Sometimes nice guys finish first.
Certainly J. Rieger & Co. (//jriegerco.com/) did when Tom Nichol agreed to collaborate with the Kansas City-based distillery on his first independent project since retiring as Tanqueray’s master distiller earlier this month.
“He could do whatever he wanted anywhere in the world,” says Ryan Maybee, who with Andy Rieger founded the distillery in the East Bottoms last year. “To choose a little project in Kansas City is huge.”
So, why’d Nichol pick K.C. and J. Rieger?
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“I’ve always said that if I’m going to do anything when I retire, it’s got to be with people I like,” Nichol says. “I like them, and they know what they’re doing.”
J. Rieger launched its Kansas City Whiskey, a blend of corn, malt and straight rye whiskies and 15-year-old Oloroso sherry, last November. It’s since garnered national attention, including a nomination for Best New Spirit or Cocktail Ingredient at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail (talesofthecocktail.com) Spirited Awards (winners will be announced on Saturday in New Orleans). A Best American Restaurant Bar nod also went to the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, which Maybee co-owns (he’s also a partner in Manifesto).
The distillery unveiled its Midwestern Premium Vodka, a copper pot-distilled potato-corn-wheat spirit, two weeks ago and is at work on other products as well. Gin’s always been on the list, but it’s a tricky spirit to produce.
“Making gin is hard. It takes more than a recipe,” says Nathan Perry, J. Rieger’s head distiller. “There are so many variables. The amount of experience Tom has in how to coerce the still into making that spirit is amazing.”
Nichol is now working with J. Rieger to develop its Midwestern Dry Gin, a London Dry-style spirit that will likely be released this fall. The profile is straightforward, Perry says, with a blend of juniper, coriander, angelica, licorice root and orange peel. In an age when almost anything can go into a gin, this one will stand out because of its simplicity and quality, Nichol says.
“It will be a simple gin, and something entirely different from what I used to make,” Nichol says. “It will be good.”
Anne Brockhoff is a freelance food, cocktail and spirits writer. She writes her Blithe Spirits column monthly for the print edition of Chow Town.