Ep. 75 - What Is The Oldest Distillery West of the Mississippi?
KYLE MERKLEIN // Ben Holladay Bourbon
When it comes to claims of the oldest, there is always a chance at a caveat. In terms of Ben Holladay Bourbon, it's distilling grounds have a pretty strong claim to the title of the oldest distillery west of the Mississippi River.
Here the story with master distiller Kyle Merklein and find out why his distillery was bold enough to wait 6 years to release their first new generation whiskey.
It's time to hear from the man behind the spirit. Here are the things we discuss:
- The whiskey for the west?
- Holladay aged on land
- The Ben Holladay ledger
- Was it bourbon or whiskey?
- When did he start using a column still
- Old Weston, Holladay Distillery, Hansen Distillery, etc.
- Tasting the old brands
- Going cask strength
- Waiting 6 years for your first whiskey release
- What floor the whiskey comes from
- Things to do in the area
Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore: The Interviews." The full transcript is available on the tab above.
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Welcome to Whiskey Lore, the interviews, I'm your host, Drew Hannush, the Amazon bestselling author of Whiskey Lore's travel guide to experiencing Kentucky bourbon. And this week we're gonna shock you with another bourbon story from outside the state of Kentucky. And this time we're heading to the show, me state of Missouri, where Ben holiday bourbon's master distiller, Kyle Merklein is going to introduce us to a distillery that started production way back in the 1850s. And after some time off, they are back to distilling again and have just released a six year bottled in bond bourbon as their inaugural release. And this is no sourced bourbon. My friends it's time to hear from the man behind the spirit. Kyle, welcome to the show.
Yeah, thanks for having me. It's it's, it's exciting to be doing these podcasts, you know, waiting six years to release bourbon. <Laugh> I, no one wanted to do a podcast when you didn't have a bourbon out, but now we're, we're doing this. So
That's very true. And you guys waited a little bit longer than a lot of new distilleries will. So once we jump in a little bit later on in doing a tasting of this whiskey we'll we'll, we'll go into that and figure out what your thought process was and and how we came up with six years as a, as a time to do a bottled and bond. So, but let's jump in first to your history because this is fascinating. It's a history. I did not know anything about I have traveled through Missouri myself and actually was shocked to find that there was something called the Missouri wine country, which I had no idea about, but now that I've done some podcast episodes and, and some traveling through Indiana I have found that Indiana and Missouri were pretty heavily populated with vineyards and that, that was a popular area for that. So now I've been out to Kansas city before, which you're just north of Kansas city and I've been to J Rieger, which is 1886, I think somewhere around that time period where they started producing whiskey. But you guys are actually predating that by a couple of decades.
Yeah. Yeah. So our, our history begins in 1856. Yeah. So we're just, just north of now Kansas city, obviously back in 1856, would've been a little Trek from there, but yeah, just 20 minutes north of the airport now. But yeah, 1856. We were started by a man named Ben holiday hence the name Ben holiday, bottled bin, Bon bourbon. And yeah, it, it's a fascinating history. You talked kind of not knowing the, the history of the wine country or the bourbon out here. And, and Ben holiday is similar. A lot of people don't know his history but he's, he's really a fascinating character. And he, he was, he came up here from Kentucky, found the dis the distillery in 1856 with his brother Ben. But his, his claim to fame was he was, you know, the largest private employer in the country for a short period of time.
He had a stage coach line that he eventually sold to Wells Fargo, but it was, that's why he was, he was known as the stage coach king. And he, he really focused in on transportation, the HONY express, he owned for a brief time railroads street cars. So he, he really focused in on the transportation side. And he was doing a lot of that during the same time our, our distillery was founded. And so then his brother David ran the distillery day to day. But yeah, we, we started back in 1856, been on site ever since, you know, we haven't really closed up shop for any period of time. People may not be familiar with us, but we've been, we've been here and oldest business in the Kansas city. Metro is kind of what we, we have been told by the KC business journal. So yeah, it's, it's a really cool place, really cool history. And we have a lot of that that field that you would expect for a bourbon country.
So it's interesting cuz when I think of Jay rigger and what I learned there by that time bottling had become somewhat prevalent. And so they got into the mail order business, whereas you guys actually are not far from where the inception of the pony express was. You're when I saw that you're right across from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I'm thinking, okay, military base, there was probably a lot of, you know, stuff that was transported out west coming through this very area, which would've put you in the ideal spot to likely be the whiskey distillery that was sending whiskey out by barrels to the west.
Yeah. That's yeah, our, our, you know, and I don't really have a way to prove it, but that's you, you connect the dots and that, that makes sense. Our president loves saying that too is like, you know, we have Ben holiday was the stage coach king. He was supplying stage coaches and the line that took people and, and goods out west. And, and it comes to reason that, you know, if he, he owned the stage coaches and he owned a whiskey distillery that yeah, barrels were being transported probably on those stage coach lines and, and they would've been produced here. And so it was you know, a really fascinating history to think about with, with how all that came together.
