Throw a stick and there’s a good chance you’ll hit a veteran entrepreneur that’s opening a brewery or a T-shirt company. But a distillery? There’s a handful of them but only one is owned and operated by a combat-disabled veteran.
Enter Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery, located in historic Fletcher Place in downtown Indianapolis. The distillery is the brainchild of Marine Corps veteran Travis Barnes and his wife Hilary. Barnes was in law school when he met his wife, and it was where the distillery bug bit him.
Travis is no stranger to tough times and improvisation — he did three combat tours as an infantryman with 1st Battalion Recon Marines in some of the most fierce battles in Iraq from 2003-2006. He was injured during his last tour and began pursuing a law degree after his service, but soon discovered that law was not the right path for him. And want to talk about improv? He built his first still out of a turkey fryer.
“I was in law school and making whiskey in my backyard on a homemade still,” Barnes says. “I always knew I wanted to do something different, but that didn’t come to fruition until people who tried my first couple batches said it was really good. I never thought about making a career out of making booze, until I saw how much folks enjoyed the product.”
Barnes’s business is also the result of his savvy attention to detail. When a newly enacted Indiana Artisan Distilling Law went before the Indiana Legislature in 2013, he saw an opportunity to turn his passion into a business. Together with his wife Hilary, along with his business partners Brian Willsey, Nabeela Virjee, and Adam Willfond, they made Hotel Tango a reality.