Corn is a staple among American farmers and the main ingredient in Old 55’s prize-winning bourbon. Located in Newtown, Indiana, the small-town distillery was the brain child of Jeff Fruits, who decided to go into the whisky business in 2013 and quickly got the rest of his family on board in order to create Old 55 Distillery. The name comes from the nearby highway – Old 55 – and operations began in 2014 as soon as their copper and stainless-steel equipment arrived from Germany.
While the elder Fruits came up with the idea, Jason Fruits and his siblings – Ashley, Aaron and Chris – run day-to-day operations, creating what Jason says is the best whisky on the planet. They start with locally grown ingredients – corn, wheat and barley – that’s raised on a farm outside of New Richmond in Montgomery County. Once they receive the crops, all of the milling, distilling and bottling is done on-site right at the distillery, producing barrel-aged elixir that’s so popular, they’re often sold out.
And it makes sense. Old 55 nearly swept the floor during the 2020 International Whisky Competition, according to the Journal Review. Not only did they take home the top prize for their American Single Malt, but their Single Barrel Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond whisky took second place and their Single Barrel American Single Malt grabbed third.
“All bourbon is whisky, but not all whiskys are bourbon,” says Jason Fruits, who serves as CEO.
While the Fruits are whisky makers who value local ingredients, they aren’t actually farmers. Instead, they run one of the largest grain elevators in the county, serving hundreds of farmers within the area. The business model made sense: if the family already knew corn, why not create a product that only adds to that value while also benefiting the local farmers who raise the commodity?
“My dad is an evil genius,” says Jason, who chuckles at the very idea that he’s back in Newtown after graduating from Purdue. “He doesn’t drink and has never had a sip of liquor in his life. He just wanted to diversify and get us all to come back to Newtown, too. But I would do anything for my dad even if it means coming back home and running the business.”
And even if it takes a lot of time and patience to make a batch that’s worthwhile – and award winning.
“It’s about a seven-day process to actually physically distill a batch,” says Jason. “But then it’s a minimum of four years to age it.”
Beyond just the international awards, Old 55 has another unique spin on an established classic. The distillery currently makes the only 100 percent sweet corn bourbon available and have farmers growing high starch artisanal corn specifically for it. (They also offer a single barrel bourbon made with Hoosier wheat and corn and a 100 percent corn whisky that’s not sweet corn based.) And they do business with hundreds of farmers, which keeps the money within the local community.
“Old 55 is nothing without its community,” says Jason.
But will Old 55 always stay small? For now, that’s the plan, which is good for Fountain County since it puts it on the map for anyone interested in top notch whisky and bourbon, bringing a new batch of tourists to the small town area.