Yeah. And do you have a, does the railway go through that's the one thing I didn't check is cuz I mean the railway transcontinental railway would've been running through post-Civil war. But I don't know if it comes through that area or if it came through through Kansas city actually
That I don't exactly know the, the whole history of the rail around here. I mean, you know, we're, we're just 20 miles away from Atchison. So Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe, whenever that came about. But yeah, Ben holiday actually sold his stage coach line to invest in the railroad. Mm. And so that was his move was to, he saw that coming. And so yeah, he clearly would've seen it around here somewhere, wherever that might have been saw that that was the future of transp transportation and, and shifted that route. So it it's possible, you know, again, it, it carried over that way. You know, Ben holiday lost a lot of his wealth and in the eight panic of 18 72, 18 73, whatever. Yeah. I I'm no means a historian, so I don't, you know, lost all of his wealth and this is the only remaining piece of his empire that still exists was with his name with the Ben holiday story attached to it. Yeah. So but yeah, it definitely would've been bulk transportation before the bottling would've even really been prevalent for sure.
Well, we think about the story of Kentucky bourbon and how they were sending flat boats down the Mississippi river and that as those boats were rocking and getting that whiskey worked into those barrels that, you know, it was creating a, a better spirit as you were going. If you were putting it onto an old stage coach or onto a train, you are definitely getting that agitation. Oh
Yeah, yeah. You definitely, I, I can't imagine we've had stage coaches out here before and they talk about, they only go 30 or 40 miles a day and yeah, that would be quite a few days of just rocking around in that stage coach and getting that, that agitation. Yeah. It would, it'd be an interesting thing to try what a whiskey would taste like after traveling via stage coach. Yeah.
Hey, got an idea. Marketing idea for you guys. Yeah. I mean, if they're putting it onto boats, like Jefferson's ocean at sea, then maybe it should be holiday on the, on the rail or holiday on the stage coach. Yeah. <Laugh>
I don't wanna say that because then I'm gonna be the one who has to try to organize this <laugh> that seems logistical nightmare, but you know, it, it is a cool idea that's for sure.
So have you seen any old bottles, have you, do you guys have like a historic collection of bottles or seen old photos of the distillery from the 19th century?
Yeah. We have various old photos and, and there with our marketing department, old photos of the distillery itself and, and the bottles we have some on site as well from, you know, back circuit, 1900 probably. And so yeah, we, we have a collection of that and it's we, we have that passed and it's probably you know, you, you can come up to the distillery and see that we have a little history room there that shows all of that stuff. And really though, ultimately we still kind of focus on that living history, right? So we have a ancient cave that's on site been, was built in 1837. Our original Stillhouse is from 1838, what we're distilling in today. And so you, you walk in and you, you just feel this historic historic feel with the distillery, not obviously new equipment and modifications and making it look nice for this day and age, but the, the basic structures are still there. And so it's a really cool really cool place to work is just being able to walk into the Stillhouse from 1838 every day, like thinking about the history, thinking about how much whiskey was made in those walls and, and the past, it, it's really kind of a humbling thought and, and really fascinating to me that that we're truly working in this place with that the snowing history. And really no one knows that, like you said,
Yeah. Well, I mean, because we celebrate places like Woodford reserve, where, when it was the old Oscar pepper distillery, it was, that was 1838 was the year that that was built. So now of course it had a distilling legacy before that, but there's probably potential that there was some kind of distilling going on around the area before licenses and all the rest were becoming more prevalent throughout the west. Cause you were in an untouched area. I mean, still the wild west when we're talking the 1830s.
Yeah. That's, that's true. And really you, you, it comes to, to reason that the, the holiday brothers would've come up to this area because they saw documentation from Lewis and Clark expedition and, and saw documentation of limestone spring water up here where they fed or watered their horses. And so it, it makes sense. They came from Kentucky, they knew about distilling. They knew about the, the importance of the limestone spring. And so they, they ventured off to, to find that here and to create a different, different location. And so yeah, we, we don't have that, you know, 18 hundreds or early 18 hundreds history, but 1856 on the holidays. I mean, that's still still an impressive amount of time here. The, the building they bought was a slaughter house before ah they bought it, so it's, it had a use. And that's what it was for the 20 years before they bought it.
Yeah. So one of the pleasures I've had is having the opportunity to go to the George Washington distillery at Mount Vernon, and they kept meticulous records on what they were buying in for grains and the rest. So it, do you have any kind of documentation like that old receipts or things that kind of give you an idea of what they were distilling back then and how much of it was coming from maybe their own land versus outside sources?
Yeah. I've never been through it. We have the old Ben holiday ledger in our welcome center and yeah, it's got all of the, like you said, the receipts or the, the documentation of everything in that I'm a little terrified to be sifting through 160 plus year old book, but yeah, no, it's up there and it's, it's for display and that, so we, we did thankfully have that some, some of that available, right. That was obviously probably not everything that he would've had, but and I don't think it's cuz yeah, the, the documentation that the George Washington distillery probably has is very thorough. I've never gotten a chance to see that, but yeah, it's we, we do have it available and it's up there and, and some advertisements from that area as well with, with him selling his whiskey.
So, so when they were selling it, were they selling it as bourbon or just his whiskey?
That's a great question. And I don't know the answer to that. I wish I would have seen it more recently so I can tell you. Yeah. yeah, I don't got a good answer on that.
Barrel. Yeah. Well, it's an interesting, I mean, because this is all going to lead into that idea of whether Kentucky really kind of owned the idea of bourbon back in that era versus yeah. Because I mean, it wasn't defined at that point, what bourbon was. Yeah. And bourbon, if it was named because of bourbon county, Kentucky, then it would've maybe been seen as a local name rather than as a name that would've been used out in the west. I, I don't know that I've, you know, we can't say that old Western movies are in any way historically accurate in terms of whiskey, but you know, people ask for a whiskey, they didn't ask for a bourbon when you when you see that. So it just makes you wonder how prevalent that name was going out west.
