martini on a wooden table
J. Rieger

Kansas City’s Local Distilleries

While Kansas City is undoubtedly gaining recognition as a thriving craft beer hub, it’s important not to underestimate our equally impressive distilled spirits scene!

The story of distilling in Kansas City is as aged and rich as the spirits it produces. The Prohibition era, a time when the entire nation went “dry,” ironically cultivated Kansas City’s clandestine love affair with alcohol.

As local politician Tom Pendergast famously remarked, “The people are thirsty!”

Today, the distilleries in Kansas City stand as a testament to its rich legacy, offering a contemporary take on traditional methods. In this guide, us locals break it down for you, making it easier to figure out which one best caters to what you’re looking for.

whiskey drink in speakeasy
Hey! Hey! Club at Rieger

History of Distilling in Kansas City

Let’s start with developing an appreciation for the storied history of Kansas City’s distillery scene.

Local distilling began in the late 19th century with notable pioneers like Holladay Distillery (1856) and J. Rieger & Co. (1887), each bringing their unique contributions to the city’s spirited landscape​​.

As production increased, Kansas City saw growth in its distilling output. J. Rieger & Co. notably became the largest mail-order whiskey producer in the country.

The advent of Prohibition in the early 20th century marked a significant downturn. The 18th Amendment forced many legal operations to close, including J. Rieger & Co. However, the city’s spirit persisted with illicit liquor production flourishing under local politician “Boss” Tom Pendergast’s influence​​.

Kansas City, Missouri, gained a reputation as one of the wettest and wickedest cities, suggesting a robust, albeit clandestine, spirit scene​​. This era was a pivotal time for the city’s spirit industry, as it navigated the challenges and changes brought about by Prohibition.

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Hey! Hey! Club at Rieger

Despite the numerous speakeasies and illicit operations during this time, the interest in locally distilled spirits waned.

It wasn’t until 1989 that Kansas City saw a revival in its local distilling industry, beginning with Boulevard Brewing Co. Inspired by this revival, the last descendant of J. Rieger & Co. teamed up with a local mixologist to reestablish the brand in 2014, signifying a return to the city’s rich distilling heritage​​.

Today, new distilleries like Tom’s Town and Lifted Spirits have joined the scene, and historic entities like Holladay Distillery have rejuvenated their operations, reflecting Kansas City’s enduring connection to the art of spirit-making​​.

kansas city historic distilery
Historic J. Rieger Distillery

What Liquor Is Made In Kansas City?

While most gravitate to Kansas City’s whiskey, there are many spirits distilled in Kansas City, from Irish Whiskey and American Whiskey to vodka, gin, agave spirits, and even absinthe. And not only does Kansas City produce numerous locally distilled spirits, many of them are award-winning!

Kansas City’s Best Distilleries

Kansas City’s distillery scene is as varied and vibrant as the city itself, with each distillery bringing its own unique flair and spirit to the craft. Here’s an overview of some of the prominent distilleries.

1. J. Rieger & Co.

Neighborhood: East Bottoms
Distilled Spirits: Bourbon Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Dry Gin, Caffé Amaro, Wheat Vodka

old fashioned on a wooden table at rieger distillery
J. Rieger

J. Rieger & Co. History

J. Rieger & Co. is a historic distillery that holds a prominent place in Kansas City’s distilling history. The journey of J. Rieger & Co. began with Jacob Rieger, who immigrated from Austria to America. In 1887, he founded J. Rieger & Co. in Kansas City’s West Bottoms neighborhood, a bustling center of commerce at the time​​.

J. Rieger & Co. thrived, becoming the largest mail-order whiskey house in the United States. They offered a wide range of products, including over 100 unique items like whiskeys, gins, rums, and bitters.

However, the 18th Amendment in 1919, which ushered in the era of Prohibition, forced J. Rieger & Co. to shut down in December 1919.

leather chairs at j rieger distillery historical exhibit
J. Rieger

The revival of J. Rieger & Co. came about nearly a century later, in 2010, when a Kansas City bartender and Jacob Rieger’s great-great-great-grandson collaborated to resurrect the brand. They were inspired by the rich history of the original distillery and the Rieger family legacy.

In 2014, the brand was successfully relaunched with the release of Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey, marking the return of J. Rieger & Co. as the first distillery in Kansas City since Prohibition. The relaunch garnered national attention, with Kansas City Whiskey being recognized at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards​​.

