If it seems like local distilleries have been busy this year, 2016 will be even more exciting. New producers are opening, venerable ones expanding and favorites evolving in other ways.
Tom’s Town Distilling
Political boss Tom Pendergast guaranteed Kansas City stayed wet during Prohibition, and Tom’s Town Distilling Co. will pay homage to that legacy when it opens at 17th and Main streets in early January.
The distillery’s vodka and gin will be immediately available, but we’ll have to wait a few years while its whiskey ages. Meanwhile, Tom’s Town will offer a line of curated whiskeys, beginning with a 10-year-old bourbon.
Guests can sample that and its other spirits in the tasting room, which will also have table seating, cocktails and a small plates menu.
“It is in the truest sense a tasting room,” says David Epstein, who founded the distillery with friend and longtime business partner Steven Revare. “The point is for people to try our stuff and become evangelists and believers in our brand.”
The project in some ways brings Epstein and Revare full circle with their own family histories. Epstein’s grandfather was a bootlegger during Prohibition, albeit one who operated on the wrong side of Pendergast. Revare is related to Maurice Milligan, the U.S. Attorney for Western Missouri who prosecuted Pendergast. That all went down during The Great Experiment, against a backdrop of Jazz Age glamor, and it all filters into the Tom’s Town experience, Epstein says.
“It’s an era, it’s a spirit, it’s an entire vibe,” he says. “You’ll walk away feeling you’ve been into a different time.”
Lifted Spirits Distillery
The Crossroads Arts District will get another distillery this spring, when Lifted Spirits Distillery opens at 17th and Cherry streets. It will likely begin bottling spirits in February and be open to the public by April, says Kyle Claypool.
“It’s coming along very quickly now,” says Claypool, who founded the distillery with friends Darren Unruh and Michael Stuckey.
Lifted Spirits will initially make vodka, several gins and an absinthe based on a 19th century European recipe. All of Lifted Spirits’ products will begin with grain “sourced as locally as we can,” Claypool says.
Guests can see how it all works by taking a free tour, then sample products, sip cocktails and experiment at an infusion bar stocked with herbs, botanicals, fruit and other ingredients. The second floor also boasts 4,000 square feet of event space.
“Distilling has a rich culture that goes back centuries,” Claypool says. “It was part of the community. Every farm, every family had a still, and people gathered there. We want to explore that and bring that back.”
McCormick Distilling Co. in Weston is expanding its premium portfolio, most recently by purchasing Broker’s Gin. The London dry-style gin was created by brothers Martin and Andy Dawson in 1998 and went on to win accolades, including the Chairman’s Trophy for best gin at the 2010 Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
The Dawsons have long distributed McCormick’s Tequila Rose and other brands in the U.K. and Europe, so the Broker’s deal just made sense, says distillery president Mick Harris.
“When (the Dawsons) reached the stage in their life where they were looking for a new set of challenges, we were a natural fit for them,” Harris says.
McCormick will continue operating Broker’s London office, which has five employees, and distribute the gin in 40 countries including the U.S. The gin itself will still be made in the 200-year-old distillery near Birmingham, England, that the Dawsons used.
Back home, McCormick recently finished renovating its original distillery, which was built in 1856. The company installed a new still, fermenters and other equipment and soon will begin filling barrels with bourbon for the first time in 30 years.
Although the guts of the distillery are new, everything else takes a page out of McCormick’s past, Harris says.
“It’s the same water source, the limestone water that’s such an important part of whiskey distilling, the same flora and fauna that influence the yeast, the same aging warehouses with the same conditions,” Harris says. “There’s lots of history with a little new technology to create fantastic Missouri bourbon.”
Unaged spirit will be bottled now, corn whiskey in six months and bourbon in three years, Harris says. Want a closer look at the 159-year-old distillery? McCormick will offer tours beginning in April.
Of The Earth Farm Distillery
Missouri has a long apple-growing heritage, and JD Price embraced another tradition when he began turning part of his crop into apple brandy in 2012. His Of The Earth Farm Distillery has since added Ray County Rye, which includes some locally grown rye; grappa made with Norton-Chambourcin grape pomace; and blackberry brandy using berries from Mule Barn Berries in Lathrop, Mo.
This year Price also introduced pommeau, a blend of apple brandy and apple juice, after reading “Traditional Distillation Art & Passion” and hearing author Hubert Germain-Robin (master distiller, master blender and creator of an eponymous line of craft brandies) speak.
“It’s semi-sweet, and it’s got really nice, fresh apple aromatics,” Price says. “The sugar comes from the apple juice.”
The distillery will offer samples of the pommeau ($25 per 375-milliliter bottle) Saturday at its stall at City Market. While some local retailers carry Of The Earth’s apple brandy, its full range of products is only available at the year-round market. Price and his partner, Sarah Burnett Price, sell their farm’s lamb and Berkshire pork there, too.
Dark Horse Distillery
The New Year will bring a new moniker for Dark Horse Distillery in Lenexa, which will become Union Horse Distilling Co. beginning Jan. 1. The move follows settlements in two trademark disputes, one with a California winery and another with a brewery in Michigan.
“It’s kind of exciting,” general manager Eric Garcia says of the change. “We’ve been dealing with these lawsuits for over two years. We’re done, and we’re back to the business of making whiskey.”
Garcia; his siblings Damian Garcia (director of sales and marketing), Patrick Garcia (master distiller) and Mary Garcia Gallagher (director of special events); and entrepreneur Kris Hennessy founded the distillery in 2010. They now make Reunion Rye, Reserve Bourbon, Rider Vodka and Long Shot White Whiskey. They’re distributed in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
So, why Union Horse?
“The Union name comes from the unified spirit and commitment of us four siblings and our team of folks who are making it happen within these walls,” says Damian Garcia. “We’re all bringing our strength and passion to building on that now and in the future.”
Bottles with the new name will begin appearing in the first quarter. Otherwise, the brand will retain its horse head logo, product names, bottle design and graphic feel. Completing the name change simply frees the distillery to focus on developing its portfolio, marketing its brand and expanding distribution.
“There’s a lot to look forward to in 2016 with Union Horse Distilling Co.,” Damian Garcia says.