That is a good point. I have to have someone on our team look up and see what they can find on that. Yeah.
But yeah, I mean, these are all fascinating parts of history, especially when you're talking about areas that are distant from an area that's, that's known for a particular type of whiskey. And I think the other thing that is, would be interesting to know is when, because as I understand it, they used a column still at some point, but did they start on a column still? Because the column still was really the coffee still didn't come about until the 1830s. And so by the 1850s had a column still made it all the way out to Missouri.
Yeah. That one, I would also like to know the answer to, I, I have not found that one. And so when we've had Mike Veach come out before, and he made a similar comment, he's like, you know, it's, it's very unlikely. It would've been a column still when he first started up. And I, I agree with that. I mean, it, it does seem very unlikely. I've never seen the documentation on, on that. I know I've seen all the TTB paperwork and documentation post prohibition mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so, yeah, we we've been on the column still since then. What specifically Ben holiday would've started up with? I don't know that answer. So yeah, it would be fascinating to find that out. Keep trying to find that somewhere. Maybe I just need to start digging through his old ledgers to really read into these information a little bit more. But yeah, it seems unlikely. I would, I would tend to agree with the, on that
One. Yeah. I mean, cuz if you think about it, I think old Crow was probably until they got into their newer building in the 1870s slash 1880s that the shift over likely happened. If you look at Woodford reserve where Dr. Crow was working before that, as Chris Morris says, it wasn't big enough to the building wasn't built for a column still. So there's really, yeah. Good evidence there that even, you know, by the time it was in the 1860s and seventies in Kentucky, they weren't really shifting over yet to column stills for production. So
Yeah, I, we, we have probably hyphen our, our building. I mean, we obviously have a column still now with a doghouse attached to the top, but I, I think it would, would have been likely, I would imagine it would've been purchased in Kentucky. Yeah. And brought up here. But you know, it, it was a new distillery in 1856, so maybe that was, the timing was right where it was like, okay, I'll get anything I can that's new. And here we are like, let's, let's go with it. But again, it, it, to me, it does seem unlikely.
So what was the distillery called at up to prohibition? Was it called McCormick or was it something else?
No, it's, it's had a handful of names. So we've, we've started with the old, we've had old Weston distillery, the holiday distillery, I think when it first started S Shahan family there was Shahan in, in Missouri, they had owned it for a little while. They also have history back in Kentucky as well. That family does. Then a couple different owners, McCormick name really came about after prohibition time. Okay. there was a local local, there was two kind of local distilleries here. And, and so this one and that one effectively merged and took on the name, the Cormick distillery. So yeah, we've had a handful of different names, different entities over the years. It's been McCormick since the forties okay. Give or take. And so, so yeah, it, it stayed that way for a while.
Even then we had different ownership really up until 1993. So in 93 we became a private company. Our current investor group bought the bot McCormick and and focused in, on, on the distillery at that point. And a lot of, you know, the, the bourbon had already been shut down. So it was a lot of bottling that really was the focus when the new ownership group bought in. So yeah, the, the old ownership group kind of just, I guess, carrying on with that a little bit. So we, we 1856, we started distilled up until prohibition. We have some bottles that say for medicinal purposes, I don't know whether we were distilling or not. I, I don't, you know, don't have any documentation of that. So you know, we, we stayed here though on site and then after prohibition, we had our, you know one of the old Greek houses still the, the distillery was here started back up and then continued distilling until 1985.
In 1985 the, the previous owner had made the decision. They had two different bourbon production facilities really here and in Illinois. And so the, the, the decision was made to shut down production here. The, it was costly investments would need to happen. And so shut down here and then just shifted all of their bourbon production over to Illinois. And then, you know, the new ownership came in in 93 bought the company and, and focused in, on bottling, but kept the existing Stillhouse kind of, it was all shuttered up. And the, the Rick houses on site had some barrels in originally from when they distilled sold that off. And we for a while brought in Bourn and aged it here. And then we just got to the point where we just kind of shut down everything on site. Then obviously Bourn became popular <laugh>. And so it's like, wait, we wanna get back into this. It's our history. And so back in 2015, we started distilling again, but had been kind of thinking about it and renovating for a couple years before that
Does, does the Illinois distillery still exist?
Yeah, I don't believe they make bourbon anymore. Okay. I think it's converted over to just kind of neutral spirits is what they do at this
Point. Did you have a brand that was prevalent from the forties up until they shut down in 85?
Yeah, there was a handful. Mccormick was the main name. So we had McCormick old label and that was sold a lot locally. And then we had Ben holiday private keep was another one that was a lot of locally. So the McCormick gold label was a, a six year old bourbon at 86 proof. Ben holiday private keep was a 90 proof, eight year old bourbon give or take. Then we had had signature 10 which was a 10 year old, 10 year old bourbon under McCormick name. So, yeah, we had a lot locally and we, that was the focus was a lot of this area. Not a ton of national distribution there was, but the distribution really expanded when the new ownership group took over when we didn't have the bourbon. Yeah. It was, it was more of the other products.
Have you had the chance to taste any of those?
