Two unique and controversial examples of Americana – Prohibition-era speakeasies and post-WWII neighborhood taverns – have long faded into history.
But not completely. A similar aura can be felt in a distillery operating in Columbus, that many people may not have discovered yet.
Savage Distilling, Inc. is just around the corner from Donut Central and north of the Mutt Tubbs N Stylin’ Dogs.
The tasting room, distillery, bar and food service is tucked into a space next to the Columbus Rock Climb at the intersection of 15th Street and Cottage Avenue.
Their nearest competing distilleries – Hard Truth and Bear Wallow – are located in Brown County.
After legally forming his company on Aug. 14, 2017, owner and proprietor Mike Arbuckle first applied for all necessary permits before opening up his doors at 1561 Cottage Street on Nov. 5, 2017. It took a little while longer before he obtain both authorization and equipment to begin distilling his own spirits.
Unlike the speakeasies from the 1930s, you won’t find jazz bands or Charleston-dancing flappers here. But Savage Distilling does have adrenaline-pumping music that goes well with their wide selection of spirits including wheated bourbon, white rum, barrel-aged rum and rye whiskey.
There are also exotic drinks such as the Moonchelada – similar to the spicy Mexican beer and tomato juice drink called a Michelada. Or if you’re feeling especially daring, there’s the Mimosa – a mix of champagne with orange juice with a shot of jalapeno moonshine.
“Everybody loves (jalapeno moonshine),” Arbuckle said.”Our customers are wanting to get it in bottles.”
The proprietor and his female companion, Adrienne Bowles, have also worked together to come up with menu items that include Hoosier favorites and unusual culinary delights.
“I don’t like to toot my own horn, but there have been several people who say we have the best chicken wings in town,” Arbuckle said. Other customer favorites include brisket grilled cheese, pulled pork sliders and brisket chili.
Want something Mom used to make? Try the chicken and dumplings with a side of green beans.
Maybe a simple dish that reminds you of your childhood? Order the grilled peanut butter and syrup ‘sammich’, as Arbuckle called it as a small boy.
The origin of Savage Distilling, Inc. goes back to Arbuckle’s childhood, when his grandfather, Logue Branum of Elizabethtown, allowed his grandson to assist him while he was making wine.
“I knew he had done some distilling, although I never had a chance to do it with him,” Arbuckle remembers.
After attending Columbus North High School, Arbuckle was attending classes at Indiana Business College when the U.S. was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
Eventually, the wars that followed the attacks motivated Arbuckle to enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2003. Following basic training, Arbuckle spent half of his four-year enlistment as an engineer working in the heat of Iraq. The other half had the Columbus native stationed in the frigid cold of Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska, he said.
Honorably discharged as a non-commissioned officer in 2007, Arbuckle spent two more years in the Indiana National Guard, joined the Carpenter’s Union and worked for the Indianapolis-based Wilhelm Construction for 14 years.
But when he wasn’t at a construction worksite, Arbuckle picked up where his grandfather left off. He began studying the craft of distilling spirits, as well as coming up with unique food dishes. When he felt he had come up with enough recipes, Arbuckle contacted his lawyer for guidance in legally creating a distillery and eatery.
“Once I opened up my business, I did both jobs for as long as I could,” he recalls. “But I’ve learned that you are always on the clock when you are the owner.”
Rather than depend on large loans, Arbuckle said he was able to open his business with his own savings.
“I didn’t have any extra money, so I was a little nervous,” Arbuckle said. “There have been days when I’ve walked in here and wondered ‘what did I get myself into?’” But other days, I look around and just see what I’ve got.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemis, the capacity of Savage Distilling is very limited at this time. But the small size is what is most reminiscent of the neighborhood taverns from the mid-20th century. In addition, low overhead costs has helped the owner keep his establishment afloat.
Smaller bars are preferable to Arbuckle because he says they are more cozy, which makes everybody more social.
“You can walk in here by yourself one night, and you’ll end up knowing whoever is at the bar that night,” the owner said. “You don’t spend your time here just looking at your phone.”
But there’s no argument that Savage Distilling, Inc. is outgrowing its space. Despite the small size, it was recently voted the No. 2 distillery in a regional poll that includes a number of counties, and has accumulated nearly 2,000 followers on its Facebook page. New labels have just arrived, and there are tentative plans to start outside distribution by the end of this year, Arbuckle said.
“I do need more space, especially in the back,” Arbuckle said. “I’d love to have a little more space up here in the bar and dining area, too.”
But for now, Arbuckle and Bowles are satisfied with their cozy space, where they can, as he puts it, “become engaged in research and development.”
So what exactly is R&D in the distillery business?
“Making a few cocktails and discovering what goes with it,” Arbuckle said. “That’s the fun part.”
For more information
To learn more about Savage Distilling Inc., 1561 Cottage Ave., visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Savage-Distilling-LLC-1897065610553217/.
Customers must be 21 years old or older to enter.