Long before the era of high-tech streetcars and smart city allure, Kansas City was on the cusp of a different renaissance, one fueled by jazz, baseball and, remarkably, liquor. Prohibition officially prevented the sale of alcohol throughout the country, but the crafty community of 1920s KC—led by political boss Tom Pendergast—collectively looked the other direction during its heyday. The good times flowed as freely as the Pendergast-produced spirits.
The craft distilling scene is booming once again—this time fully legal, thankfully—with a few familiar faces that have returned to their pre-Prohibition glory, plus plenty of newcomers, too.
Raise a toast to the new golden age of Kansas City spirits.
J. Rieger & Co.
J. Rieger’s 2014 revival has made it a mainstay in the spirits community, thanks in part to the sherry-blended Kansas City Whiskey and other top-notch offerings such as vodka, gin, coffee liqueur and even barbecue sauce (made in collaboration with ‘cue mainstay Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que).
The distiller’s influence continues to expand. Already distributed in more than 20 states, the arrival of the jaw-dropping new J. Rieger visitor experience features tours, tastings, bar and lounge space and plenty more—all in the East Bottoms.
Tom’s Town Distilling Co.
Named after the boss himself, Tom’s Town is an award-winning Crossroads Arts District distillery that touts excellent gin, vodka and bourbon products, plus a one-of-a-kind tasting room modeled after Kansas City’s Art Deco elegance of its “Paris of the Plains” past.
Dinner, happy hour or late-night get-togethers, swing by to sample excellent craft cocktails that showcase Tom’s Town spirits. Also, be on the lookout for its Pendergast Machine series, which features limited-release spirits that showcase the distiller’s ingenuity.
The oldest distillery west of the Mississippi still standing in its original location, Holladay Distillery’s modern resurgence makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions in nearby Weston, Mo.
Holladay produces McCormick Vodka, the gold medal-winning 360 Vodka—the planet’s first eco-friendly vodka—and bourbon, which will debut in 2021 for the first time in more than 30 years. Take a day trip to tour the facility and sample some of the distillery’s finest offerings.
S.D. Strong Distilling
There’s operating underground, like the bootleggers of yore, and then there’s actually operating underground, a claim to fame for this subterranean distillery in Parkville that crafts each spirit in a cave 65 feet below the surface.
S.D. Strong Distilling’s unique distinction is far from a gimmick: the distiller has racked up plenty of awards since its 2012 debut, including back-to-back golds at the Washington Cup Spirits Competition (Pillar 136 Gin, 2015-2016).
Union Horse Distilling Company
Family-owned and craft-distilled, Union Horse offers a strong stable of products—including its signature rye whiskey, which is made from 100-percent rye mash—as well as a sought-after event space perfect for weddings, parties and meetings.
Each batch is created in a copper pot still and finished in oak barrels before being bottled and signed by hand. Experience the distilling process on one of the Lenexa-based company’s tours—and hit the Rider Room afterwards to sample their four prize-winning products.
Located in booming North Kansas City, Restless Spirits specializes in Irish-style liquors such as single-malt whiskey and poitin, a traditional spirit native to the Emerald Isle. There are also more familiar favorites, such as a citrus-forward gin, Missouri corn vodka and even whiskey imported from Ireland.
Fans of the brand (or spirits in general) can participate in bottling nights, where they can quite literally lend a hand, as every Restless Spirits product is hand-bottled, or simply show up Fridays or Saturdays to tour the facility.
Nestled in the unrefined-yet-totally-cool East Crossroads, Lifted Spirits resides in a converted stable that pays homage to the city’s rustic roots—and churns out vodka, gin, wheat whiskey and the area’s only locally produced absinthe.
Grab a seat anywhere and order from the extensive menu or show up for a free tour at 5 p.m. (Thursday through Sunday) to see the production first hand.
Mean Mule Distilling Co.
Mean Mule is a proud Midwestern label that handcrafts its sole product, Silver Mean Mule American Agave Spirit. Though Silver Mean Mule isn’t technically tequila—which, much like champagne in France, can only be produced in certain regions in Mexico—it is distilled from blue agave, so it tastes pretty darn close, with its own Heartland twist.
Find it at local liquor stores or in cocktails served throughout the region.