Yeah. Yeah. So had really all three of them. And that's kind of what gave the management and ownership group here, confidence. Right. Like we knew what could be produced on site. And we, we knew that the taste was comparable to, to today's Bourn market and what, what we would want it to taste like. And so, yeah, all of them are very good. I, the 10 year old was, had a couple bottles. One was really really old from the bottled in the sixties. Probably it wasn't as good, but some of the more recent 10 year old stuff was really good. And so it's always been in the back of our mind and, and we have a few lab samples from back in the day of various ages. So the distillate, we got some one year, two year, three year, five year kind of lab standards.
So we've had that on site and kind of been paying attention to that and, and keeping that in mind with what we're doing. And so that, that's really what this, it brought us back into that, and that's what this Ben holiday is, is paying history to that past using that mash bill that we have documented that same basic setup as what we, we had, you know, pre shut down of the two cooker system, certain day fermentation column, still doubler, same proofs, same limestone Springs, same Rick houses, you know, kind of bringing everything back trying to recreate that bourbon as, as well as we can. And, you know, that was, that was the goal with this it's paying history to that past that we had there will be other offerings and, and other things that aren't historical for us, obviously today's consumer is different than 30 plus years ago.
But that was one thing we, we really cared about was bringing back that historic historic taste for us. The, the one, one exception to that I mentioned earlier, the ones we bottled previously were lower proof, 86 proof, 90 proof. They were, again, consumers back then. That was when, what light whiskey was a thing, right. People didn't want to taste whiskey in their whiskey <laugh> so, so we, we had lower proof offerings in our past, we've had some bottled and bond offerings, but the, not really a ton in that, that's what we focused in on when we brought this back was being able to tell that story, plus today's consumers, you know, the higher proof is not scary for people. Yeah. It's not as overwhelming. And so a positive with that as well. Yeah.
I think it's actually interesting to see the evolution of proofs because it got to a point where, as you mentioned, light whiskey, but I think even like Jack Daniels went from being, you know, a 90 proof whiskey down to an 86 proof whiskey down to an 80 proof whiskey. And the world market really tended to move more towards the 80 proof standard. And so it, it, we've slowly seen people and, and maybe this is part of, as your palette develops, you just start craving more and more intensity and you can handle more and more intensity. Sometimes I think we've gone a little off the deep end drinking 135 proof whiskey. But you know, I mean, again, this is a chance to really get to taste a, a range and get to experience whiskey in many different ways. And and so it's, it's, it's fun to, and you get a chance to taste the cast strength would, do you feel like the whiskey at this point would, would be ready to jump out there in a cast strength or, or barrel strength version.
Yeah. That's something we're, we're looking into and, and that's what, you know, you said something there and that's, to me what really stands out is the experience. It that's, everyone likes to experience now the, what they're drinking as, as various offerings, you know, they wanna experience what adding water to the cast strength does and how that changes over the proof points or the how it'll taste in cocktails that that's cocktail culture clearly. Yeah. Plays a big part in that as well. But yeah, I, I think on the cast strength one we're looking into releasing some at our welcome center. We wanna have some available cuz it, it clearly is a popular category. And I think it is ready. We just bottled our second batch of this and the once we dumped the barrels, the cat strength of that was, it was great.
I, I loved that cast strength and it was, it was amazing. So that really got us thinking like, why are we not putting at least a little bit of this in a bottle for people to try? Yes. And it's not for everybody. I, I get that because not everybody likes that, but yes, I'm drinking from the barrel often. And that's what I'm used to. And so, yeah, it's a, for someone like me, I, I love that for a lot of people we've had in a lot of these whiskey groups, they love that as well, but then a, a normal, you know, consumer who's transitioning from cocktails. Yeah. They, they may not care about it, but so we wanted to do a little bit, and then we're looking into the option of doing single barrel CA strength type things. That's a, a thought right now. So yeah, we wanna, we wanna explore that further. Yeah, for sure. It's, it's something that it, it's fun and having different offerings and different things for people to, to try and experience is, is what we're wanting to do.
I, I feel, I feel like my own evolution has gone from, you know, just getting into whiskey to moving all the way up to that point where I drink the cast strength to now going, you know, I really want to taste what the distiller feels like. This is the optimal, you know yeah. Dilution of this spirit to make it the optimal drinking experience.
Yeah. That's you know, that's no pressure for me at all. <Laugh>
Yeah. No, I, I think that is kind of a, a fun thing. That's what we want to do and want to provide is, is that, and you know, we, we understand it, it truly is whiskey people that like that obviously, you know, my, my wife has had, I think she's drank our bourbon twice, maybe three times in her life. So, you know, it's she's not gonna be seeking those out, but <laugh>, you know, I, I think that is, what's, what's fun about this and in this industry now is, is that you can experiment, you can play with those things and, and really try, try different things. So yeah, we, we may or may not put out different proof points. We'll see we're getting into it and starting out. And so love hearing things like that, of what, you know, what people want to try. Yeah. So at, at our welcome center is where we're gonna experiment with a lot of those things. Okay. We wanna, we wanna see what the customer customers here think of things. And, and, and that's, you know, the, the thought anyway, and then eventually roll something out. We'll, we'll see, we'll play with it. So a lot of fun to be had.
So if you were making previous to shut down a six year and eight year and a 10 year, that helps me understand why it was important for you to go to six years. How hard is it yeah. To sit there and I mean, you have to have some investment behind you or something to be able to survive that long without putting out a whiskey.
