FORTVILLE — Mark Pressley describes himself as a bit of a survivalist, but he’s quick to clarify.
He’s not a nuclear-holocaust prepper; you won’t find a bunker in his backyard.
An economic collapse, though? Sure, he’d like to be ready. He has heirloom seeds to grow food and other things to help him survive.
In that vein, he thought about making his own gasoline. He took a 3-gallon pot, a garden hose and did some soldering to make a still for distilling fuel about 12 years ago.
Then he watched a video about someone trying to make their own gasoline, and learned that their house blew up.
“I think my wife’s going to be upset if I do that,” he remembered thinking.
So the still remained in the garage until one day someone helping Pressley side the structure saw the contraption and asked if he made moonshine. After Pressley recounted his short-lived gas-making idea, the helper showed him another use for the still.
Now, Pressley has a 14-foot-tall still, and it’s not in his garage. It’s in his new business, Moon Drops Distillery in Fortville, where he and his colleagues make bourbon, vodka, rum and other spirits. After starting production less than a year ago and going to market less than six months ago, the business’ products are available at over 100 retailers. The company is poised for growth as well, with launches slated for new products later this year and enhancements planned at the facility, which is located at 738 W. Broadway St.
Pressley, founder and president of Moon Drops Distillery, often has friends and family over to his home near Geist for bonfires and pig roasts where they play music and enjoy drinks. As he was working on his craft of distilling alcohol, he taught a close family friend who grew up nearby, Mark Taylor. That eventually turned into a friendly competition over who could make the better booze. Now Pressley works side-by-side with Taylor, Moon Drops Distillery’s co-owner and head distiller. Pressley’s son, Hank Pressley, works at the company as a distiller as well.
All of the distillery’s equipment is made in the U.S., including the 14-foot still, which the staff refer to as “Big Momma.” Pressley said the company’s goal is to in five years have a 34-foot continuous still making alcohol 24/7.
It’s a true “grain-to-glass” distillery, Pressley said, with corn, barley and wheat sourced from area farmers, including in Hancock County. Grain gets milled onsite before getting fermented in one of several tanks that hold a little over 500 gallons. All of the processes are regulated by state-of-the-art controls and the staff’s watchful eyes.
Grain left over from the process goes right to livestock producers as feed.
“It starts with local farmers, and it ends with local farmers,” Pressley said.
A rickhouse on the grounds for storing bourbon has a capacity of 2,000 barrels. Pressley said the business plans to put a stage in front of it for future live outdoor entertainment.
Inside are dozens of 53-gallon barrels of bourbon Moon Drops Distillery has made since June 2021, where they’ll remain for at least four years. By July, Pressley expects to have over 100 barrels.
“That age is really special to bourbon,” he said. “The longer it sits in that barrel, the better it is. That’s where it gets its color, that’s where it gets its flavor. I won’t even touch this for four years, and then it’s subject to if we’re happy with it or not.”
For now, the business’ bourbon is sourced from another provider until its own bourbon ages.
Along with its bourbon, rum and vodka, also among Moon Drops Distillery’s inventory are its Bonfire Blends Moonshine — inspired by those nights by the bonfire at Pressley’s home. While the word moonshine hearkens back to when alcohol was made illegally under the cover of night during its prohibition in the U.S., for Moon Drops, its merely a marketing term. The company name is also a nod to the moonshiners of yore.
The company’s recently released Lemon Shake-Up Bonfire Blend, made with real lemons, was inspired by the popular beverage at the Indiana State Fair and county fairs across the state.
The Peppermint Bonfire Blend’s flavor comes from freshly ground peppermint, and a recipe Pressley first concocted crushing candies with a hammer. Moon Drops wanted to wait until winter before releasing that product, but Pressley said demand is prompting an earlier date, likely in June. An apple-inspired Bonfire Blend is slated to come out this fall.
Later this month, bottles bearing Moon Drops Distillery will be in about 130 retailers, Pressley said. The company started production shortly after finishing its distillery in June 2021 and released to market in November of that year.
Moon Drops Distillery also makes alcohol for other distilleries to use in their products.
“We’re sourcing for others now,” Pressley said. “This helps pay our bills too.”
The business is working on a tasting room Pressley hopes to open in late August, which he envisions being open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Large windows provide a view into the distillery, and Moon Drops is also planning to put in a stage, have an area for merchandise and invite food trucks from area restaurants.
Along with the Pressleys and Taylor, the business also has an office manager, and an assistant distiller is coming on board. Pressley is working on hiring possibly two more to help with sales, and he anticipates an additional eight when the tasting room opens.
“It got bigger than I expected it to get,” Pressley said. “I envisioned making flavored moonshine and selling out of a little strip mall over by the lake.”
No matter how big it gets, it’ll always stem from his desire to create, he said.
“I like to make things, and I take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “We make our stuff. It’s fun. It was a tip of the hat to moonshiners because they were doing it right, they were making alcohol right. We believe we’re making alcohol right, and early results are saying we are. We’re escalating fast.”