J Rieger & Co. is located in Kansas City’s East Bottoms. This is Kansas City, Missouri’s first distillery since Prohibition, and represents the revival of Kansas City whiskey.
We’ve seen plenty of new breweries opening across Kansas City in recent years, but the growth of the city’s craft spirits scene has been decidedly slower, especially compared to other cities.
That is quickly changing thanks in large part to pioneering spirits-maker J Rieger & Co. — which opened its East Bottoms distillery doors in 2014 as the first distillery in Kansas City since the repeal of Prohibition.
History of J Rieger
Here’s the story of how J Rieger & Co. blew down the craft spirits door in KCMO:
Originally established by Jacob Rieger in 1887 in Kansas City’s West Bottoms Livestock Exchange district, J Rieger & Co. was the largest mail-order whiskey house in the united states prior to the onset of federal prohibition in 1920. Its core product line was whiskey, but the distillery was closed due to the onset of Prohibition.
Present-day co-founders Andy Rieger, the great-great-great grandson of Jacob Rieger and Ryan Maybee, Kansas City bartender & entrepreneur, reestablished the brand in 2014. They have successfully opened the first legal distillery in Kansas City, Missouri since Prohibition and feature the flavors of Kansas City Whiskey as well as craft spirits favorites like vodka and gin.
Fun Fact: J. Rieger & Co. was the largest mail-order whiskey house in the united states prior to the onset of federal prohibition in 1920.
J Rieger & Co. is a state-of-the-art facility that includes a museum, on-site distillery, store with J Rieger & Co. merchandise, lounge, bar, restaurant, and a really fun indoor slide.
The building has been included on the National Register of Historic Places in Kansas City, MO.
Enjoy a guided tour around Kansas City’s first distillery. Enjoy tastings of whiskey, vodka, gin, and more on the tour or in the Monogram Lounge with their impressive array of craft cocktail samplings.
A first-time visit to J Rieger & Co. should include a tour and tasting, a visit to the museum, and then heading upstairs to the Monogram Lounge to enjoy a cocktail and food. Plan for at least 3 hours if you want the full experience!
Kansas City Whiskey History
In 1881, the state of Kansas became the first state to outlaw the sale and consumption of alcohol. Jacob Rieger opened the J. Rieger & Co. whiskey distributorship in 1887 in Kansas City’s West Bottoms (just blocks from the Kansas border).
The West Bottoms neighborhood, which is located on the Missouri side of the state line, quickly became known as “The Wettest Block in the World”. In the late 1800s, Kansas City’s West Bottoms livestock exchange district was also located here. Kansas citizens would cross the state line to drink, dance, and gamble. This is one of the reasons J. Rieger & Co. became one of the largest whiskey distributors in the country.
Of course, Federal Prohibition caused all distilleries to close their doors in or around 1920.
Fun Fact: Advent of Prohibition — The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors.
J Rieger & Co. distillery Tour
The J Rieger & Co. tour starts with a 10-minute movie that shares an overview of the 150-year history of J. Rieger, Kansas City whiskey history as well as an overview of Kansas City, Missouri pre-prohibition.
Before prohibition, the West Bottoms neighborhood of Kansas City was known as the “Wettest block in the world”. During this time, twenty-five saloons and liquor retailers occupied most of this area.
The tour continues to the distillery production floor where a guide shares all kinds of interesting information about the process of making spirits, which in many ways is similar to how beer is made.
Whole grain & hot boiling water is put into a hopper, later cooled with a cool coil mechanism, then yeast is added. There is a day for it to mill, a day to mash, and then off it goes to the fermentation tank and finally two copper distillations.
During the tour, I learned that it takes four years to make whiskey and five years to make rye and bourbon. It’s not a quick process like vodka or gin, that only takes a few weeks.
After visiting the distillery floor, the tour continues in the barrel room. Very reminiscent of a wine barrel room, the Rickhouse space is stacked with more than 3,000 aging barrels of whiskey.
Within the barrel warehouse, is an event space called Jacob’s Barrel Room. The room’s glass walls look out onto a 360-degree view of hundreds of whiskey barrels.
What sets J Rieger & Co. apart as Kansas City whiskey is the use of American white oak barrels that are charred inside and used for the aging process as well as the addition of Sherry.
Nathan Perry is the head distiller at J Rieger & Co. Previously he was a microbiologist at Boulevard Brewing Co. He has chosen to make Rieger Whiskey the way they did pre-prohibition.