Yeah. So we're, we're this kind of unicorn or lucky place, right. Where we have backing, we have other brands, we have existing items that kind of help with that. And so yes, it's to, to just start up a brand and, and wait six years, that would be very difficult. It was, it was hard obviously, and I, you know, the ownership group credit to them, the board group was willing to wait this long. It, it was always okay. Let's, let's taste the taste, the bourbon, let's see where it's at. Let's, let's try it every year. Let's progress from there. And if it's not ready, it's not ready. And that's a credit to them for being able to wait this long. And, and I think, you know, we, we have other brands other 360 vodka brokers, gen, and then when the bourbon turned three or four, it was, Hey, is it ready?
Okay. If not, let's release, you know, five farms, Irish cream. And so we have a, an amazing Irish cream that we, we put out to market and that so yeah, there's been other, other things that we've invested in during the time and, and worked with. So it's been, it's been a challenge for sure. To wait this long. Yeah, but it, it did provide the background of, okay, if we can get to six years, we know the quality of bourbon that's coming out here. Yeah. And we want to make it to that six year mark, if we can. And so thankfully that, that did happen and we didn't have to put anything out sooner. And it, it all worked out pretty well.
So you're probably getting a really good handle now on what different areas of the warehouse do in terms of aging to your whiskey? Cuz one of the things that I think's really cool about your bottle is that you tell the percentages of what floor from the warehouse your whiskey is coming from. So what, what, what do you feel like the personalities are between the upper reaches of the warehouse down to the lower areas?
Yeah. Yeah. So going back to the bottle, you know, that was, that was a lot of pressure, a little overwhelming to think of that going on the bottle. But we were sitting around, I, I give credit where it's due and we are sitting around with marketing and sometimes marketing gets a bad rep, but our, our VP of marketing, Patrick, he, he was one of them pushing, Hey, let's make it six years. We don't need to sell it sooner. Let's let's wait. And then we were sitting around talking about, you know, what can go on the website? What's everything gonna look like? And it's, you know, I said, well, we can pull show where the barrels are coming from. He's like, well, let's put that on the label. Like we're, we're bourbon, consumers we're we were drinking bourbon. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and we wanted to know more about the bourbon.
We wanted to see that transparency. And so that's really where it was born, was being able to see that transparency in what you're drinking and what that bottle is produced. And, and so yeah, the, where the barrels are pulled from and hand selected from is, is part of that label. And we're, we're seeing that. So with a couple caveats one, we have two Rick houses on site that we're aging in C is where we started. It was in better shape. And so we could go into that one sooner. And so we've been filling C warehouse, B warehouse is, you know, just a few hundred yards away, but it's facing a different direction. It's going north, south instead of east west. And so still to be determined on that one, there's not enough of age, so there's still work to be done in that Rick house, especially.
But yeah, in sea warehouse, you, you see that the top and getting a lot of notes of this, the top floors are, tend to be a lot more okness and Oak flavor and a lot more spice. And that's where this first release, we, we focused in a little bit more heavily 79% came from the fifth floor, 21% came from the first floor. And so we really kind of leaned into that and that profile the bottom ones, you know, they're, they're good in their own, right. But they're a lot more subtle and soft and a little bit of sweetness to 'em. And so they're a little bit more delicate. And so we, we really wanted to balance the two out on the first offering. And then we'll go from there. And as, as we get further along, we'll have more floors coming available for this, that first season that we had really, we only went on one in five and so that's all we're gonna have available.
But yeah, we, as you progress through the Rick house they're, they're following that general trend. So it, it is a, it's a seven story Rick house that we have. And so you'll see a 20 to 30 degree temperature differential. Wow. And a 10% humidity differential. And so it's cool and humid on the bottom and dry and hot on the top. And so it tends to follow that, you know, the higher you go, the, the more Oak character you're gonna get. And so we'll, we'll see, as we go through time where the sweet spot lines up on the brand where people like what floors they like and that's gonna be part of the fun of this is seeing what people say about them. And
I was gonna say the thing that would be fascinating for me is that for the educated whiskey consumer who ends up going, you know what, I like that whiskey, but it was a wee bit too Okie for me. But I see another bottle on the shelf where I see that the percentage is higher on the lower shelves. Maybe that's a better blend for me. And so let me roll with that. In other words, you're not necessarily having the marketing department have to advertise a different name for different styles, but instead you're giving the consumer through education, the option of going to the shelf and picking the one that probably suits their taste more.
Yep. Yeah, exactly. We want to, we want to play with that. And so it's all, all very similar character, right? Like it's the same Nashville, it's the same barrel, same barrel entry proof, all of it's kind of consistent in the Stillhouse and yeah, we're playing with the floors and the variability that come into the aging via the different floors and, and having fun with that. And yes, it, you may not always like one release, but the next re release might be slightly different and that might suit your taste more and it's all gonna follow a same taste profile, but there's gonna be the subtle differences. So it's kind of, you know, people always say, what will, it's not consistent? Well, no, it's consistently high quality. Just not the same every single time. Yeah. We're not rotating barrels. We're not trying to blend to be identical batch to batch it's it's.
We want there to be a subtle difference. We want the whiskey consumer to kind of embrace that, learn that and, and see what we're tasting. We've we've had this over the time and there's discussion, you know, various people like one floor or the other barrels better in our past third floor was always the, the gold standard. That was what you wanted to, to keep that was back in the eighties, third floor, that's where the sweet spot is. We'll see if that's the case and we want to have fun with this bourbon market and the people that care about those things. We want to provide that information to them and not, not hide behind, you know, just vague information. You may not like it, but, you know, try the next one. Yeah. that one and two are different. You know, we, I said earlier that the first one that we did in may our first release in 30 plus years, that was 79%, fifth floor, 21% first floor.