Since then, the distillery has expanded its product line. The distillery continues to grow, and in 2021, they released Rieger’s Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey, the first whiskey distilled in Kansas City since Prohibition.

J. Rieger & Co. Today

Today, J. Rieger & Co. operates out of the historic Heim Brewery’s bottling house. The trendy, industrial distillery offers daily tours, multiple bars, a historical exhibit, and – a local favorite – a stainless steel slide to help you from the second floor to the first.

historical exhibit with suede couches at j rieger
J. Rieger

In their Monogram Lounge, visitors can sip on craft cocktails surrounded by velvet booths and a cozy ambiance. Their Hey! Hey! Club is dark and swanky, with a fireplace and a private bar, and perfect for an upscale dinner.

In the summers, their Electric Park offers a lively outdoor space and occasional live music.

Located in the historic Electric Park district of the East Bottoms, J. Rieger & Co. continues to honor its legacy and contribute to the vibrant spirit of Kansas City.

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2. Tom’s Town Distilling Co.

Neighborhood: Crossroads Arts District
Distilled Spirits: Botanical Gin, Special Reserve Bourbon, Gold Whiskey, Double Oaked Bourbon, Barreled Gin, Double Grain Vodka

Tom’s Town Distillery History

Tom’s Town Distilling Co. stands as a testament to the city’s rich and complex history during the Prohibition era. This distillery is the first legal downtown distillery in Kansas City, Missouri since Prohibition.

The founders, with a deep connection to Kansas City’s history, decided to name the distillery after the city’s most infamous political boss, Tom Pendergast, who played a significant role during the Prohibition era.

Tom Pendergast, an influential politician and gang boss, was known for his control over Kansas City during the 1920s and 1930s. Under his rule, the city essentially ignored the Prohibition laws, which led to a thriving culture of jazz and speakeasies.

This era, often referred to as the “Paris of the Plains,” saw a blending of cultures and a boom in the nightlife and music scenes.

Tom’s Town Distillery Today

Located in a building built in 1904, the owners preserved many of the building’s original features, including charred beams from a 1918 fire, reflecting their commitment to maintaining the historical integrity of the space.

The design and brand of the distillery have been carefully curated to echo the 1920s Gatsby-esque era, paying homage to Kansas City’s past. We love the tin ceilings and art deco style of the building, and the immersive experience of watching the distillers at work make it a must-visit​​.

Tom’s Town Distilling Co. has received acclaim for its products and was named the Best Craft Vodka Distillery in the country in 2017. All four of its spirits have won multiple industry awards, underscoring the distillery’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship​​.

Tom’s Town Distilling Co. is more than just a distillery; it is a celebration of Kansas City’s spirited past, a tribute to its colorful characters, and a showcase of the city’s enduring legacy in the world of craft spirits.

3. Mean Mule Distilling Co.

Neighborhood: Crossroads Arts District
Distilled Spirits: American Agave Spirits

Known for being the only American Agave Spirit distiller in the Midwest, Mean Mule Distilling Co. adds a uniqueness to the Kansas City distilling scene. Agave spirits are similar to tequila due to the use of organic blue weber agave sourced from Jalisco.

Notably, Mean Mule is one of only five distilleries in the country to make a gin distilled from agave. We can personally attest to it being excellent.

The distillery’s creative approach is not just limited to their products. Mean Mule Distilling Co.’s location in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District reflects the founders’ commitment to integrating their unique spirit offerings within the vibrant local culture.

Their tasting room is quaint and features an earthy southwestern vibe, complete with cactus plants dispersed throughout the space. The staff is always welcoming and knowledgeable, being more than willing to walk you through their inventive craft cocktail offerings.

They reimagine classic cocktails using their agave spirits, such as the “Agroni,” a twist on the Negroni made with their agave gin, and margaritas served on tap. They also experiment with traditionally whiskey-based cocktails, using their Heritage American Agave Spirit to offer a unique take on these classics.

The distillery also places a strong emphasis on sustainability and ethical sourcing. They prioritize using an agave producer who grows organically, pays fair wages to workers, and contributes to community development.

This ethical approach extends to their sourcing from Jalisco, Mexico, ensuring their agave spirits not only have a unique flavor profile but also support sustainable practices.

Mean Mule Distilling Co. has gained recognition for its innovation and quality, notably winning a Gold Award at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirit Competition for its Silver American Agave Spirit.

