After just one year of business, it’s rare that a distillery can sell its products in the largest supermarket chain in the state. Even rarer is a craft distillery, period, much less one run by individuals with no prior distilling experience. As it turns out, Cardinal Spirits is a rare bird, so be thankful it’s nestled in the heart of Bloomington.

The People

Cardinal Spirits

Photo by Brogan Dearinger

We had the luck of getting to speak with one of Cardinal Spirits’ awesome co-owners, Adam Quirk. After an hour tour of the Cardinal Spirits’ facility, we felt ready to distil our own liquor (not — definitely leave that to the pros).

Because neither Quirk nor his fellow co-founders had a background in distilling, they created Cardinal Spirits with an entirely new perspective on the business. With so many craft breweries and wineries in Indiana, they knew they wanted to start something totally new in the area: a craft distillery.

After three years of trial and error, tweaking the recipes for each of their stellar products, and acquiring the needed equipment to start distilling, Cardinal Spirits was in business. With the likes of Bill Murray watching over the bottling room, it’s no surprise they always crank out great liquor.

The Facility

Cardinal Spirits

Photo by Claire Waggoner

As two students who know absolutely zilch about the distilling process, we came out of our conversation with Quirk as pros (sort of). The still Cardinal Spirits uses to create its liquor is only one of three existing models in the country.

To make the unique flavor combinations Cardinal Spirits is known for, the crew fills botanical baskets in the still to infuse the spirits with flavor while it’s being made. If the liquor needs an extra flavor boost, they’ll add in extra botanicals after the distilling process is over.

If you’re not already mega-impressed with the Cardinal Spirits crew, an added bonus of their operation is that they bottle everything by hand.

#SpoonFact: Cardinal Spirits’ head distiller, Justin, plays his banjo in front of the still when it has technical issues (it’s the secret ingredient).

The Drinks

Cardinal Spirits

Photo by Claire Waggoner

Cardinal Spirits’ alcohol is different by design. They use local ingredients to create alcohol that is unique and has a distinct flavor.

Take their vodka, for example. Normal vodkas don’t generally taste good straight up. The burning smell and taste is generally reminiscent of rubbing alcohol and regret. However, Cardinal Spirits’ vodka is made with grapes, so it has a smooth and sweet flavor (We’ll take a glass of it on the rocks, please).

While it’s got its own flavor, the vodka is versatile. Quirk suggested pairing it with pineapple or orange juice to make a Screwdriver, or just drinking it in a martini.

#SpoonTip: Take your Screwdriver to the next level by adding 2 to 3 drops of orange bitters.

Know what else goes well with vodka? Graduation. Okay, okay, hear us out: Cardinal Spirits is making a special edition vodka, just for graduates. It’s the Class of 2016 vodka, and it’s their delicious vodka with a special label. At just $25 a bottle, what else could make a better graduation gift? Nothing like a little vodka to make growing up more bearable.

To order your bottle in advance, check out their website. They’re available for pre-order, but hurry, they are limited edition.

Cardinal Spirits

Photo by Claire Waggoner

While Cardinal Spirits’ vodka is their most popular alcohol, their Bramble is growing in popularity. It’s a black raspberry flavored vodka that was inspired by the black raspberries that grow rampantly during the summer in Indiana. It’s infused with black raspberries, blackberries, and hibiscus, all of which are locally sourced.

#SpoonTip: Try Bramble in a Moscow Mule. Just mix 1.5 oz. of Bramble with 4 oz. of ginger beer and a splash of lime juice, and voila!

Final Thoughts

Cardinal Spirits

Photo by Claire Waggoner

Whether you’re part of the IU’s graduating class or just enjoy a good drink, Cardinal Spirits’ Class of 2016 vodka is the ultimate college send-off. With locally sourced ingredients and a flavor that’s out of this world, every IU student needs to sample their superb liquors during their college career.