We're still playing with those two floors. The next one, when we just bottled last week is 56% fifth floor, 44% first, and it tastes different. There is a difference for sure. And we had a whiskey group come in and we, we set 'em up side by side and, and, you know, most of them had different opinions. It's like, well, I like this part of batch one, or this part of batch two, or this one's my favorite. What's your, and it's just fun to be part of that conversation cuz that's what drinking Bourn is, is an experience with brands hopefully, and then that's what we were seeing. And so that's hopefully what consumers will continue to take away with this. Well,
I think it adds that element that got me drawn into whiskey, which is I was trying to get into wine to get away from beer because I found that it was something you could talk about, something that you could learn about something that you paid attention to the process and where it was located and different elements of, of what makes a good wine. And so whiskey the same sort of thing. And so I think there is a evolution with the whiskey drinker that will keep whiskey interesting for people for decades to come in this transparency and being able to really get to learn different elements, to notice that this was whiskey tastes different from this one. And it comes from the same distillery.
Yeah. Yeah. It's that is very true. And you know, I, I love that that part, I think that's why kind of in my own head, that's why single barrels have become popular is, you know, you can say, well, this one's slightly different taste profile and this it's coming from wherever, you know, whatever is given about that. What always kinda drew me away from those though, is that again, if you taste a, if I tried a good single barrel of brand X here, you may not be able to get that single barrel, cuz that would just be luck that you would be trying that. And so it's not as widespread of a experience type of thing and you can't call someone across the country and say, Hey, did you try that single barrel? No, I, that was only sold in the dirt. Like why would I have tried that? So, so I think that's, what's kind of cool about this type of experience is a little bit more widespread a little bit more easy to find maybe as opposed to a single barrel, but ultimately it is that it's that transparency, it's that discussion. It's the topics of how is one different than the other? That's it's, it's a lot of fun. And so, and I, I, I love, I love the, you know, the experience and the, the drinking with friends part.
Yeah. So what are you using for flavor and green? Is this is this rye,
This uses rye. Yep. Okay. Yep. So 15% rye in the mash bill. So it's kind of that one little it's not as low as some, it's not as high, especially now with the advent of Highrise bourbons. It's not quite that. So it's kind of that middle ground as well. But presumably back 30 plus years ago, it would, would have been relatively high for the ride portion. Additionally char three barrels from independent state company here in Lebanon, Missouri, and then we're going into the barrel at 118 proof. And so it's, it's lower than the, you know, 1 25 or below it's, it's stuck with that, what we did 30 plus years ago.
And one of the things that you mentioned, which Kentucky sort of claims, but now as I've learned about whiskeys from Illinois and from Tennessee and from Indiana and now Missouri, that limestone water, isn't something that is just in Kentucky.
Yeah. Yeah. There's there's limestone in a lot of, lot of different states and the, the limestone Springs, you know, here we've we've test, we obviously test it regularly. But then we, we did a full, comprehensive test multiple times comparing it to yeah, the, the published data or the things we've seen and in hidden books of comparing to Kentucky water and it it's, you know, virtually identical. And so it's got all those characteristics and, and qualities that you would expect. And so, yeah, we, we hear onsite have that and we're, we're very proud of that and happy that we have that here, obviously it it's getting another one of those elements that ties consistency year to year of we're using the same water source with same limestone spring. And so very much a part of what we're doing on site as are those Rick houses. I mean, those two, the beginning and end of the process, it's, it's critical that we have those, that's what we're telling. That's what we're, we're talking about. And we're, we're glad that those are on site and that we have access to the same history that we we could have had.
Yeah. And so you said you get your barrels from independent Dave, they have a Missouri cooperage. Yep. Correct.
Yeah. So they got a cooperage in Lebanon, Missouri in Lebanon, Kentucky. Okay. And so yeah, we're getting as part of Missouri bourbon legislation was passed in 2019 with the state legislature here. And part of that requirement is getting the barrels from Missouri using Missouri corn a, you know, producing it here in Missouri and then using the Missouri cooperage barrels. And so that, that's a part of what we're doing and we're following those Missouri bourbon regulations. But yeah, the closest cooperage to us is that Missouri won and they make a lot of good quality bourbon barrels. So yeah, we're, we're lucky that they're here.
I was shocked when I went to Scotland and I was in TA Scotland at the Glen Moji distillery and they said, we get our barrels from Missouri. And I thought, well, that's interesting. And they said, we actually own a, a plot of land where we grow our own trees and then pass them off to Jim beam and Jack Daniels to do their aging and seasoning them before they get sent out there. So Missouri white Oak is making it all the way to Scotland.
I did not know that. That's awesome. Yeah, no, that's, that's very good quality white Oak here in the state of Missouri. So very glad that that's also a part of what we're doing. I mean, everything we're doing is very similar to Kentucky. We're, we're close and it's got a lot of the same characteristics and, and the bourbon overall is gonna have a similar taste profile. That's what we're going for. It's I mentioned column still bourbon aged six years in a traditional Rick house. It's, it's following a lot of those same steps. So yeah, a lot of the same characteristics that make Kentucky bourbon, what it is we, we have access to here. And so you know, hopefully that continues to, to work well for us and, and we're, as we release different things that people continue to like, it,
It would be interesting to see the weather changes between, you know, humidity and heat and how cold it gets in the wintertime and that sort of thing to see how much of a variation there is between your area and say Bargetown Kentucky.
