The Food Issue

J. Rieger Co., famous for KC whiskey before Prohibition, is in its second heyday

Bottles of Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey, distilled and bottled in the East Bottoms distillery, await a final cap seal before being boxed for distribution. Distillery tours of the J. Rieger & Co, 2700 Guinotte Ave., are available to the public.
Bottles of Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey, distilled and bottled in the East Bottoms distillery, await a final cap seal before being boxed for distribution. Distillery tours of the J. Rieger & Co, 2700 Guinotte Ave., are available to the public. The Kansas City Star

GPS is not always reliable when you’re heading for the mostly industrial East Bottoms, yet an increasing number of whiskey lovers are venturing off the beaten path to take a three-hour tour of J. Rieger & Co. distillery.

Once a month, by reservation only, visitors can spend a Saturday afternoon listening to business partners Andy Rieger and Ryan Maybee retell the story of a brand founded in the West Bottoms in 1887, killed by Prohibition, then resurrected 95 years later.

Before the iconic brand dried up, J. Rieger & Co. distributed 100 alcoholic products to 250,000 customers by mail.

Maybee, a world-class bartender and co-owner of Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange and Manifesto, teamed with Rieger, a former Dallas investment banker and the last male descendent of the original whiskey maker, to start a craft distillery.

Their blended whiskey started appearing at bars and on liquor store shelves around town late last year.

“We have humble beginnings but big aspirations,” Maybee tells a group of about 30 as they survey the state-of-the-art stills anchored in the middle of a chilly, mostly bare warehouse between Knuckleheads Saloon and Local Pig.

There is no tasting room or gift shop. But their research into original recipes (back in the day, sherry was routinely added to “take the edge off” and whiskey was rarely aged) and keen interest in local history help paint a vivid portrait of a neighborhood that, in its heyday, was home to the Heim Brewing Co. and Electric Park, a famed amusement park.

Coincidentally, the Rieger warehouse at 2700 Guinotte Ave., as well as the north-adjacent building that used to house the Heim bottling line, are now owned by Boulevard Brewing Co. founder John McDonald.

Tours are so popular they are booked through June. And no wonder: For $25, you get a $15 Rieger store credit, a peek at the Heim remodel, lunch at Local Pig and a treat from Urban Provisions.

J. Rieger Co.: Tours are monthly; reservations required. 2700 Guinotte Ave.; jriegerco.com; Facebook; Twitter and Instagram @JRiegerCo.

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