 2022 in The Whiskey Wash by Gary Carter
Hard Truth Distilling’s first batch of Sweet Mash Rye Whiskey hit the top 100 right out of the gate. The Indiana born spirit is part of a new era of whiskey-making, and the team at Hard Truth are sweet mash pioneers.
Made with 100-percent fresh ingredients and aged in barrels for a minimum of two years, Hard Truth’s debut sweet mash whiskey hit shelves last November. It’s a small-batch blend of 30 barrels which ends up a complex, pleasant, quality rye with a bright aroma, rich taste and smooth finish.
Over the next few years, the distillery will introduce whiskeys from four unique rye mash bills and four unique bourbon mash bills, bringing a variety of distinct offerings to markets around the nation.
Jeff McCabe, co-founder and executive chairman of Hard Truth, and Bryan Smith, master distiller, visited with The Whiskey Wash in a recent interview about their whiskey and about the industry in general.
The Whiskey Wash: What sets the Indiana whiskey scene apart from nearby Kentucky and Tennessee, and even Texas or West Coast whiskey?
Jeff McCabe: “With the passing of the Indiana Rye Act on July 3rd, 2021, we began working to educate the world on the quality of the rye whiskey we are and have been producing here in the state of Indiana. If you look around, there are several distillers in our state, including Hard Truth, who are producing extremely high-quality whiskey with a large-scale vision for future growth.”
TWW: Being named among the top whiskeys for 2021, what has that done for the distillery and the product?
JM: “We’ve had really great success with our non-whiskey spirits over the past six years, though we knew it would take some additional work to get the attention of the whiskey community. Being recognized in the way we have for our first release has really helped that timeline in our favor.”
TWW: Is rye something Indiana does better than most? And how does it factor into the “sweet mash?”
JM: “Indiana has a really robust, recent history of producing some of the highest quality rye whiskeys, represented across a multitude of brands on shelves across the country. Like Kentucky bourbon, distilling education, best practices, techniques, and ingredients are shared within the distilling community in regional circles. I’ve found that distillers tend to want to help other distillers around them make the best whiskey possible, which is why the quality of our whiskeys here in Indiana are so good. Sweet mashing as a whiskey style, in our opinion, makes for a more complex and differentiated whiskey within the market. There are lots of whiskeys out there and standing out and making your mark is not an easy task.”
TWW: How did the idea for Hard Truth come about, and how did you make it a reality?
JM: “With our experience in brewing and restaurants, it was an easy decision to go into distilling when the Indiana Legislature created a pathway for us. Regarding Hard Truth, we have a close affinity with Brown County and its colorful history; moonshiners and revenuers are part of that history. ‘Hard Truth’ seems to embody the essence of what we’re doing.”
TWW: What are some of the highs and lows of starting a new whiskey venture?
JM: “It’s exhilarating to walk a tightrope without a safety net, which is a lot of what the allure of being an entrepreneur is all about. The highs include seeing the liquid come off the still, tasting the finished product, and seeing people’s response to what we’re doing, including the recognition we are getting within the industry. The lows have nothing to do with whiskey; they’re more about navigating the challenges of everyday life while we pursue this dream.”
TWW: What was special about that first distillation that garnered so many awards right out of the gate?
Bryan Smith: “The multitude of decisions that were made from the inception of the dream to build our distillery, to the equipment, whiskey style, partner farmers, grain selection, barrel style, etc., all lead to our first whiskey release as a young distillery. To say we’re obsessive about quality, complexity, and uniqueness in our approach to making that whiskey would be putting it mildly.”
TWW: If you had to sum up sweet mash for the uninitiated, what would you say?
BS: “Well, the process of sweet mashing requires some additional and often more expensive equipment as well as dedicated processes and cleanliness to ensure that you are able to maintain quality and consistency. Once that is set up, you are able to use fresh water, fresh grain and fresh yeast in each cook. Without the addition of backset used in sour mashing, our whiskeys are softer and more complex on the palate and in our case, bursting with ripe orchard fruit and complex sugars.”
TWW: How important are fresh ingredients to your distillate?
BS: “Quality of ingredients are at the core of making great whiskey. We are fortunate to have farmers who are as passionate about growing grain as we are about making whiskey.”
TWW: Is rye whiskey seeing a new renaissance?
BS: “The growth numbers in the market indicate that rye is on the rise, big time. There are misconceptions regarding flavor profiles of rye whiskey, though these seem to be going away as more bourbon drinkers are branching out and trying some of the incredible rye whiskeys being made right now.”
TWW: What is coming up in the near future for Hard Truth?
BS: “With our 325 acres, production distillery, restaurant, music terraces and multiple, awesome tours, we have lots to offer now and in the future as we grow our experiences on our campus here in Brown County. As for the whiskeys, we have four rye mash bills and four bourbon mash bills that are currently resting, yet to be released. I can’t wait for you all to taste them.”
TWW: What is a crazy dream whiskey project you have?
BS: “I’m smack down in the middle of it!”