Yeah. And that, that would be good to see that data. I know. I always, I, I follow obviously other brands on social media and, you know, it's, it's funny during the, the winter it's, we're closed for a day because of a storm system moved through and then the next day, or two days later, like they're closed for the same storm system that moved through. So, you know, it's, it seems to be very similar weather, just we're a day or two earlier on, on the process. So yeah. Yeah, it's, it's very much, you know, the, the extremes here and to be the same as what they're, they're seeing as well. So yeah, definitely not like a Wyoming or, or Texas style, you know, it's, they're clearly going to be different and it's not quite the same, but we, we should be pretty similar.
Well, as I go in and I, I nose and taste this, I have to tell you that when I started a cuz I always like to sample things at a time and kind of get familiar with them. I'm not good at tasting under pressure. I like to say, so it's good to kind of relax, get in the right room and really kind of soak it in. But if I could make one statement about this whiskey, it is properly labeled as bourbon because it has so many of the characteristics that I would expect out of bourbon. It has that that Okie almost leather note that comes in on the nose. It is there's a lot of that toy caramel note that comes through vanilla. And so it, it just hits all of those different points on the nose that I think of when I think of a traditional bourbon.
Yeah. I would tend to agree with that. That was kinda what we were going for with, with this offering.
And so what's interesting is, as we were talking about, I would probably be the guy that would want to go down a floor or to, when I talk about like going through the Buffalo trace range, I'm more of a Buffalo trace guy than I am an Eagle rare guy. Yeah. The more Okie it gets, the less interested I get it now it adds another interesting characteristic to it, but it, but there's a point where I'm like, okay, it's just a, maybe a little bit more than I want. So can we back off a little in that range, I get a chance to go for Buffalo trace in, in your range, I'll be looking at the side of the the bottle to see which, which warehouse or what level it came out of in that warehouse.
Yep. Yep. That's exactly right. And to that point, I would say you would, if, if that's your preference, then I would say you, you would like that too. Probably better.
But this is, is very, very good. It's almost a cracker Jack kind of a flavor that I, I get out of the pallet on that with the sweetness that, that comes through, which is really nice and it lingers and that spice from the rye creates a nice little heat on the back pallet as you're as you're sitting there on the finish.
Yeah. That's one thing I tend to like and pay attention to. And thank I, you know, so far we've had that is having that nice, nice kind of medium to long finish. I, I don't want it personally. I don't want it to disappear right away. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> I, I still want that to be present. And so that's kind of we felt was there on this one and the, the second one as well of, of having that a little bit of complexity after, afterwards as well.
Nice earthy floral rye kind of comes in on the finish and just lays there and, and sits with you, which is nice as well.
Yeah, yeah. That's I think that will kind, I, it's hard to say, so everyone always asks kind of like a house labor or something to me, that's what I'm looking for and thinking is kind of gonna be the carrying through batch to batch is that type. But it, it's pretty early on and we'll see if that's the case or not.
And as you're tasting it earlier on, cuz you've tasted it at four years, you've tasted it three years. This has a really nice mouth feel to it. Is that something that's developed over time with the age?
It, it has definitely developed more I would say in general, we, we still get that pretty early on. We're, we're not shying away. We're distilling it 1 20, 1 30 proof. So it's not super high, it's not trying to remove everything. And so we're, we're getting some carryover through our, our white dog and our distillate and it's the, when we taste our white dog on site, there is some kind of that, a little bit of that mouth bill and some sweetness to it early on that carries over. But then yes, it does. It does clearly increase over time as well. It's been a progress and we, we have another mash bill where it's still slightly present. And so that's future one. So I, I would say it is more so from the distillery, but also continuing on.
Yeah. So how do you do the batching? Do you grab like five barrels from one floor and one barrel from another? Or how does that there's how big, how big is a small batch?
Yeah, so there's a lot of, a lot of sampling of the barrels. And so we're, we're truly trying to we'll sample the barrels that we plan on using, and I'll bring 'em down to the lab and we're going to try to make various composite batches using those barrels and kind of approximately the proportion they'll be used in. And so that's kind of the building block, a small batch, or, you know, the batches have been 55 and 56 barrels is where they're at. Okay. So we're around that 50 mark. It's probably a good number for us of where we're gonna be for the most part. It may be more, maybe less depending on kind of what we're wanting to do. And, and we've had the, you know, the, I say marketing and the board, everyone, it's this, this specific bourbon Ben holiday bourbon, we want the flavor to drive it.
And so honestly, if there's a time when we have 15 barrels that we're gonna use, that's what we're gonna do. That's what we're gonna bottle it. And so you know, we're going to let that dictate the bourbon more so than, than saying, okay. Every one of 'em that we do is gonna have to be 50 or 60 or whatever barrels that's, it's not driven by that as much as by the taste of it. And so, yeah, we'll, we'll go up, taste, everything, bring 'em down. And then even another step which we'll see if this happens over time, but once we've selected the barrels, then we're going to pull those barrels. We're gonna weigh 'em. After we pulled them, we're going to sample every single barrel and we wanna make sure, you know, we didn't get a sample that was good.
And then we pulled the barrel and it's like, okay, well, wait, that one doesn't work. That's not the same as what we tried. And so we're being very, very cautious and careful with this every step of this process, you know, it's a lot of, a lot of moving parts, but we wanna make sure that we're not going to take one barrel that completely messes it up. And, and so that's kind of where we've been and what we've done for the first couple, what we'll probably continue to do and stay as, as well as we can of respecting each barrel as part of these batches.
