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History of Whiskey in KC

History of Whiskey in KC

March 17, 2023

Starting back in the late 19th century (before Prohibition), Kansas City was home to three major pioneers in the spirit industry. You might recognize the names: McCormick (Holladay), J. Rieger, and Muehlebach, which was located in modern-day Crossroads.

If you’re interested in local history and how Prohibition affected the liquor industry, then you should absolutely check out the digitized newspapers and magazines available in the Library’s online resources. In addition to Newspapers.com Library Edition, you can access the complete Kansas City Star archive (dating back to 1880), Historical NewspapersAccess NewspaperARCHIVE, and the Times Digital Archive.

Now before I get too far, I have to admit that I’m the kind of woman that Carrie Underwood is talking about in her song “Before He Cheats”I can’t shoot whiskey. But I love a good story! A few weekends ago, I decided to visit J. Rieger and do a tour of their grounds to learn more about their history and the distilling process that their spirits go through. You can read up on the history of J. Rieger on their website. During the hour-long tour, we watched a short documentary, walked through the barrel storage area, watched the distilling process, and concluded with a tasting. Carrie Underwood would be ashamed of my facial expressions during the taste test, but I enjoyed the experience.

Not too far away, you can find West Bottoms Whiskey Co. Their claim to fame is having the “best” Old Fashioned in Kansas City. As someone who doesn’t like whiskey, I’d recommend it. In the past, they’ve partnered with the Kansas City Museum for history tours, so keep an eye out for future events. Another big name, Holladay Distillery, is located up north in Weston, Missouri. They also give tours, but I haven’t personally participated in an organized tour. I will say though that when I visited, they had an espresso martini that was very tasty and made me feel fancy.

Kansas City went through a fascinating period during the Prohibition era on both the Kansas side and on the Missouri side. In Kansas, Carrie A. Nation, an advocate for the Prohibition movement, was physically destroying bars. Meanwhile, Kansas City, Missouri, had a reputation as one of the wettest and wickedest cities.

For anyone like me who is interested in learning more about Prohibition and the changes that took place during this historical period, I recommend checking out the documentary A Nation of Drunkards: Prohibition, a film by Ken Burns that is available to stream on Access Video on Demand. In the MCPL catalog, we also have many great books available. I really enjoyed Dead Distillers by Colin Spoelman. It’s a little dark and dramatic. After visiting a distillery and learning about the history, I can see how it was such a deadly business!

If you’re not interested in the history but you want to learn how to make a good drink, try the Bartending and Mixology 101 course from Universal Class. MCPL also has lots of great books on how to make drinks for your next get-together. I enjoyed Mixology for Beginners. For anyone bookish, Tequila Mockingbird is very punny and contains some great tongue-in-cheek recipes.

Check out a more complete list of recommendations here: eBooks for Cocktails and Mocktails.

Meghan B.
Electronic Resources Librarian

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