Drive onto the property of Hard Truth Distilling Co., and it’s like you’ve crossed into another world. Located on a 325-acre, wooded campus in Brown County, Indiana, it spreads across a region renowned for natural beauty and rolling hills that’s attracted famous American impressionists like T.C. Steele (who loved it so much he established his art colony there) and avid bikers who inspired the local state park to install new mountain bike-only trails. But whereas artists and cyclists are obvious fixtures in this kind of environment, Hard Truth breaks new ground here: Part distillery and part amusement park, it’s a gigantic spirits oasis where Indiana rye, sweet mash whiskeys, and coconut rum are the main attractions.
The Most Magical Distillery on Earth
On the property, which was opened in 2017, you’ll find a distillery, a man-made lake, a guest cabin, tour center, and a restaurant. You’ll even see guests floating by in pontoons on a tiki cruise through the property’s stunning hardwood forests, tropical drinks in hand.
If all this sounds out of step with what you’d expect from a distillery, that’s kind of the point. Before taking shovel to soil, Hard Truth’s five co-owners and business partners — including Jeff McCabe and master distiller and co-owner Bryan Smith — planned to supply immersive guest experiences, something lacking in the tours of their neighbors down south on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
“On those tours you get to see a rack house, you get to see barrels of bourbon whiskey, you might see a bottling line working, look into a fermenter, that kind of thing,” McCabe says of more typical Bourbon Trail tours. “And we do that, too — but typically, the average distillery experience for decades would end with a tasting and an instructor in the front of the room teaching you how to taste. For me, it felt like a classroom. From the very beginning at Hard Truth, we tried to make our tours and experiences more interactive.”
If the interactiveness McCabe mentions sounds familiar, it’s probably because the entire project was largely inspired by the ultimate amusement park: Disneyland. The magic of Disneyland and its creator’s achievements inspired the founders of Hard Truth to think big. If you’re ever invited into the brand’s board room, check out the original framed patent applications for Disneyland rides hanging on the walls. When asked about them, McCabe and Smith praise Walt Disney’s mastery of outward appearance versus underlying form — in other words, the idea that it takes a lot of hard work to create something seamless and intricate without the appearance of it being so.
“They come with their whole families. It’s a multi-generational thing — and we thought we could add to that experience.”
Because, like Disneyland, Hard Truth’s campus reimagines an old industry standard. Before Disney’s park opened in California in 1955, theme parks were often rowdy places where adults drank unapologetically and in excess. Disney famously, though, wanted his theme park to cater specifically to children. He prohibited the sale of alcohol on his property, and in so doing, elevated the theme park into the family-friendly destination it is today. And although Hard Truth makes alcohol more available than Disney ever wanted in his parks, having cocktails and spirits flow freely on their own family-friendly property is still something of a novelty to its owners.
“Until recently, a lot of [Bourbon Trail] distilleries’ limitations were based on laws that were still hanging around since Prohibition,” Smith explains. “Many of the distilleries are in dry counties, so they were very restrictive on what could be served or consumed on the property.” At Hard Truth, there are tastings offered on distillery tours and in the tastings center, and alcohol is laid out for guests in the overnight cabin — meaning there are plenty of options available to the 400,000 guests who pass through the property each year.
Of course, at its core, this is all centered around the brand’s spirits: Hard Truth distills its own lines of sweet mash rye, bourbon whiskeys, gin, vodka, rum, and cream liqueurs. To keep up with rising demand, it will soon install three 5,000-gallon fermenters in addition to the current 2,500-gallon fermenters it already has, which will increase the brand’s production by more than 800 percent and transition to 24/7 production. Recently, it opened a new rack house, raising whiskey storage capacity from 4,000 barrels to 12,000. Next year, it plans to open another rack house on the property. And educating the property’s guests about their spirits in an accessible way — especially its rye, bourbon whiskey, and toasted coconut rum — was top of mind when designing the park.
Hard Truth opened its own tastings center in late 2017, followed by its restaurant in July 2018. According to McCabe, tours were offered before the still was even in place. People brought their kids to the boozy, yet still family-friendly, atmosphere. Tours remain only for the 21-and-over crowd, but all are welcome at the restaurant and musical events held at the park. Hard Truth sponsored music festival Farm Aid 2023, and Hud Mellencamp and Levi Collison of Mellencamp Whiskey Co. collaborated with the spirits brand on a series of Sweet Mash Rye Whiskey that will help draw focus to local farmers.
“When you’re at Hard Truth, it connects to a lot of neural pathways that are real memories. These are real trees. We didn’t have to plant them; we didn’t build any of these hills. We haven’t tried to change the landscape as much as we’ve tried to participate in it.”
Back at the campus, the owners want to enrich the land they operate on. “We wanted to take advantage of the natural draw Brown County is,” says McCabe. “And they come with their whole families. It’s a multi-generational thing—and we thought we could add to that experience.”
Brown County resident Rhonda Kuchik says she loves going to Hard Truth for those reasons. “It’s such a special destination. Their vision for what they’re building is so cool. It’s a destination now,” she says. She cites the daily ATV tours as one of the site’s highlights — guests drink, employees drive.
And yes, while kid-friendly, the park is still a drinking destination. Throughout the year, guests can experience mixology classes, Bloody Mars bars on Sundays, and the Hard Truth Single Barrel Selection Experience, a 60-minute experience and tasting session in the private barrel room where master distillers help you pick a single-barrel bottle. They have a cabin for overnight stays, and host annual events like themed dinners or egg-and-beer hunts. And, of course, there are the tiki cruises: The 60-minute tours run on the lake the owners dug, and like everything else at Hard Truth, the experience promises to be tongue and cheek. Tour guides cover tiki culture along with half-truths and quirky stories to fit the mood. The available cocktails, which include tropical offerings like Piña Coladas, star the brand’s coconut rum and its sibling Toasted Coconut Rum Cream.
“When you think of our Toasted Coconut Rum and the folly of going on a tiki tour in the hardwood forests of Indiana — that just seems like fun to me,” McCabe says. “We have good rum, and we have a lake. I’m just disappointed we don’t have a pirate ship out there yet. I will, though!”
Wander around the property, and you’ll spot a “moonshiner’s shack” and the tasting room, where you’ll look up and find a taxidermied turkey peering down from the rafters. Buildings integrate with the hills and hollers. It’s reminiscent of Disneyland’s Frontierland, but it also feels very real —and that’s because you’re still in the middle of southern Indiana.
“If you go down to Disney World [or] to Universal Studios, it’s more of a fantasy, right?” says McCabe. “But when you’re at Hard Truth, it connects to a lot of neural pathways that are real memories. These are real trees. We didn’t have to plant them; we didn’t build any of these hills. We haven’t tried to change the landscape as much as we’ve tried to participate in it.” And for the owners, it was important that the property’s tour guides weren’t just relaying a script, but trying to have a conversation about the spirits created on that same land.
“We want to give people a picture of the process, of the corn that was grown a few miles away,” Smith says. “The beautiful alchemy of making whiskey is it really captures a flavor of the place. The water used to make the spirits is drawn from an aquifer just north of the campus; the grains are grown close by as well.”
What’s next? Expanding the trail system for more walking experiences, and maybe adding another cabin. Maybe two. No, a small lodge. They haven’t decided. Maybe McCabe will get his pirate ship.