f all the distilleries in the Midwest, Holladay Distillery—home of the McCormick Distilling Company—is arguably the oldest continually operating distillery west of the Mississippi.
Nestled near the Big Muddy, the fate of this remarkable spot was influenced by Lewis and Clark, who identified and charted it for its limestone rich water source in 1804.
But it wasn’t until a fourth-generation American by the name of Benjamin Holladay, came to town before the natural limestone spring was used as a source in the production of alcohol.
Although Ben Holladay didn’t make his way into many history books, he was quite the influential businessman, said Jordan Gernano, tourism marketing manager of Holladay Distillery.
Ben Holladay was born Oct. 14, 1819 in Nicholas County, Kentucky. Growing up he became skilled in the freight business and left home at an early age.
After spending some time in Mexico, he eventually settled in Weston, where he worked as a store clerk and private courier. Later, he ran a tavern and a hotel. When the entrepreneur opened the distillery in 1856 to make bourbon, he was just 37 years old.
Business was still strong when he handed the torch to his brother, David, and moved to California to operate thousands of miles of stagecoach lines from Missouri to the West Coast.
Perhaps it was his restless spirit that pushed him to acquire a fortune and become known as one of the largest individual employers in the United States in 1864.
Gernano says it’s this rich history that gives the Holladay Distillery its edge. “Anybody can start up a distillery anywhere, but our limestone spring water source and history sets us apart from other distilleries,” said Gernano.
Today, the 160-acre distillery attracts about 15,000 visitors a year.
At the moment, the Holladay Distillery doesn’t have any bourbon in a bottle. But that soon will change. The staff at Holladay is gearing up for its first release of its four-year holiday bourbon happening in the spring of 2020.
“Everything we have right now is currently aging,” said Gernano. “So, all the production we are doing on-site goes into bourbon barrels and into our bonded warehouse.”
Once the four-year holiday bourbon hits the market, the distillery will begin production on another four-year, six-year, eight-year, then 10-year bourbon.
In terms of production, the distillery can fill 14 barrels a day. That’s up from 11. But making bourbon is more about quality, Gernano says: “It is just as much an art as it is a science.”
From the recipe and the flora and fauna to the aging process, various elements effect the flavor and aroma.
“Missouri bourbon is unique from the more traditional bourbon produced in Kentucky, because the harsh cold temperatures in the winter and extreme heat in the dog days of summer make a difference with how that product moves in and out of the wooden barrels,” she said.
On-site tours Visitors who come to the Holladay Distillery for a one-hour tour get to take a closer look at many aspects of the largest bourbon distillery in Missouri, including the world-class bottling facility, original limestone spring, stillhouse and a seven-floor bonded warehouse filled with barrels of aging bourbon.
Visitors also get to taste a few of Holladay’s premium products, including Five Farms Irish Cream Liqueur, 360 Vodka Wine and Triple Crown Whiskey. Tours are available seven days a week and are $10 per person.
Over the past 25 years, the Holladay Distillery has evolved more and more. The biggest change came about when Ed Pechar and Mike Griesser took ownership in 1993.
“The facility transformed from a production facility making the classic McCormick Family brands to really specializing in premium brands,” said Gernano.
Holladay Distillery continues to grow year after year. This past year, it opened a new event space where private events can be held.
On Saturday, June 8, the distillery is hosting a sold-out brunch. But those who missed out on that event will have another opportunity to visit the new event space on June 22 for the first ever Cajun Shrimp Boil. Guests will be served a mix of shrimp, crawfish, corn and potatoes. The event will also feature live music, cocktails and lawn games.