Distilling A Story

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Story by Dave Eckert @eatsanddrinkswithdave    |    Intro photo courtesy of Union Horse Distilling

You may not realize it, but KC has quite the active distillation scene these days. By last count, at least ten distilleries call the KC metro their home. For this article, I had the pleasure of exploring three, one in Kansas and two in The Crossroads in the heart of KCMO. I started on the Kansas side with Lenexa’s Union Horse Distilling.

Union Horse is a family affair, specifically the Garcia family, three brothers and a sister, who transitioned their family dynamic into a family business. The Garcias began discussing the idea of starting a brewery in 2009. But, along the way, the goal changed from a brewery to a distillery, and in 2010, the discussions became a reality with the Garcias breaking ground on what would be the first new distillery in Kansas City since prohibition. “Back then, many micro-breweries were starting to open. We toured a lot of them, but when we visited a distillery in another city, the lightbulb went on over our heads. Why not do something different?” Damian Garcia, Union Horse’s Director of Sales and Marketing shared.  

Local and craft are two words you will hear a lot at Union Horse. They are constantly exploring and experimenting with new creations like their Rye Whiskey aged in Port barrels that is brand new to the market. “We’re small, and that allows us to be agile. We are always looking for something new, different, and delicious. More than anything, I want people to know that everything is done with love and care in small batches, and everything at Union Horse in hand-crafted,” Garcia summarized.

Photo courtesy of Lifted Spirits Distillery

Hopping over to the Missouri side, my next stop brought me to Lifted Spirits Distillery where the idea is to literally “lift your spirits.” “This December, we’ll have been open five years. I started distilling 11 years ago, and I realized it didn’t have to be a secret operation. The still can bring a lot of positive things to people’s lives. I wanted to do that,” Head Distiller Michael Stuckey told me. 

If there’s one spirit in particular that touches Stuckey’s heart, it’s gin. “When I was doing my research, I didn’t like gin. But, using an old French distillation textbook, I began making them. I took 50 different botanicals and distilled them separately and did a bunch of different blends. It was a blast. As a result, we now have four gins in our portfolio,” Stuckey stated.

Make no mistake about it, though, Lifted Spirits isn’t a one gin, or in their case, a four gin pony. There are many other spirits on offer, including seasonal releases, an Absinthe, even a Wheat Whiskey, which sources wheat out of Kansas. “It comes from Wellsville. The farmer experimented with some different types until we found the perfect ones. It’s like they were born to make whiskey,” Stuckey said. Sounds like something that would lift my spirits for sure.

Photo courtesy of Mean Mule Distilling Company

Just a couple blocks away, you will find Mean Mule Distilling Company, which comes with both a unique base spirit, Agave, and a century-old family story. I’ll share the story in a second. First, I’ll let CEO Jeff Evans explain how Mean Mule plies its craft.

“We get the 100 percent Blue Agave juice from the Highlands in Jalisco, Mexico. We use that Agave to make three spirits: Silver, Gold, and Heritage. There are similarities between our spirits and tequila, but we never say that we produce tequila. These are American Agave Spirits, and they are unique in their flavors and aromas,” Evans shared.

When Evans started Mean Mule, they were the first to craft American Agave Spirits. Now, they’re one of about 60 distilleries serving them up. I’m quite certain, though, none of the others share this origin story.

“During prohibition, my wife’s great grandfather was still making his product in the woods north of Hermann, Missouri. Apparently, a customer who was unhappy with said product turned him into the feds. Two agents showed up, searched the property, and found the building where he was distilling. They broke the door down and came face to face with the meanest 700 pound Missouri mule imaginable. As the story goes, two minutes later, one revenuer was dragging the other down the road. They never came back. So, that was the first instance where one mean mule saved five generations of distilling tradition,” Evens recanted.

The second instance occurred when Covid shut many businesses down, but Mean Mule Distilling Company and the entire family employed there, managed to stay afloat by selling their American Agave Spirits in bottles in “to go” cocktail kits. 

It seems the mean mule rescues this family and its distillation heritage about every 100 years, so plan on a third revelation about 2120 or so. Meantime, drop by Mean Mule for a mean Margarita or Paloma and grab a bottle of their agave-based spirits. You’ll find Mean Mule is way more than a good story. It’s an awfully good spirit as well!  Cheers! 

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