When Andy Rieger and Ryan Maybee revitalized the J. Rieger & Co. liquor brand in 2014, there were no plans for quick growth, expansion or a tasting room. The two chose, rather, to focus on the quality of their spirits, which now include whiskey, vodka, gin and amaro.
That patience and devotion to craft paid off, first by attracting legendary master distillers to collaborate on J. Rieger and Co. products, including Tom Nichol (formerly of Tanqueray) and the late Dave Pickerell (Maker’s Mark and WhistlePig); meanwhile, distribution has expanded across the country.
Perhaps most indicative of its success, J. Rieger & Co. debuted its massive expansion in the old Heim Brewery in the Electric Park District of the East Bottoms last month.
Tell us about the company’s pre-Prohibition history. Back in 1887, my great-great-great-grandfather, Jacob Rieger, started the brand, and right around the turn of the century, my great-great-grandfather, Alexander, took over. He’s the one that really built it out to be a big national brand and opened The Rieger hotel in Kansas City. Alexander ran [the hotel] until Prohibition, when he had to sell [it]. In 2003, the hotel’s then-owner put it on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2010, a couple of guys started a restaurant [The Rieger] there, and that’s what led me to meet them. One of them is Ryan Maybee, and in 2014, we launched J. Rieger & Co. in the historic Electric Park District of the East Bottoms in Kansas City as a small production and distribution facility.
What does the new facility offer to guests? A large historic renovation done the right way – one which a lot of people say could be among the prettiest historic buildings in our city. Large-scale manufacturing, a 4,000-square-foot historic exhibition, daily tours with tastings and a gift shop. The main bar upstairs is the Monogram Lounge; it opens at 9am and has great WiFi and a breakfast menu that later transitions into lunch. The idea is that people can come and work and have breakfast, and as the day progresses, that will shift to the bar and social side. The basement bar has a totally different feel and upscale menu – that’s called the Hey! Hey! Club. In the spring we’re going to be opening the Electric Park Garden Bar, where we’ll have fire pits, lawn games and really cool lighting. This, too, will have a different menu and feel. People can bar hop without leaving the premises; everything is harmonious, but unique.
What area are you most excited about? The production floor. It was done in a very smart way, with air power, agitators and pumps, so we can be as safe and efficient as possible. It’s also special because it’s arguably one of the last spots that [master distiller] Dave Pickerell worked on before he passed away last November. Dave was like a dad to us, and we’re really proud to be able to represent this for him.
J. Rieger & Co., 2700 Guinotte Ave., East Bottoms, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.702.7800, jriegerco.com