Get into the holiday spirit on a Sippin’ Tour in Brown County, Ind.

Chicago Tribune

It’s a travel trend that may have begun with wine tastings. Visiting vineyards became so popular, wineries opened in all 50 states.

Then came the craft beer craze, with brewery tours catering to thirsty visitors in cities big and small.

Now, small-batch distilleries lead the curious through the process of producing hard liquor, ranging from top-shelf spirits to grandpappy’s moonshine.

“Across the country, alcohol tourism is on the rise,” said Susan Spagnuolo, owner of Bear Wallow Distillery in Brown County, Ind.


Wine, beer, spirits — this county in southern Indiana has them all, and guided, afternoon bus tours make it easy to sample the gamut.

“People don’t want to drive; they want to be safe,” said Spagnuolo, whose distillery is one of four stops for sampling adult beverages on a Brown County Sippin’ Trip.

The tours, offered through the Brown County Convention & Visitors Bureau, take on a holiday theme on select weekends in late November and early December ($65 a person, must be at least 21 years old). The 3 1/2-hour excursions aboard the the Nashville General Store Express shuttle start and end at Brown County Visitors Center in downtown Nashville, Ind., roughly 50 miles south of Indianapolis. As you board the bus, you’ll get a goody bag with a bottle of water, a boxed lunch and a souvenir. A Christmas stocking is handed out on holiday tours for you to stuff with gifts you’ll get at each stop.

Holiday lights and decorations add to the good cheer that comes with the four to six tastings included at each location. You might get a behind-the-scenes peek, too, depending on the stage of production at each winery, brewery and distillery.


During tours at Bear Wallow Distillery, you’ll learn that making handcrafted Indiana corn whiskey takes seven days, using locally grown grain, yeast and water in an old-fashioned copper still.

Spagnuolo, one of the nation’s few female distillery owners, helped change state law to allow for craft distilleries and began operating the first “legal” still in Brown County. Her Hoosier Hooch Moonshine comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors and is the key ingredient in Spagnuolo’s Moonshine Shake-ups, made by adding an elixir, soda water and fresh-squeezed fruit juice. The lemonade shake-up was named the official cocktail of the Indiana State Fair last year. Another best-seller, Gnaw Bone Bourbon, takes its name from the distillery’s location in the hamlet of Gnaw Bone. Don’t blink on the bus ride there, or you’ll miss it.

Bear Wallow also offers alcohol-infused edibles. Moonshine pickles, anyone?

Down the road in Gnaw Bone, Brown County Winery has been making wine for more than three decades. The family-run operation, part of the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail, turns out about 30,000 gallons a year of dry, semi-sweet and dessert wines made not only from grapes but also from berries and other fruits. Try its strawberry wine, named Fruit Wine of the Year in 2017 at the Indy International Wine Competition, and the Vista Red, awarded best in class. If you want more samples than time on the tour allows, stop by the winery’s downtown Nashville tasting room, open daily.

You’ll sample both spirits and beer at Hard Truth Hills. What started in 2009 as Big Woods restaurant in downtown Nashville evolved into a dining, brewing and distilling enterprise by creating Quaff On! Brewing and Hard Truth Distilling companies. (The Original Big Woods still exists in Nashville, along with Big Woods Pizza and more Big Woods restaurants in several Indiana towns.) Last winter, it opened Hard Truth Hills Welcome Center amid 325 acres of woodlands just outside Nashville. Sippin’ Trippers take a tour and sample its cinnamon vodka. The distillery also makes gin and rum, and plans to launch barrel-aged rye whiskey and bourbon. If suds are more your style, try Busted Knuckle Ale, named for a brewer’s mishap, or any of the seasonal brews.

Sippin’ Trips then head back to downtown Nashville for a stop at Chateau Thomas Winery. It’s named for Dr. Charles Thomas, a physician who turned his winemaking hobby into a business more than 30 years ago. Using imported grapes, the winery produces about 15,000 cases a year of dry reds, whites, sweet, semi-sweet and jug wines. It’s known for its Slender wine, billed as the world’s first naturally sweetened, carb-free wine. Gourmet foods, cheese plates and gift items are available for purchase, and you can browse a Native American art gallery upstairs. Swing by later for live music Friday and Saturday nights.

If you can’t make it to Nashville for a Sippin’ Trip, you can visit each of the establishments for tastings on your own. Two other places have tasting rooms in Nashville too: Salt Creek Winery and Cedar Creek Winery.

With a population hovering around 1,000, Nashville remains a folksy outpost of Indy that plays up its founding as an artist colony. At Thanksgiving and Christmastime, it pours on old-fashioned country charm with storefront window displays, holiday lights and decorations, carolers, candy canes and Santa sightings.


Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is Brown Friday here. Stores and galleries beckon with one-of-a-kind art objects, gifts, crafts and accessories. Candy shops stand ready to provide a sugar boost. Nashville General Store & Bakery satisfies a sweet tooth with pies, pastries and its famous fried biscuits rolled in sugar and cinnamon and served with apple butter.

A Brown County Chamber of Commerce holiday passport program encourages shoppers to fill passports with $500 in purchases for a chance to win prizes. Sippin’ Trippers get at least $50 stamped in their passports for taking the tour.

Holiday events pair nicely with Sippin’ Trips. A tree lighting ceremony and arts and craft show take place the weekend after Thanksgiving. December’s calendar is packed with a holiday show at the Brown County Playhouse, a tour of log homes decked out in holiday finery, an organized run and walk (the 19th annual Reindeer Romp) in Brown County State Park, a light parade, Victorian candlelight dinners and a wine marketplace with tastings from the nine wineries on the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail.

The T.C. Steele State Historic Site, the Belmont home and studio of an early Hoosier impressionist artist, will return to Christmases of a century ago with cookies, cider, crafts, live music and a visit from St. Nicholas on Dec. 2.

The Bill Monroe Music Park, 5 miles north of Nashville, transforms as a faith-based, drive-through light show after dark on select dates from Black Friday — uh, Brown Friday — through the end of the year.

Tiny Nashville is awash in restaurants and lodgings both in town and the countryside. Brown County State Park, Indiana’s largest state park, provides some peace and quiet just outside of downtown Nashville. Its Abe Martin Lodge has dining, motel rooms and cabins. Modern cabin suites, added in 2016, make an especially comfortable spot for Sippin’ Trippers to get cozy.

Katherine Rodeghier is a freelance writer.

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