Journeyman Distillery Founder Took Took Circuitous Route To Three Oaks

September 16th, 2016
Journeyman Distillery Founder Took Took Circuitous Route To Three Oaks

THREE OAKS — When he graduated from Missouri State University in 2000, Journeyman Distillery founder and owner Bill Welter thought his career path would lead to being the third-generation president of the First National Bank of Valparaiso, Ind.

But like many others his age, Welter wasn’t quite ready to begin his career and start a family of his own so he decided to further his education. In golf.

Welter packed up his degree in psychology and his experience on the school’s NCAA-ranked golf team and headed for Scotland, to St. Andrews, known worldwide as the “home of golf.”

While playing as much golf as he could, Welter got his feet wet in the hospitality industry while waiting tables. Not surprisingly, he also learned a lot about whiskey since Scotland is home to many of the world’s top distilleries.

Whiskey, which means “water of life,” is like using the term “wine.” There are many varieties of wine depending on the grapes used, and many different varieties of whiskey, depending on the grain used.

“Scotland is an island about the size of Indiana and it’s home to 150 world-class distilleries. Whiskey has a huge impact on their history, their livelihood and their culture. As a visitor, it’s hard not to get into what is so much a part of the fabric of their society,” Welter said.

When Welter returned to Valparaiso a few years later, he found his career path severely altered by the sale of the family bank. His path then led him to whiskey and Three Oaks, via a few farflung stops along the way.

“I bounced around distilleries learning as much as I could about manufacturing spirits. I thought I knew enough, but just enough to be dangerous,” Welter said.

There was time in Tasmania where Greg Ramsey, an Australian Welter met when they both waited tables in Scotland, had opened a small distillery. And he met his wife, Johanna, while working at Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. He also did an internship at KOVAL, an urban craft distiller founded in 2008, the first in Chicago since Prohibition.

In 2010, Welter bought the old Featherbone Factory on Generations Drive in Three Oaks and began rehabbing it to house his own organic craft distillery. The factory was built in 1883 by E. K. Warren, a staunch prohibitionist, for making buggy whips and corsets from featherbones in lieu of the traditional whalebones. This history is seen in the names of some of Journeyman’s products, such as Last Feather Rye, Buggy Whip Wheat Whiskey and Corsets, Whips & Whiskey. Welter believes that Warren would be “proud to see his building shining bright.”

Since opening the fall of 2011, Journeyman has added new products and new markets. The distillery prides itself on using the highest quality grains sourced from Midwestern organic farmers. Journeyman spirits are distributed in 12 states, plus Washington, D.C.

Last fall, Journeyman expand its production capacity fivefold and added to its small bar and eating space with Staymaker, a 125-seat full service restaurant, and Warren Hall, a 500-person capacity meeting space. Included in the expansion are shiny silos to hold 5,000 pounds of organic, Midwestern grain that is ground on-site.

A fifth anniversary party at the distillery (109 Generations Drive) is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2.

The celebration will include the release of approximately 300 bottles of Three Oaks Single Malt, (a 100-percent two-row malted barley spirit).

Live music, cocktails, and the announcement of the still-naming contest winner (the grand prize is a $50 Staymaker Restaurant gift certificate and either a stay at the adjacent Flat or Notre Dame football tickets) also are planned. For more, go to

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