Steve Strong is not your average guy. He sells guitars by day, traveling eight states, which has got to keep him plenty busy.
I’ve never met a traveling guitar salesman, or any guitar salesman for that matter.
But that’s not what makes Strong so unique. It’s the fact that he moonlights as a moonshiner. Not really a moonshiner, a legitimate distiller, the creator — along with his wife — of S.D. Strong Distilling.
“I was playing in a rockabilly band and a couple of the guys were making moonshine in their garages,” Strong said during a visit to his distillery. “Their stuff was pretty good, and it really got me thinking about doing it myself.”
I’m not sure how long it took to get from the “thinking about” stage to the “doing it” stage, but as of March 29 of last year, Steve and his wife, Lisa, officially entered the liquor business selling their first bottle of vodka.
“I’d like to say it was smooth sailing, but that would be a lie,” Strong said. “It took me a year and a half and three tries to get the design approved by the government, and the first batch I made, I think I got more on the floor than into containers.”
Strong Distilling is definitely boutique. You’ll find it tucked into a space in the caves underneath Park University, a pretty neat location if you ask me.
“We are the only distillery in the U.S., and we believe the world, located in a cave,” Strong said.
In his cave space, you will find a 200-gallon still designed with the help of an artisan back east, a handful of Missouri oak barrels used to age a rye whiskey Strong is quite excited about and a big tub that held the whiskey mash on the day of my visit.
Strong started with vodka, which is triple distilled and filtered 16 times. He says he’s going for a “super-clean” flavor, a product that mixes well in a martini or a vodka soda — his wife’s favorite cocktail.
I’m no vodka expert, but in tasting his, I’d say Strong is right on the mark. There are no rough edges to be found. It’s delicious on its own right out of the freezer.
I also tasted Strong’s rye whiskey, which is a baby — just six months old — but has a lot of promise.
“I’m really excited about this,” he said. “It’s got a long way to go, but I think I might be onto something.”
He very well could be. Stay tuned as the blend has another year and a half to go before it can even be called whiskey.
Meantime, Strong continues to distill and sell. He told me he has a distributor on the Kansas side but is hand-selling in Missouri. You can buy S.D. Strong Vodka in some 125 outlets: restaurants, grocery stores, liquor stores and bars. He sold 400 cases in his first eight months, and while he’s got years to go before he pays off the investment he’s made, that’s not a bad start.
“I think the most amazing thing is how many friends have come out of the woodwork to help,” Strong said. “Plus, it’s gotten such a great response. I quickly realized that when you’re pouring people liquor, they generally like you and your product.”
For now, though, Strong is keeping his day job. So, whether you want a guitar or a bottle of vodka, either way, Strong is your man.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.