Missouri’s oldest distillery is releasing a classically handcrafted bourbon with a modern twist. Holladay Distillery’s 166-year-old stillhouse underwent a $10 million renovation in 2015 and began distilling bourbon on-site again for the first time in three decades. After barrel aging for six years, the first small batch of Ben Holladay Missouri Straight Bourbon Whiskey will start bottling May 20 and available in stores in Kansas and Missouri soon thereafter.
The release of Ben Holladay Bourbon is much-anticipated after six years of honoring the authentic traditions of the distillery’s past as well as following rigorous current-day standards. The barrels age in two historic buildings called ironclads that are not climate controlled, allowing the temperature to vary by as much as 30 degrees between the top and bottom floors. The master distiller and his staff complete tasks by hand including strategically moving the barrels each month to modify the aging environment and blending different barrels to match the Holladay flavor profile.
“We were very intentional about every detail of the authenticity behind this project,” said McCormick president Mick Harris. “We knew we wanted the Ben Holladay Bourbon to align with all of our traditions and follow the company’s principles of high-quality, innovative products with a rich heritage.”
Kyle Merklein is Modern Distilling’s Best
Crafting bourbon is equal parts art and science. Holladay’s Master Distiller, Kyle Merklein, earned his biological/agricultural engineering degrees from Kansas State University. He’s been in charge of the distillery’s bourbon operation and new product development since 2016 and has spent countless hours comparing the lab work on current barrels to the data found in the company’s old handwritten ledgers.
“If you can believe it, we’re using the same mash bill (blend of grains) that was used to make bourbon a century ago. And that was some very good bourbon, so why recreate the wheel?” Merklein said. “The flavor is rich and deep, and I’m confident our customers will enjoy this long-awaited release of Ben Holladay Bourbon.”
It is a common misconception that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky. While it is true that 95 percent of the world’s bourbon supply comes from Kentucky, the spirit is by definition American-made. Bourbon can only be made in the United States, and it can be made in any state. The finest bourbon results from an ideal combination of climate and geology that is rare outside of Kentucky but IS found in Weston, Mo. Ben Holladay Bourbon meets both the federal requirements for bourbon and the additional Missouri state requirements to be classified as Real Missouri Bourbon.
The Holladay Distillery sits on land with active limestone springs. Limestone provides minerality and promotes fermentation, while also filtering out impurities and iron that can affect the spirit’s color and taste. The Midwestern climate of dry and cold winters with hot and humid summers result in variations in temperature that are ideal for aging bourbon, Merklein said.
Who was Ben Holladay?
Ben Holladay is one of the greatest unknown figures in American history, an original transportation tycoon who has been called the “Elon Musk of his day.” He was famed as the “Stagecoach King” for running the Overland Express stagecoach lines that were ultimately sold to Wells Fargo, just one piece of a transportation portfolio that also included steamships, streetcars and a railroad. He even owned the Pony Express for part of its brief history. With everything from silver mines to saloons under his domain, he was the largest individual employer in the United States in the late 1800s and kept close counsel with everyone from President Lincoln to Brigham Young. He built an empire that spanned the entire country, and the Holladay Distillery in Weston, Mo., is the only piece left standing.
Ben Holladay Bourbon Tasting Notes
Nationally-recognized wine and spirits author Doug Frost is one of only three people in the world to have achieved the remarkable distinctions of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. Frost visited Holladay Distillery several times during the aging process to sample the product and submit tasting notes to help confirm the flavor profile was developing as expected. Frost said he considers the Bottled-in-Bond designation to be significant, as it gives whiskey consumers the assurance that a product is produced under strict quality standards in terms of production, aging and purity of the spirit.
“There’s so much that makes this bourbon special beyond the taste itself,” Frost said. “America has a centuries-long tradition of aged whiskey, so the artisanal practices that were used to create the new Ben Holladay Bourbon reflect an old-fashioned authenticity, with a master distiller working from an early mash bill and utilizing historic ironclads to mature that whiskey properly.”
ABOUT HOLLADAY DISTILLERY
Founded in 1856 by “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay in Weston, Holladay Distillery is the premium spirits division of McCormick Distilling Company. The company’s brand portfolio includes Five Farms Irish Cream, 360 Vodka, Tequila Rose, Broker’s Gin, Whicked Pickle and more. Ben Holladay Missouri Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a six-year-old, Bottled-in-Bond bourbon, will launch in May 2022. Learn more at holladaydistillery.com and follow @holladay1856.