Because of the length of time it takes whiskey to age, they began by using sourced Whiskey and added Sherry. This was quite common pre-Prohibition when J. Rieger & Co. first opened.
J Rieger Kansas City Whiskey contains straight Rye, light corn, and a blend of straight bourbon whiskey, in addition to the Sherry, which truly makes it unlike anything else out there.
2021 Edition Monogram Straight Rye Whiskey Oloroso Bota
The 2021 Monogram whiskey release is 100% Straight Rye Whiskey finished for nearly 6 years in an old Oloroso sherry Solera Botas from the WiIliams & Humbert Solera Especial.
It is worthy to note, that the Monogram Whiskey label has been created in collaboration with the Rieger distillery team and sherry expert Steve Olson.
Fun Fact: Sherry is fortified wine of Spanish origin that typically has a distinctive nutty flavor. It takes its name from the province of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, which is the oldest producers of sherry.
Previous releases of Rieger iconic Monogram Whiskey are 2017, 2018 & 2020. Both the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Rieger’s Monogram were named in the top ten Global Best New Spirit in the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Spirited Awards.
Rieger and Co also make a few additional spirits beyond their famous whiskey. They distill a Midwestern Dry Gin. They describe it as London dry style gin that is Juniper forward.
But, it’s really about what’s behind the gin that makes it most interesting and delicious. That is Tom Nichol, who was Master Distiller of Tanqueray for the bulk of his career before he began consulting for Rieger.
It takes between two to three weeks to make a batch of gin or vodka.
Whiskey, Vodka, & Gin Tasting
After a visit to the barrel warehouse, it’s time to head to the tasting room and try the J. Rieger spirits. The tasting takes place in a beautiful bright room with Reiger Whiskey memorabilia.
The tasting consists of four spirits.
From left to right, the tasting starts with vodka, then moves to gin, then the iconic American whiskey, and finally, Caffe Amaro.
- Vodka is silky creamy, smooth
- Gin is a Midwest dry gin. Musty earthy with citrus & licorice. Highest proof liquor.
- Kansas City Whiskey has sherry on the nose. Spice notes from rye.
- Caffe Amaro has a bitter taste with coffee & chocolate notes. It also has hints of star anise & spearmint and finishes with a hint of ginger.
After tasting the four spirits, we then mixed the whiskey and Caffe amaro to make a black Manhattan. If you make it at home, just add a bit of sweet vermouth!
Stages of Tasting a Spirit
- Close your eyes
- Sip & coat entire mouth
- Breath out you nose.
J. Rieger, to the best of my knowledge, was the first time I’ve ever tasted whiskey. I am allergic to gluten and always thought that because whiskey is often made with gluten-containing grains that I would have an allergic reaction.
So, Can celiacs Drink Whiskey?
According to beyondceliac.org, distilled whiskey, even if made with wheat, barley, or rye is considered gluten-free. They say that most whiskeys are safe for people with celiac disease because of the distillation process.
J Rieger Museum
The museum and the historical exhibit is on the main floor of the distillery and is free to visit. The space shares the 130+ year history of the distillery as well as the history of distilling and brewing in Kansas City with displays, memorabilia, and placards sharing all details about each exhibit.
The Monogram Lounge is located on the second floor and includes a bar, restaurant, and shuffleboard. The lounge serves cocktails, beer, wine, and food.
Above I said the lounge serves food. That is an understatement. The reality is that the Monogram Lounge, led by Executive Chef Jordan Hayes is putting out deliciously complex flavors with approachable shareable plates.
The bar offers classic cocktails like a martini, mule, and old fashioned as well as clever only at J. Rieger creations. Of course, all cocktails are made with J. Rieger spirits! Also available are beer, wine, sodas, and seltzer.
J. Rieger Distillery Kansas City Tours & Tastings Info
Everything about J. Rieger is fun, tasty and filled with history!
Address: The distillery is located in the Electric Park neighborhood of the East Bottoms in Kansas City, Missouri at 2700 Guinotte Avenue.
Hours: Wed-Thurs 12pm – 10pm, Fri-Sat 12pm – 12am, Sunday 12pm – 8pm
J Rieger Happy Hour: Wednesday-Friday 3-5pm
Distills: Midwestern Dry Gin, Kansas City Whiskey, Premium Wheat Vodka, Caffè Amaro.
Tours: 45-minute guided tours of J. Rieger & Co., distillery are offered Wednesday-Sunday.. $5 per person for tour & $15 per person for tour and tasting. Please bring a valid photo ID.