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Mean Mule

4. Lifted Spirits Distillery

Neighborhood: Crossroads Arts District
Distilled Spirits: Gin, Vodka, Rye Whiskey, Absinthe

The ethos of Lifted Spirits is encapsulated in the concept of “play,” which is central to everything they do.

This approach to spirit-making, which combines whimsical experimentation with technical precision, has resulted in significant recognition, including the award-winning Supernova gin, a double gold winner at the New York International Spirits Competition. Additionally, they have been recognized as Missouri’s best gin distillery.

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Lifted Spirits Distillery

Lifted Spirits Distillery offers visitors an immersive experience with tours of their distilling facilities and a tasting room where guests can enjoy their handcrafted spirits. The tasting room provides an intimate setting for exploring the distillery’s products and understanding the craftsmanship that goes into each bottle.

This distillery prides itself on using soft red wheat from a single farm in Wellsville, Kansas. Lifted Spirits also engages in educational activities, sharing recipes and techniques as well as renting space to home distillers, furthering their commitment to transparency and community engagement​​.

Their craft cocktails are exceptional, and the tasting room is located in a restored circa-1800’s horse stables. It’s the perfect ambiance for sipping on their inventive offerings. We love Lifted Spirits, and you will too.

5. West Bottoms Whiskey

Neighborhood: West Bottoms
Distilled Spirits: American Whiskey

West Bottoms Whiskey Co. is a distillery that embodies the spirit of innovation and industrialization characteristic of the neighborhood. The distillery is dedicated to producing whiskey exclusively, with a particular focus on crafting the perfect American whiskey. Their approach involves constant innovation in distilling, aging, and blending techniques.

painted wall that says whiskey neat with a barrel table and chairs
West Bottoms Whiskey

One of their notable products is the Kansas City Whiskey, a pre-prohibition style of blended American whiskey that incorporates up to 2.5% sherry in its blend. This style harkens back to a time when the demand for whiskey was so high that producers often bottled younger-aged whiskey, with sherry added to enhance the flavor and color.

In keeping with this tradition, West Bottoms Whiskey Co. uses sherry not to mask flavors but to accentuate them, making their whiskey more approachable, especially for those new to the spirit.

The whiskey from West Bottoms is characterized by its approachability and versatility, being suitable for neat pours as well as serving as a base for various whiskey cocktails. At 95 proof, it offers a complex flavor profile with notes of sweet char, berries, aged oak, caramel, honey, rye spice, and baking spices. Its finish is well-rounded, leaving a lasting impression of charred caramel and sweetness.

The distillery’s ambiance and interior further accentuate its connection to Kansas City’s history. The cocktail parlor is located in a pre-prohibition era train tunnel, originally a depot for John Deere and the Oliver Tractor company in the 1890s. Revived in 2021 with the launch of the distillery and its Kansas City Whiskey, the parlor offers a unique atmosphere for enjoying whiskey cocktails.

wooden staircase leading up to second floor of whiskey distillery
West Bottoms Whiskey

The space retains elements of its historical past while also serving as a modern venue for whiskey appreciation. The distillery offers an array of whiskey cocktails, including their award-winning Old Fashioned, and provides tours and special loft seating for guests.

They also serve up an excellent mulled wine with their whiskey during the winter months.

6. Restless Spirits Distilling Company

Neighborhood: North Kansas City
Distilled Spirits: Botanical Gin, Blended Whiskey, Vodka, Irish Whiskey, Single Malt Whiskey, Poitin

Restless Spirits Distilling Company is an Irish-style craft distillery steeped in rich family heritage and Irish-American traditions. The distillery has been recognized as Missouri’s best distillery multiple times since its opening in 2016.

The founder, a fifth generation Kansas City native of Irish descent, brings a deep connection to the area’s history and his family’s legacy to the brand. His great-great-grandparents immigrated to America from Ireland during the Great Famine in 1853 and eventually settled in Kansas City, contributing significantly to the city’s development.

Restless Spirits Distilling Company offers an array of experiences, from tastings in their inviting tasting room to distillery tours and special events. They also engage in creating local team-inspired beverages, adding a unique local flavor to their offerings.

The distillery’s commitment to authenticity, quality, and a celebration of its Irish-American heritage makes it a distinctive and respected establishment in the Kansas City spirits scene.


green booth at speakeasy in kansas city
Hey! Hey! Club at Rieger

As always, thank you for supporting local!

If you found this guide helpful, you should read:

History of Brewing in Kansas City

Craft Breweries That Serve Food