By Sherri Coner
Brooks Bemis of Center Grove has the biology and chemistry skills along with the patience and creativity necessary to create whiskey and gin.
As an extra bonus, this Center Grove High School and Franklin College graduate also happens to be a history maker.
This new business path began in the summer of 2017 when Bemis officially founded Haberdasher Artisan Distillery.
He started looking “for a glorified mop closet for a small distiller,” he said with a laugh.
Eventually, Bemis not only found a place that was actually larger than a mop closet, the location was also rich with stories.
The Garment Factory Events building in downtown Franklin became the home for Bemis’ new passion.
“Things just grew from there,” he said.
The opportunity to be a history maker came along less than a year later, when the business became Johnson County’s first active distillery since the Civil War era.
Another part of this “meant to be” story has everything to do with the term haberdasher, which once described a male selling men’s fine clothing.
In 1920 when the Prohibition Era began, that career became a favorite cover for bootleggers. Bottles of alcohol could be successfully sneaked from seller to buyer under the guise of buying a new suit.
For Bemis, nothing could be more perfect than mixing the distillery launch with the garment factory on Wayne Street in downtown Franklin.
Curiosity about creating spirits accidentally developed when Bemis and his wife, Lauren occasionally visited area distilleries to enjoy cocktails.
They enjoyed the drinks and atmosphere, but Bemis found himself also drawn to artisan tales of how their businesses came to be.
“I really loved hearing the stories,” he said of how and why other artisans found the distillery path. “And everything just grew from there.”
Distilling can be a risky undertaking since some concoctions require a lot more than a year or two or even a lot more aging before glasses can line a bar.
Beginning with the necessary grains, always purchased from local farmers, mashing is the first step of the process which includes mixing and heating corn and rye in hot water before adding barley.
The mash ferments for three to five days.
Distillation and aging follow, which can require years.
After spirits such as a bottle of bourbon is declared deliciously ready, filtration and bottling happens.
When Bemis created and then waited years for his whiskey to be perfect, the outcome led to a serious business plan.
“Our first couple of barrels of bourbon were a gift from God,” he said with a laugh. “We even kept some of those bottles just to share later.”
Longtime buddies and his brother Beau Bemis have also offered helping hands, from toting bags of grain to the distiller to helping with the construction, painting and every other task necessary to open a tasting room.
Including a menu is also a win with customers since distilleries don’t always serve food.
“Our favorite thing to do is to offer private tastings,” Bemis said of the recently completed tasting room which limits parties to 20.
“We have a total of seven working here now,” he said of the staff. “We manufacture, age and bottle everything. From grain to bottle, right here in 1,500 square feet. We’re proud of that.”
Haberdasher Artisan Distillery
81 E. Wayne St., Franklin, inside the Garment Factory Special events building.
Call 317 526-3679 to reserve a time and date for a private party in the newly opened tasting room.
Hours when the tasting room is open to the public:
Tuesday and Thursday: 2 to 8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.