#Indianapolis – Sitting at Hotel Tango Whiskey‘s Bar is co-founder and vice president of the artisan distillery, Brian Willsey. He’s dressed in causal wear, jeans and a gray Hotel Tango T-shirt complemented by running shoes, which would deceive anyone from thinking that he’s anything more than a patron.
It’s a look that reflects the ethos of Hotel Tango – a place where people can come to drink the craft distillery’s locally made spirits in a relaxed environment.
Opened a little over a month ago, the craft distillery is one of three in the state of Indiana and the first to open its doors in Indianapolis.
“[This whole experience has] been a scary thing and an exciting thing because we’re first to the market in the city, the first to Indianapolis,” Willsey said. “We saw an opportunity here in Indianapolis that hasn’t existed since pre-prohibition, and that’s to make and sell spirits directly to the public instead of going through a distributor.”
Travis Barnes founded Hotel Tango, a name that reflects his military background as a recon marine, along with four other friends – one of which is his wife. Hotel and Tango are words used in the military phonetic alphabet and reflect Barnes’ and his wife’s first initials: Hilary and Travis.
The Barnes and the other founders, which include Willsey, Nabella Virjee and Adam Willfond, saw an opportunity which Indiana state law had provided, a chance to obtain an artisan distiller’s permit and operate with little experience behind them. The law was enacted in July 2013, the catch was Travis and company would have to take advantage of the permit before the deadline: Dec. 31, 2013.
The Hotel Tango Whiskey team were one of three distilleries in the state to achieve the state’s standards to operate, if they would’ve failed to achieve the standards by the deadline they would’ve needed to hold a brewer or distiller’s permit for 3 years.
“We wanted to try it, to get our license,” Willsey said. “If we got our license in the time that was allotted by the state all the better, and if we didn’t we would have just gone back to our day jobs – being lawyers and finance guys.”
As of right now, Hotel Tango offers two of the six different spirits it intends to provide for patrons: rum and vodka. The other four spirits the distiller will offer in the future include whiskey, gin, moonshine and limoncello.
They hope to offer their gin and moonshine before or by Thanksgiving, and whiskey and limoncello before or by Christmas.
As to public reception of Indianapolis’ first service-disabled combat veteran-owned artisan distillery, Willsey thinks Hotel Tango has been well received.
“People have been saying ‘this is what Indianapolis needs, we’re so glad you’re here, we love the space, can’t wait until your other spirits come out,” Willsey said. “Distilling is something that no one has really seen in this state. People are so happy and enthusiastic to see it and have it in their town – it’s just another energizing piece to this Indianapolis puzzle.”
In terms of the future of distilling at Hotel Tango and its future in the state, Hotel Tango and other distillers, aspiring and established, have a few ideas.
Similar to how the brewers of Indiana have a guild which helps promote Indiana breweries and their products, Hotel Tango and other established and aspiring craft distillers hope to start the Indiana Distillers Guild.
Hotel Tango hopes to grow its brand and distilling in the Indianapolis area, eventually the team would like to see its products exported out of the state and even internationally.
Hotel Tango Whiskey is located in the Fletcher Place district of Indianapolis.