Fate is fickle, but sometimes things come back around full circle. This story is about a group of Kansans who decided to launch a small batch distillery in the heart of a city that was once known as the “Queen of the Cow Towns”. Boot Hill Distillery sprang to life in 2014 as the first ever craft distillery in western Kansas. We stopped in to see what made them such an interesting story. After all, there are lots of distilleries across the state, so how does this one differentiate itself from the others? Let’s start with the grounds. The building sits on the original site of the Boot Hill Cemetery. Yeah, the original location where so many gunslingers wound up after being a bit too slow on the draw.
We want to thank the Dodge City CVB and Boot Hill Distillery for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
In 1878, the residents of the Boot Hill Cemetery were relocated to a municipal site, and the land was used for a school for a while, and eventually the city operations. The current building, which was opened in 1929, was home to City Hall, courtrooms, police department, jail, and fire department. The building fell into disrepair until the current group of investors saw the potential and gambled on this mission. After heavy renovations, and considerable startup expenses, they finally opened for business in the summer of 2016.
We had the pleasure of meeting up with distiller, Mark Vierthaler, for a tour of the facility. One of the first things that was apparent about Mark is his passion for his craft. You could hear it in his voice, and feel it in the stories he shared about the place he has grown to love. Three of the owners are Kansas farmers who supply every grain that is used to produce their products. The term “from soil to sip” describes the companies all encompassing method for delivering exceptional products. Mark walked us through the intricate distilling process and showed us the tanks used to create the spirits the company sells.
…And Now We Wait
Near the end we were shown the assortment of oak barrels that are used to age their spirits. Mark explained the difference between the types of whiskeys that are sold throughout the industry, as well as the regulations that stipulate what it takes to define each type. One of the most interesting pieces of information was the guidelines surrounding the creation of bourbon. It is one of the most heavily ruled spirits that we have ever heard of, and takes four years to produce. (Google “guidelines for bourbon” sometime.) Boot Hill Distillery has plenty of stock in the aging process, but it will not be available until the Spring of 2019. We are betting there is going to be quite a party when that keg is tapped.
As our tour progressed, we made our way back into the main section of the building. In the bottling area we saw a display of smaller kegs. These are available for people or businesses to purchase, knowing that they will have to wait for them to age to perfection. We even saw one with the name of the hotel where we were staying. I’m betting it will be served in their in-house bar at the hotel. At this stage of the tour, Mark showed us a special spirit that only Boot Hill Distillery produces. Dr. Sherman’s Prickly Ash Bitters was a cure-all that was hawked in the early 1900’s. The old peddlers would travel from town to town touting it’s powerful healing magic. It took a lot of reverse engineering to determine the exact formula, but the folks at Boot Hill did it, and now the general public can enjoy this unique libation. When you stop by the distillery you will certainly want to sample a sip of this concoction.
We were so engrossed with the backstage tour that we didn’t realize that our time at Boot Hill Distillery was quickly slipping away. Mark invited us into the tasting room and we were more than happy to follow. Now we know everyone has their own favorite spirits, and mine happens to be gin. There is something pleasing about the botanical undertones of a good gin that leave a pleasant aftertaste on my tongue. When Mark offered up a taste, I could not pass it up. Wow! Now this is what good gin should taste like. It was quickly apparent that their attention to details pays off for the consumer. Obviously, we had to sample the Prickly Ash Bitters, as well. It is a complex spirit with a ton of flavors going on. We bet it would make an excellent base for a variety of cocktails. As a matter of fact, if you check out the Boot Hill Distillery link, (It’s at the top of this page.) you can find the recipes for some interesting cocktails listed under their “Spirits” tab. We purchased a bottle of their gin for home, and thanked everyone for their hospitality. Our next stop was calling us, but we left knowing we were taking a little piece of Boot Hill home with us. Are you ready to sample some of their bitters? Share your favorite drink with us in the comments section below. We may just have to give it a try. Thanks!