Ben Holladay would have most likely been beaming with pride last year when his flagship bourbon—founded and perfected in his Weston, Missouri, distillery before the Civil War—was re-released to the public after a 36-year wait.
Holladay Distillery, the oldest distillery west of the Mississippi River and labeled the oldest company in the Kansas City area, had produced its signature bourbon by tapping the same limestone springs and using Holladay’s patented recipe for more than a century. But when “clean” alcohol such as gin and vodka overtook bourbon and whiskey consumption in the 1980s, Holladay Distillery stopped making its signature product, until bringing it back 30 years to the day in 2015. “We renovated the original still house, the same building that Ben used,” said Jordan Germano, communications manager for Holladay Distillery, of the $10 million renovation. “We bought new equipment, expanded, and started distilling.”
As the company’s Master Distiller tasted from barrels that had aged for three years, he determined that the bourbon wasn’t yet up to Holladay stan- dards. “It was good, but we wanted it to be better,” Germano said. “We aged it three more years until it was perfect.”
When Holladay and his brother moved from their native Kentucky home in the 1850s and bought land in Weston, they had no intention of establishing a bourbon distillery—until they discovered the limestone springs that naturally promote fermentation and filter out impurities that can affect the spirit’s color and taste. The Holladays met requirements of the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 that ensured buyers were getting a pure distilled spirit. “It wasn’t unusual then for whiskey to be half tobacco spit or prune juice,” Germano said. Holladay’s modern day bottled-in-bond product also ensures that the bourbon is produced, distilled, aged and bottled in one location, distilled within a single season, and bottled at 100 proof. That’s a common distinction in Kentucky, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon supply is produced, but rare elsewhere.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Holladay Distillery has changed private ownership only five times since 1856. The current ownership group holds the line on processes that set Holladay Bourbon apart, such as maintaining non-climate-controlled rickhouses for aging and not rotating the 25,000 aging barrels as temperatures fluctuate up to 30 degrees between floors. “That creates more movement in the barrels, which leads to more flavor,” Germano said. The picturesque land and facilities in Weston create a unique onsite experience that includes a tour from “water to bottle,” a gift shop and Welcome Center, and tastings. “You can buy all of our bourbon products and even our one barrel releases onsite,” Germano said.
Since re-launching the flagship Holladay Bourbon line last year, the company has focused distribution in the Kansas City area first, then in Omaha and 10 states in the Midwest. “We wanted to give our local markets and the Midwest the love and personal touch they deserve to come back strong,” Germano said of the 180-employee company. “We plan to expand beyond that through the end of the year.”
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