The craft food craze that has swept the country in the last decade has taken its time reaching some towns and communities.
From craft distilleries and breweries to sweet shops and savory eateries, the U.S. economy has oriented to the service sector, in part because consumers want locally grown, made and served drinks and food.
Coming from Westminster, Colorado, a northwest suburb of Denver, Howard and Laura Tuthill left a city where their first craft distillery was a drop in a large pond of craft distilleries, and moved to a Midwest town where their second distillery will be the only one in town. Iron Shoe Distillery, located at 3 North Third St. in Niles, is the newest addition to Michiana’s craft scene.
So named from the lore of St. Dunstan and the tradition of hanging horseshoes over entryways to ward off devils and bad spirits, Iron Shoe is a place for good “spirits,” owners Laura and Howard say. When the couple moved to Niles in 2017 to be closer to Laura’s family and home turf in Granger, they saw the potential of introducing a craft distillery to the growing downtown.
With his skill of distilling whiskey, rum and vodka, developed from his first distillery, Whistle Hare, Howard quickly realized he had to bring his skills to Niles.
“We knew we wanted to be in Niles. We loved the downtown area and the feel, not only just to live in Niles, but to have a business as well,” Howard said. “Especially with the trend that’s going on right now in the downtown area to revitalize the downtown and bring new businesses and interests.”
Iron Shoe is located in an old muffler shop, which lent itself well to setting up the vodka column, mash tank and aging barrels in the former garage. The renovated space showcases a bar and dining room with a long wood bar top, painted images relating to the Michiana region and a decorative industrial esthetic.
While the renovation was done over the better part of the last two years, anticipation has been building in the Niles area. In spring 2019, locals will finally get the first tastes of the distillery’s liquors and gourmet dishes.
Howard is a whiskey man, as a drinker and as a crafter.
“I like whiskey just because that’s what I enjoy to drink,” he says. “And then I just like the creativity and flexibility with it, especially with our process. It’s a small batch so each barrel that I fill is completely different from the one before that.”
Iron Shoe features three different bourbons: a four-grain, a three-grain and a two-grain. The four-grain is comprised of corn, rye, barley and chocolate malt. The three-grain has corn, rye and barely, and the two-grain is essentially Howard’s vodka recipe that is not run through the vodka column.
In his rum recipes, Howard uses a lot of molasses to bring out the classic Caribbean flavor. Even his white rum has humming notes of caramel and molasses. Eventually Iron Shoe will have a wine barrel aged rum, Howard says.
Even Iron Shoe’s vodka has its own flavor, according to Howard. Although traditional vodka is intended to be neutral to the point of being practically odorless and tasteless, Howard cannot help but play with flavor profiles to create his own concoction.
“I want there to be something that differentiates my spirit from any other vodka you might find on the shelf, and have it not just taste like rubbing alcohol,” Howard said.
Iron Shoe will also feature its own limoncello and a crème liqueur, which will have names relatable to the local area. Although Howard has left room for the bar manager to design house cocktails, one of the mainstay cocktails is the spiced orange jalapeño Moscow mule, garnished with one orange slice and one jalapeño slice.
Despite Howard’s trade, all too ironically, Laura is not a drinker. But she has a passion for providing local grown food with an artisan twist. Paired with Howard’s bourbon are gourmet burgers made with antibiotic and hormone-free meats and locally grown vegetables, family recipes like Laura’s aunt Gale’s mac and cheese served with a waffle, quinoa salad, honey butter corn and other plates as unique as Howard’s liquors.
All of the drinks and foods at Iron Shoe are centered on the simple principles of quality crafted food and community, according to Howard and Laura. While eating naturally brings people together, the Tuthills have already planned events to draw Michiana natives and visitors to their new establishment. From a St. Dunstan’s Day festival and distillery tours, to painting with a twist and cocktail making classes, Iron Shoe will be an attraction for drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
“We’re looking at that social piece,” Laura said. “We’re brainstorming ideas to bring the community in in social ways.”
“I come back to that social component … meeting so many different people, being able to talk to them, develop relationships and friendships,” Howard said. “It’s fun and that’s what I really enjoy.”