Innovation is intoxicating, Michael Hopkins said, pouring the story behind a newly-distilled whiskey company that hopes to do its part to put Kansas City grains on the maker’s map.
“The more distilleries, the more Kansas City is going to get recognized for [its whiskey],” said Hopkins, one of three business partners behind West Bottoms Whiskey, describing a belief the pandemic-poured company shares with local leaders in liquor like J. Rieger & Co. and Tom’s Town: Kansas City isn’t just a great barbecue town — it’s a thriving distilling community.
“I think the general consensus is that there’s room for everyone,” he continued, adding that each local brand strives to bring its own flair to the booze business — and West Bottoms Whiskey is no different.
Hopkins, for one, touts the operation as providing the best old fashioned in Kansas City, in addition to its small barrel whiskies.
Launched last summer after a heavy shot of shutdown setbacks, the company’s signature blend draws inspiration from J. Rieger, bottling its own take on the distiller’s famous, officially recognized “Kansas City whiskey” — a blend that combines sherry into the mash.
Click here to learn more about West Bottoms Whiskey or to reserve a table for tasting.
“Our whiskey is a 50-50 blend of rye and bourbon with just a little bit of oloroso sherry. It’s a lot heavier on the rye than other whiskeys, so it gives it a little bit of a stronger whiskey flavor,” Hopkins said of the company’s offering, brought to life by Alex Lindsey, founder and master distiller with more than 10 years of experience.
A software architect by trade, Lindsey’s affinity for hobby distilling and a fascination with innovation and the West Bottoms ultimately combined to launch the distillery, Hopkins explained.
“Alex has been sort of enamored with the West Bottoms for a long time. … For him, the West Bottoms really represent the idea of innovation, invention, experimentation — and at its very core kind of represents where the city came from,” he said of the historic, but resurgent neighborhood and its role as an industrial and manufacturing hub.
“He loves Kansas City; he grew up here — we all love Kansas City. He looks at the West Bottoms as the origin story of Kansas City. He likes the idea that over 100 years ago, people were down in the West Bottoms working in the cattle yards and in the manufacturing plants, building things for the very first time.”
Lindsey believes the trio behind the distillery — which also includes Eric Morey — is tapping into a similar energy as it works to make Kansas City a destination whiskey town.
“His idea is all about trying different distilling techniques, different aging techniques, different blending techniques — to constantly try and make what we call the ‘evermore,’ perfect American-whiskey,” Hopkins said.
“For him, it’s all about invention. It’s all about the industrial nature of it.”
Getting customers in the door for tours and to experience the West Bottoms Whiskey cocktail parlor amid the ongoing pandemic has presented an additional problem-solving task for Hopkins and his teammates, he said, noting the experience has kept them on their toes in unexpected ways.
“Industrious and hard-working, yet classically refined, Murdock is the embodiment of everything we do,” the minds behind West Bottoms Whiskey of their brand mascot.
“He comes from a time that represents optimism, discovery, and progress. He is our beacon on excellence, and we hope every whiskey we make lives up to the Murdock name.”
“It’s really forced us to pivot our priorities a little bit. When we got started a year ago, the idea was to get the distillery open to the public as soon as possible,” he said, noting that instead, COVID-poured shut downs allowed West Bottoms Whiskey to immediately turn its focus to shoring up distribution partnerships.
The company has partnered with locally-owned Veritas Wine Selections (Veritas) to begin sending its whiskey to shelves and into the hands of customers.
“[They are] a really hungry group of guys that had modest expectations for how quickly they could grow their business — but they blew up because of the pandemic as well.”
While Hopkins and his friends wish the distillery was well on its way to realizing the vision they held for its planned debut in March of 2020, the shift in priorities has been for the best, he added, noting timing is everything and change is best served cold.
“Opening a distillery in the middle of a pandemic, I would think is markedly easier than opening maybe a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic. And I say that because if you talk to any liquor store owner about what their business has done in the last year, it’s really exploded,” Hopkins said.
“People not being able to go out … it leaves them at home and it leaves them at home with a little bit of extra money to spend. They’re willing to try new products and they’re willing to invest in their home bar.”
When customers can return en masse — beyond limited hours and reservation-only tastings — Hopkins said he’s hopeful West Bottoms Whiskey can capture that same eagerness and turn it into an experience that’s as educational as it is fun.
“What we hope is that our brand and our space is super approachable. We’re hoping to impress seasoned whiskey drinkers and people who might think, ‘Oh, I don’t really like whiskey,’” he said.
“We want them to come down. It’s not a place where you’re going to walk in and have to know much about the process or about the grains or about anything else. We’re excited to teach people and we’re excited to let them take these different things and find something they like.”