Food News

For Mean Mule Distilling Co. founder Jeff Evans, spirits are a family tradition

When Jeff Evans decided he wanted to try his hand at making an agave spirit, he leaned on a combination of family history, mechanical engineering, trial, error and YouTube.

The result is Mean Mule Distilling Co.’s Silver American Agave Spirit. The company recently finished construction on their own space in the Crossroads Arts District near 18th Street and Locust. Their spirit is available statewide in Missouri and Kansas.

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Kansas City Spaces: Why did you decide to create an American Agave Spirit?

Jeff Evans: There is a huge market for agave spirits. They make up about 40 percent of the total consumed spirits in the United States. However, no one makes it, because it is pretty hard to make. There are industry secrets (though). Most yeast has been developed to eat grain and to find yeast developed to eat agave is pretty hard. So, there are some steps you have to take to make yeast happy in that environment. Ultimately it is hard. We used a lot of trial and error.

KCS: How long did it take to get it right?

JE: That was a running joke. In 2015 we started on this journey to change the scene of how agave spirits are made. I tried 18 different recipes over six to seven months. I had people who would give me an honest opinion about how awful it was. Eventually, we got it right. Thankfully, we took notes and I think what we landed on was our 18th or 19th recipe.

KCS: Where did you get your equipment?

JE: I built our equipment. I have a degree in mechanical engineering and went into machine design. I have designed machines for auto brands, but decided to branch out on my own. Our stills are made by hand. They were all designed and 3D modeled and manufactured the way I do other machines. The manufacturing was a lot of fun. We don’t deal with a lot of softer metals, like copper, in automotive. It was interesting to get to work with copper.

KCS: How has it been received?

JE: Really well. People like the fact that it’s an American product, for sure. Once in a while, we will run into someone who cannot wrap their head around it. It’s an opportunity. We say it is similar to, but it is not tequila—that is from Mexico. Tequila and Mescal both have a denomination of origin. We wanted to get away from the whole tequila side of things. We wanted to do something that was truly Midwestern.

KCS: Are you going to be distilling any other spirits?

JE: We have plans to age our agave spirit. We have four aging levels we are working to develop. We expect our first age-level will come out in the next four or five months. We are also looking into doing quite a few things—a ton of different categories of liquor and beverage, different styles and containers.

KCS: And you have a family history of distilling?

JE: Four generations ago, my family emigrated from Germany and brought their craft with them. My great-great-grandmother built her first still and started a company. That was just the way they would make extra money. The family continued to do that. I remember my grandmother used to meet someone and bring out jars of clear liquid from her trunk and give it to people. It kind of skipped my parents, and I have not distilled anything before now.

KCS: Why a “Mean Mule”?

JE: The mean mule name came from a true story my grandmother used to tell. In the 1920s there was prohibition, but that didn’t stop my grandfather from brewing. One day, a customer thought he got a bad deal and reported my grandfather to the fed. When they came, all 12 kids were standing on the front porch of the house. Grandpa ran off into the woods. The feds couldn’t find him, but they saw a building that would be perfect for a still. It looked perfect, because it was. They decided to check it out. What they didn’t know was that my grandfather had built a false floor and hidden his equipment under there. On top he had put the meanest mule he could find. When the guys kicked opened the door, they were greeted with 900 pounds of mean Missouri fury. One guy grabbed the other. They ran down the driveway, and never came back. That mean mule saved generations of family distilling.