I was preparing for “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO Radio when two gentleman walked into the studio with moonshine in a Mason jar, a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of rum.
I looked at my co-host, Kimberly Winter Stern and told her that it was going to be a good day indeed.
The two gentlemen were master distiller Mike Anderson and business partner Brian Dixon and they were from Mid-Best Distillery, making handcrafted liquor since 2012 and located in Gravois Mills, Mo.
Hmm. A legal moonshiner from the Ozarks. I like this guy.
Mid-Best Distillery is producing backwoods spirits at the Lake of the Ozarks and continues to push the boundaries of traditional distilling.
I found out that moonshine comes from the term “moon-raker” for early English smugglers working by the light of the moon, producing illegal whiskey.
I sat down with Mike and began asking questions while sipping some samples of the moonshine — it’s part of my job, don’t you know?
Jasper: You’re a moonshiner and you’re legal. Tell me a little bit about your background and why you decided to start distilling moonshine and whiskey down at the Lake of the Ozarks?
Mike: I started eight years ago in my garage in the old Northeast area of Kansas City when I found out it was legal to hobby distill in Missouri up to 200 gallons. So I bought a five-gallon still and started learning.
It did not take long to find out that I could not make alcohol cheaper than gas, but during my research I was discovering that well-made whiskey tasted much better than the majority of large distilleries’ products. That is when I moved from quantity to quality.
Then came a larger boiler, and taking everything that I had learned I made my first still — I still have it — and started giving (the liquor) to friends and family which made me one of their favorites pretty quick. I was using water from my pool as a cooling reservoir so I would post on Facebook “the hose is in the window” to let friends know I was distilling.
About three years ago, I was distilling five days a week to keep up with requests and decided to go legal. Brian was a co-worker and jumped onboard and we jumped in with both feet.
The lake was chosen for a couple of reasons — fewer regulations and that is where we booth wanted to retire to, so it made sense to go there. I looked in Kansas City for a location but nothing seemed to work out. It was like it just was not meant to be. Before distilling I was a computer engineer for almost 20 years.
Jasper: Where do you source your ingredients from? Do you use local corn, rice, wheat, or various oats?
Mike: We believe in buying as local as we can. Grain comes from a town called Versailles, about 8 miles from distillery. We are in talks to get grain directly from Amish farmers when we are ready — storage is the main issue currently. I use corn, wheat, rye, oats, molasses, evaporated cane juice and sugar.
Jasper: Tell me about the barrels that you use.
Mike: The barrels are a patented barrel from Minnesota, designed to maximize liquid-to-wood contact. The barrels are produced from white oak and charred. The staves have been grooved and the ends have been honey combed. To increase contact further, we use 30-gallon barrels instead of traditional 53-gallon.
Jasper: What are you currently distilling?
Mike: Rum (white and dark) — molasses cane juice; wheat whiskey — wheat; rye whiskey — rye, wheat and oats (to be released soon); and moonshine — corn, wheat and sugar.
Jasper: I hear your wife Molly won’t release some of your bottles until she personally tastes each batch. I have never met her, but I think she’s my kind of lady.
Mike: That is right. Our dark rum, Holly’s Redrum, is a product that was developed to her taste. We do not bottle it until she says, “Yep. it is ready.”
Jasper: What’s on the horizon for Mid-Best Distillery?
Mike: Being at the lake means that the winters are a little slower saleswise. We plan on five new moonshine flavors. And yes, Apple Pie will be one — everyone always asks me that, but I like the pineapple better.
My agenda is perfecting rye, buckwheat whiskey and a vodka — my mother-in-law has been after me for about two years to do vodka, so it will most likely be named after her. I want to perfect a spirit that, when mixed with water, it will change color.
Breaking into the Kansas City market and someday moving to a larger building and expanding production are also on the agenda. We are also discussing selling shares in the company to help fund planned expansions. There are many more experiments going on at the distillery, those are my projects for the winter.
Jasper: You have something really unique coming up for this Halloween. Can you discuss it?
Mike: The Scarritt Neighborhood in Kansas City sponsors a safe area for kids to come trick-or-treating. They have been doing this as long as I can remember, and we have been here 20 years. About 10,000 kids will show up in the four hours that we hand out candy.
Jasper: And, for the adults?
Mike: We are doing a small run of moonshine this year of 500 bottles. I will be numbering each bottle. The product is an un-aged corn and wheat whiskey Blood Moon and is 80-proof. The label was designed by graphic artist Kirstie Mulligan of the Northeast News. Bottles will be sold for $25 for a 750ml bottle.
Call it moonshine, white lighting, hooch or mountain dew, it doesn’t really matter to Mike and Brian as long as you sample some of their white whiskey. They are on the forefront of artisan distillers in America handcrafting some of the finest legal moonshine from the Ozarks. Salute, gentlemen.
Blue Moon Cocktail
11/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 fresh orange, squeezed and added to ice
11/2 ounces Mid-Best Moonshine
1 ounce simple syrup
1/2 cup seltzer
Place all in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously with moonshine. Serve over ice and enjoy.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.