Most of Firecracker Hill now belongs to owners of the Big Woods family of companies.

Philip and Royann Hammes sold their 231 acres to RT4 LLC last month.

RT4 LLC, Red Truck LLC and QORH LLC now own 15 parcels of land in Brown County. They’re the home of Big Woods Brewing Co., Big Woods Pizza, Big Woods Village, Quaff ON! Brewing Co., and land next to the fairgrounds which is being shaped into Hard Truth Hills, a brewery, distillery and recreational area.

The partners decided to buy more land for ease of access to their new development, said Nashville resident Edward T. Ryan, CEO and president of Quaff ON! Brewing Co.

“It hasn’t changed our vision,” Ryan said. “We’re not planning on putting an amphitheater or anything there.”

The owners of Quaff ON! bought 94 acres of the large, forested land mass in December. At the same time, they announced plans to build Hard Truth Hills, a new tourist destination to showcase the company’s brand of craft liquors and increase the company’s beer-brewing capacity.

The challenge they’ve been having is where to put the entrance because of sight lines and speeding in that stretch of Old State Road 46. Ryan said a solution might be putting a four-way stop at the intersection of Old 46 and Snyder, but that hasn’t been decided yet.

Their original 94 acres are in two parcels diagonal to each other. One abuts Old 46 and Memorial Drive next to the fairgrounds; the other is landlocked except for where it touches the other parcel at a corner.

Ryan said they were unable to come to an agreement with the Hammes family about gaining access, so the family decided to sell. This gave the company more options for entering and building parking areas.

Courtesy of Miller Architects
Courtesy of Miller Architects

The Quaff ON! partners told locals in January that they’d only build on about 5 acres and leave the rest “a park-like atmosphere.”

Plans for the buildings have changed since then, but the overall vision hasn’t, Ryan said.

The current site layout — which is still being tweaked — shows the main entrance at the intersection of Snyder Road and Old 46, leading up to the hill next to the fairgrounds. That’s where a rack room to age bourbon would be built, with a 17,000-square-foot distillery nearby.

For comparison, the Big Woods Village building downtown and the Quaff ON! brewing facility on State Road 135 North are each about half that size, Ryan said.

There will also be a timber-frame “visitors center” at Hard Truth Hills where guests can learn a little about the history of Brown County and choose which kind of tour they’d like to take. They could also order a picnic lunch of Big Woods Brewing Co. food; a small restaurant will be on site.

Tours could include a “hard-hat tour” of the distillery and/or brewery, biking or hiking on existing logging trails throughout the property, or a “moonshine experience” in which guests could make their own brew in the woods with staff guidance.

“It’s what you’d expect to do if you come to Brown County,” Ryan said.

Current plans also show a 10,000-square-foot indoor beer garden/event center and a pond at Hard Truth Hills.

Ryan said the idea was to make this property a different experience than the Big Woods complex downtown, where Big Woods Pizza and the original Big Woods Brewing Co. restaurant operate. Those two restaurants are often full with more people waiting.

When finished, Ryan estimates Hard Truth Hills will add 50 to 100 jobs to the Brown County economy, depending on how popular the tours are.

The details

The 231 acres are zoned R1, primary residential, Planning Director Chris Ritzmann said. The land also has a separate classification for tax purposes, and about 126 acres of it are classified forest, deputy assessor Diane Davern said.

Besides homes, uses allowed in R1 zoning under the county’s ordinance include equipment storage, public parks, parking and more than 40 other purposes, ranging from mortuaries and mobile home parks to country clubs and churches.

Taverns are allowed in general business and industrial zoning.

Ryan said he didn’t really want to ask for the entire property to be rezoned, but its current classifications wouldn’t allow Hard Truth visitors to enjoy it.

The company’s plan is to ask the town to annex the whole 231 acres and rezone it for business, Ryan said.

As of July 30, that request has not been put on any town agenda yet, and the owners had not petitioned the town for annexation, said Town Manager/Economic Development Scott Rudd.

Owners of annexed land pay county and town property taxes.

By taking this land out of classified forest, the new owners will have to pay back 10 years of property taxes at a higher rate, Davern said. Up until this year, classified forest land was assessed at only $1 per acre, she said.

The town annexed the original 94 acres by request in April. But they don’t officially become part of the town until Jan. 3, 2018, so that the town will be able to capture as much new assessed value as possible when the state takes a one-time “snapshot” of the property.

Ryan said he’d request this time that the annexation be effective immediately.

But first…

A new brewing building of about 13,000 square feet will come in phase two of the project, Ryan said. Earlier this year, the owners had told neighbors of the Quaff ON! plant in the Orchard Hill area that they’d move all brewing to Hard Truth Hills, but that won’t happen immediately.

In the meantime, they plan to move brewing operations from their Martinsville building to the Quaff ON! facility, and modify the former bowling alley on State Road 135 North to minimize odors escaping from it, Ryan said.

Road building is already in the works at Hard Truth Hills, and after the state signs off on building plans, the company could start laying foundations rather quickly, he said.

He thinks the visitors center and distillery could be finished by this fall season and they could be making bourbon by early to late spring.

But several steps of approval would have to come first, including annexation and rezoning by the town.

Right now, the town council is dealing with other issues related to this project. It’s seeking approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to put all of Firecracker Hill into its water service territory so that no other water provider can claim Quaff ON! or any other customer.

Brown County Water Utility has also declared its intent to serve the Hard Truth Hills property.

Quaff ON! already is the town’s biggest water customer, and it’s expected to use three to five times more water when the development is finished, Utilities Coordinator Sean Cassiday said.

The town and Ryan signed a water service contract for the new property May 19, and the town already has a line at Hard Truth Hills, Ryan said.

The water service case has not been decided yet; the IURC has set an evidence hearing for September.

From the archives: Firecracker Hill history

Firecracker Hill has been considered for development more than once.

In the mid and late 1980s it was known as Fireworks Hill and it was owned by Fox Run Development Corp.

Two groups of investors tried, in 1984 and 1988, to build a 250-room motel, convention center and tennis courts on 330 acres of that land, according to Brown County Democrat archives. The development also would have had a lake surrounded by a 27-hole golf course. One vision also included condominiums.

Fox Run was projected to add 220 jobs to the local economy.

Both times the project was proposed, it never got off the ground, either because of funding or lack of access to sewer, the archive stories said.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.