In a more evocative age, the woods of Brown County were thick with law-skirting moonshiners—“stills in the hills,” says Susan Spagnuolo. When the Columbus native decided to get back into the workforce after spending 20 years raising three boys, Spagnuolo figured it was time to open a legit one. “We call ourselves the first legal still in Brown County,” she says.
Tucked smack in the middle of Gnaw Bone, Bear Wallow Distillery opened its still and tasting room in August 2014. Today, in its rural, woods-backed location off Old State Road 46, Bear Wallow produces 15 whiskeys, including the unaged corn whiskey Hidden Holler and their best-selling Gnaw Bone Bourbon. They deliver them straight and in an array of colorful cocktail forms. “If someone wants an old-fashioned, we’ll make an old-fashioned,” says Spagnuolo. “But we like to say, here, try something unique.”
To that end, she points to a menu of flavored moonshines—Hoosier Hooch, obviously—that includes blackberry, salted caramel, and the summer’s best-seller, lemonade. Far from subscribing to the old, slightly romanticized notion of moonshine as bathtub-born rocket fuel, Bear Wallow maintains a pretty progressive approach to the spirit. “We’re trying to change people’s perceptions of moonshine. It used to be something that was pretty high-proof and maybe tasted like gasoline,” laughs Spagnuolo. “These are mild and flavorful. Moonshine shake-ups are some of our more popular cocktails”—so much so that the lemonade moonshine shake-up, made with the distillery’s own booze and recipe, has become a signature drink at the Indiana State Fair.
Bear Wallow also touts a civic claim to fame: A 2014 encounter with a visiting Rand McNally editor resulted in Gnaw Bone’s first-ever appearance in the company’s titles. “We put the Gnaw Bone on the map the first year we were open!” she laughs. True to form, Bear Wallow is as local as it gets: Grains come over from a farm down the road in Columbus, and downtown shops and hotels help with word of mouth. And it’s a family business without outside investors, so much so that Spagnuolo’s son Adam, who graduated from Ball State in 2013, took a gig at Mom’s distillery manning the machines and moved on to become head distiller, taking his place among one of Brown County’s oldest traditions.
4484 E. Old State Rd. 46, Nashville, 812-657-4923, bearwallowdistillery.com