Break out the tonic. J Rieger & Co. has released Midwestern Premium Vodka, its first spirit distilled entirely in the East Bottoms, which should be hitting store shelves today.
“Kansas City whiskey is our flagship product. We’ll be making good whiskey down the road, but it will be four, five or six years until that stuff sees the light of day,” says Ryan Maybee. “We’re not rushing the aging process and we’re not going to release anything that isn’t straight whiskey. It takes a lot of patience to do it right.”
J Rieger introduced Kansas City Whiskey — a blended whiskey with 2.5 percent sherry — last November and has spent the past eight months outfitting their distillery with a bottling line and a pair of stills. Those stills will soon be put to use making whiskey in-house. But in the interim, Maybee and operator Andy Rieger, needed a product that could generate cashflow and allow them to properly age the whiskey. Vodka — which they hinted at with a tongue-in-cheek April Fools’ post on Instagram — was their first choice.
“Most vodkas tend to be a single grain. We’re taking more of a whiskey-minded approach with a mixture of grains for the vodka to give it a more complex profile,” Maybee says.
For its Midwestern Premium Vodka, J Rieger is using potato, corn and wheat. Consultant Dave Pickerell helped develop the recipe that features potato as the dominant ingredient, accounting for 50 percent of the mix. The spirit is run through a copper still to add some depth of texture and flavor before it’s bottled.
“It’s a hint sweeter,” Maybee says of the vodka. “Wheat and rye are more dry, while the potato adds sweetness and richness.”
When it came to the bottle, Kansas City history continues to be an important part of the local distillery’s brand. [Maybee resurrected J Rieger Whiskey. The evidence of that is downtown as a restored mural depicting the spirit once made in KC adorns the former hotel and current home of Manifesto and The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, the speakeasy and restaurant that he co-owns with chef Howard Hanna.] The label on the vodka bottle has an illustrated homage to the clock in the grand hall of Union Station. The interior part of the label is a photo featuring a group of men toasting the first train to leave Union Station in 1914.
“We have that connection with Union Station,” Maybee says. “The Rieger Hotel was built in 1915 as a direct result of the construction of Union Station.”
The distillery is in the process of assembling its barrel racking system, which will allow them to store barrels for aging, and tweaking their bottling and labeling line. Maybee hinted at several collaboration projects in the works and he believes that J Rieger & Co.’s third product — gin — should be out before the end of the year.