Nick Ladig, a Northeast Indiana native, is the Vice President of Sales for Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery out of Indianapolis. Using his B.S. in Entrepreneurial Management from Ball State, he got his start in craft beer and now sells artisan spirits. He answered some questions about Hotel Tango, its connection to Northeast Indiana, and Fletcher the Cat. Full disclosure: Nick is the author’s (less cool, but way more interesting) brother.
So, what’s the story behind Hotel Tango?
Hotel Tango (military call letters for “H” and “T”) started with Travis (“T”) Barnes, who grew up in Noble County, north of Fort Wayne. After 9/11, he enlisted in the Marines and served 3 tours as a special forces Recon Marine in Iraq. Upon returning to civilian life, he met his wife Hillary (“H”), graduated from law school, and started distilling as a hobby. Fast forward to September 2014, and Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery opened in Indianapolis. The distillery products are named and branded with a military theme to pay homage to the founder’s military roots.
I hear a tasting room might be opening in Ft. Wayne – confirm or deny?
I can neither confirm nor deny. I will say that our Indy location has been wildly successful and we would love the opportunity to recreate this in new locations. Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana will always hold a special place in the hearts of Hotel Tango, since that’s where Travis spent his formative years. BUT, you can find our products now at assorted local restaurants and bars and most of the local liquor stores in and around the area.
Ft. Wayne now has a distillery – Three Rivers Distillery. Are you guys competitors or friends?
I would definitely say we are and will remain friends in the industry. The guys from TRD came down to Hotel Tango a while back to meet the founders. For craft spirits right now, it is very much a “rising tide lifts all ships” mentality.
Why do you think that small batch distilleries are growing in popularity?
I think it is because many Americans are trending towards local and authentic products. I equate it with when you get tomatoes from a neighbor’s garden – they just taste better because they’re as fresh as can be and you know where they came from.
The story is cool, but how’s the product?
It’s really [expletive] delicious. All kidding aside, it has been well received by bars, restaurants, and retailers in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. Our gin has become the top seller, creating the most buzz, but the vodka and ‘cellos are really unique and also selling well. It seems that once we get someone to try the lineup, they find one they are really excited about.
You’re a Certified Cicerone (one of only 26 in the state and the only on in Northeast Indiana) which is to beer what a sommelier is to wine. How does tasting beer compare to tasting cocktails and spirits?
Thanks for noticing. I think the main difference is in the layers of flavors. When tasting beer, it is often much more complex due to the array of ingredients that go into it. Spirits, on the other hand, are so delicate and precise. Many are made with one base ingredient and the process is pretty standard, so there is not a lot of room for error or modification. The tastes are subtle and showcase the use of ingredients and the skill of the distiller.
If I’m new to making cocktails, what’s the first recipe I should try?
As a starter recipe, I would recommend an old classic – like a gimlet. Combine copious amount of Golf Gin, some fresh lime juice, and a little simple syrup. My other guilty pleasure is a nice bourbon Manhattan. I can’t wait until Hotel Tango’s bourbon matures over the next couple of years so I can start enjoying those … responsibly, of course.
OK, so, tell me about Fletcher.
Fletcher is the distillery protector. Whiskey requires grain, which attracts mice, so it makes sense to keep a feline friend around to watch over the grain. We’re not exactly sure if he’s catching rodents, but we don’t have any around so he gets to stay on the payroll. And, he doubles as a support animal for our founder. That’s what allows him to legally reside at the distillery. Shhh…