The idea for Three Rivers Distilling Company was born from a military relationship.
The co-founders knew each other from years of serving together at the 122nd Fighter Wing.
After years of research and planning, the distillery opened for business March 28, 2016 at 224 E. Wallace Street in downtown Fort Wayne in a building that first housed Holsum Bakery in the 1940’s.
Co-owner Aaron Pence signed up for the military shortly after the September 11th attacks and joined the 122nd in 2002.
He still serves his country having recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan last summer.
Pence said the original idea wasn’t to hire veterans, but it just worked out that way. “It’s pretty cool that the veterans just kind of flock here.”
Since the company opened, at least one member of the staff has been serving in a deployed capacity somewhere around the world. Pence said veterans have a unique set of skills. “You know they’re going to work hard. They’re going to be loyal to the cause and they’re going to provide the best service they possibly can no matter what the mission is.”
One of those veterans with a unique set of skills is Franklin “Bruce” Mevis.
The 65 year old Vietnam War veteran moved to Indiana from Waco, Texas in 1993 and originally had a hard time adapting to the cold winters, but he stuck it out. “Waco is called the heart of Texas”. Mavis said. “That’s where I’m from. Then, I moved to Indiana which is the heartland of America, so I was made to be in the heart of something.” Mevis has even had a change of heart about those cold, Indiana winters. “The winters up here now are easy” he says with a laugh.
Bruce quickly got bored in retirement and was looking for something to stay busy.
Eventually the phone rang and the distillery offered him a contract to redo drywall for the building’s renovation.
It turns out Bruce had several skills the company could use. “When the job got done, I just never left” Bruce said in his Texas drawl.
Pence said Bruce kept wanting to learn more and more about the business, “So every time we could, we would teach Bruce something new.”
Eventually they taught him how to distill.
The distillers came up with the idea to memorialize Bruce as a reward for his hard work.
Pence says Bruce always joked about competing with the younger guys and would often say “I’m gonna be gone one day and you guys are going to forget about me.” Pence says he knew that would never happen, but they wanted to do something special.
They decided to call their new Rye Whiskey “Franklin B. Rye Whiskey” after Bruce’s real name.
When Bruce started working at the distillery, Pence said they would get calls asking for Franklin. “We kept saying there is no Franklin that works here and hang up the phone.” Eventually, Pence said with a laugh that Bruce told him Franklin was his first name, but he never much liked the sound of it.
That changed after the guys pulled off a surprise reveal of the new name. “I kept asking what are we going to call it?” Bruce said. “They never told me it was going to be named after me!”
He didn’t find out until it was time to put on the first label. “I peeled one off. I get ready to stick one on the bottle, and I’m like oh…you guys.” Bruce patted his heart and said “I’m not a person who cries, but I damn near got a tear in my eye then.”
Pence gets choked up remembering it. “Bruce is a big, tough Texan and he kind of choked up a little bit. He put the label on and held it up and was just extremely proud.”
The moment was captured in a picture that proudly hangs on the wall inside Three Rivers Distilling Company.
Mevis says they still call him Bruce at the distillery, but he now goes by Franklin B. when he does tasting events. “Franklin B. Rye has a good ring to it” he smiles. “Now I love it.”
Pence said with pride. “The Franklin B. Rye Whiskey is phenomenal. It’s won a ton of awards. It’s Bruce. It’s Bruce in a bottle.”
To learn more about Three Rivers Distilling Company or to schedule a tour, CLICK HERE.