So for people who are wanting to find this on their store shelves, you guys just released in may, was your first release, as I understand how far across the United States have you gotten so far?
Yeah. So in may, that one has stayed just in Kansas and Missouri. Okay. So it has gone kind of mostly over Kansas, Missouri. It hasn't even made it to St. Louis yet. That's gonna be coming up soon. So the first, first batch, yeah. That one, we had a lot of built up demand here and we could kind of stay local. We wanted the people around here who have come visited us to be able to buy the bottle. Right. Like, that's, we've been offering tours for the last six years when people are like, yeah, when can I try the bourbon? So it, it stayed here. We'll continue to stay in Kansas and Missouri for the most part. And then we'll be distributing to some other states that's back half of the year, maybe going out to others. I don't know those states just yet.
That's in our sales team their hands right now. So, but Ben holiday, it's, it's a lot Kansas and Missouri, anytime you travel to one of those two states for sure you can, yeah, you can look it up, come visit at the distillery. We're gonna be releasing another mash bill a weeded variation that may happen next fall. And that one is gonna be more of a widespread release that one will be going out to a lot more states. So be on the lookout for that, won't be under Ben holiday name, it'll be holiday something. But I, I think anyway, that's still early on. Could change, could change. That's that's outta my hands, I guess, but yeah, we're, we're looking at that being more widespread coming up next fall starting to roll out. So it's, it's been a process. We, we wanna keep it as local as we can, because, like I said, the people here have supported us over time and have visited and, you know, we, we want our friends to be able to go to a liquor store and buy a bottle and not just spread it all over the country right away. And then no one here can find it. So it it's a balancing act. We'll see as time time goes on.
And what days of the week do you do tours there?
So we're doing tours currently on Friday and Saturdays. So just keeping it for the weekend yeah. Going, having various offerings booked online through our website and then, you know, going through the, the, the distillery and tasting the bourbon at the end. And so yeah, very typical tour that you'd expect to see, but very, very small it's very, you know, kept, kept private here. So definitely encourage people to visit
I'm I'm supposing that while they're up in that area, they probably could find some kind of pony express museum or something. Is that yeah, there's possible. There's
I, there are some very pony express exhibits around, I don't know what the best ones are, but yeah, there's a lot of a lot of historic things. We don't have anything we're looking, Ben holiday doesn't have a Memorial or anything we're looking at doing some sort of something or other, but yeah, a as far as I know, there's, there's plenty of places to visit for the history of it. And a lot of cool, a lot of cool things around this area, for sure. Weston is a it's a nice small town with, you know, the wine and the us here and breweries and it's got a very small town charm to it. So definitely one people how far north.
So how far north of Kansas city area,
About 20 minutes north of the airport. So people always come up to the airport. It's the north part of the city. So just another 20 minutes beyond that. So not, not terribly far. It's not as, okay. That's the one comment we get from everyone in Kansas city. Who's never been here or to Weston it's oh, I didn't realize it was this close. Yeah, it's actually not that far. A little bit past, so
Well, well, I gotta ask you, where do you get barbecue in town?
Oh man. There's so many good. So many I spot, I, I don't know. Yeah, it's it, you know, of course before, before I, now obviously Ben holiday is my favorite bourbon. It was always, everyone asked me the question of what, what do you drink? Well, it depends on the time of day. It depends on the time of year. It depend whatever, like it, it might change and that's something for barbecue. I think in Kansas city, you can't go wrong. There's a lot of good options. It depends if you like ribs or, or, you know, brisket or the beans, like it, it all depends. So a lot of good options here.
Yeah. I was gonna say, I, I have lots of suggestions for Kansas city for things to do, cuz I love going to the baseball games there. I love that baseball. Park's one of my favorites in the country. And then the world war I museum is my second favorite history museum that I've been to is an incredible experience to go there. And and of course Arthur Bryants is the place that I went to when I got barbecue and then the jazz museum and the Negro league museum we're right around the corner. So, so many cool things to do in Kansas city, Kansas. So
Kansas, Kansas. City's a cool spot for sure. It's, you know, I, I don't think people realize how cool it is, but yeah, next time you're out. Make sure you come up and visit us. We'll we'll show you around for sure.
Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Kyle, for being on the show today and giving us some Missouri history, because that's something that again, I, I want people to understand, you know, there's bourbon is all around and there's historic bourbon or historic whiskey from all around as well. And so it's fun, especially for people who probably live in the Midwest and they hadn't really thought about heading out to Kansas city or that area to investigate whiskey. Here you go. Here's a great spot and you get the history on top of it. So thank you again for being on the show.
Absolutely. Thank you. Appreciate it.
And by the way, the transcontinental railroad started in Omaha, which is quite a bit north of Western. If you'd like to learn more about Ben holiday bourbon, just head to holladaybourbon.com that's H O L L a D a Y, and find show notes, transcripts, and my YouTube tastings or Whiskey Lores, other social media at whiskey-lore.com. I'll be back next week with another interview. And we've also got the history of Irish whiskey continuing over at Whiskey Lore stories. Join me for another great episode. As we dive into the origins of Ireland's most famous cocktail guaranteed to warm you up. I'm your host Drew Hannush. Thanks for listening. And until next time, cheers and Solan GVA whiskey, lores of production of travel fuels life LLC.