The team at J. Rieger & Co. certainly knows how to throw a party.
The mood was high on June 1 at the distillery, as investors and members of the media gathered on the terrace for a much-anticipated release. We were one day away from the brand’s first bourbon release since pre-ban — and you better believe the promise to “try a new booze” is like a siren song for us here at Field. As live music, appetizers, and free-flowing cocktails wore on, the party picked up speed as we waited to hear founders Andy Rieger and Ryan Maybee talk about the new release.
If you haven’t spent a lot of time at J. Rieger & Co. near the River Market, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s a huge and fascinating space – a museum, full of artifacts from the distillery’s pre-prohibition era, is a great place to wander around and soak up some history. There are daily tours that allow you to learn the processes that go into making all of these flavorful spirits. There are also a number of different spaces for eating and drinking: the carnival-inspired outdoor area of the Electric Park Garden Bar, the basement, the intimate Hey! Hey! Club, the traditional tasting room and the lively Monogram lounge.
We gathered on the terrace, overlooking the Garden Bar, sipping the new spirit.
Rieger’s Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey is special for several reasons. First of all, as you would expect, it is very tasty. It’s higher proof than many bourbons you might be used to – 100 proof, or 50% ABV – and you can definitely tell by the nose. Bourbon always has a nice burn, but this one will burn those nostrils if you’re not careful. Chief Distiller Nathan Perry and his team have done a great job, it’s a remarkably balanced drink. The heat lingers, but it doesn’t taste as hot as it smells. There is complexity, with lots of tart and sweet flavors blending together at the start, giving way to a rich and savory combination at the end.
If you like to sip a good whiskey on a relaxing evening, or if you’re looking for a bottle to spend with friends while sharing stories you’ve told hundreds of times before, this could be the bottle for you.
This version is also special for a few less tangible reasons. For one thing, whiskey needs to age. In 2015, when the distillery first reopened, they began shelving a few barrels a month, knowing they would have to be there a long time for this bourbon to see the light of day. THAT DAY IS NOW: This release is the result of setting aside that little batch – it’s aged for over six years, and now it’s unleashed on Kansas City.
The “Bottled in Bond” aspect is also interesting. This designation represents the 100 proof bottle, as this exact proof is required to achieve Bottled in Bond certification. This also means that the spirit is made by a single distiller in a single season and must age for at least four years in a bonded warehouse.
It is not an easy ranking to acquire, it takes patience, time and money, which are often lacking when a new distillery opens its doors. However, when done right, the results are well worth the wait, as expressed by Rieger and Maybee, alongside Perry.
“It’s been one of our goals since we started planning for the reopening of the distillery,” Andy Rieger told the gathered crowd. “Now he’s finally here.”
He explained how important this spirit was to the J. Rieger & Co. team and underlined how much it was truly an expression of the distillery’s personality and creativity. Nathan Perry talked about the process and the work it took to bring this bourbon to life, and even cried a little when talking about his mentor, Dave Pickerell, who helped relaunch J. Rieger & Co. in 2014. Pickerell died in 2018, and Perry raised a glass to his memory.
The evening continued with more music, more laughter, more food and lots more whiskey. Their new bourbon worked just as well as a cocktail base as well as on its own. The star cocktails of the evening included two classics, a Boulevardier and a Whiskey Smash, as well as a drink called June Bug: bourbon, peach, Sicilian Amaro and soda. All three were suitably tasty; for my money, the bourbon flavor profile worked better with the Boulevardier, but that could also be the case because I’m also a sucker for any cocktail that adds up to “we added more alcohol to your whiskey, plus a bit of fruit.”
As the evening drew to a close, we found one last surprise in a corner of the Tasting Room: a Torcedor– excuse me if I misuse the term, because the world of tobacco is not my wheelhouse – seated at a small table, hand-rolling cigars that guests can take home and taste to cap off the evening of bourbon and revelry. Just another craftsman, taking his time to create something slightly sinful and definitely enjoyable. If you want to treat yourself, do it well, as Ryan Maybee told the assembled crowd at the end of his toast: “Let’s drink.
Rieger’s Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a limited release, so it may be hard to find. Your best bet is the J. Rieger & Co. Distillery, located at 2700 Guinotte Ave. Kansas City, MO 64120. They are open Monday and Tuesday 11am-6pm, Wednesday and Thursday 11am-8pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-midnight, and Sunday 11am-8pm.