On February 19, 2019
“Bartender, pour me a double shot of Red Eye whiskey, an Old-Fashioned for the little lady and two sarsaparillas for the kids.”
Requests such as this have become familiar at Boot Hill Distillery in Dodge City, which got its start in 2014 when Roger and Hayes Kelman along with Chris Holovach decided to build western Kansas’ first-ever craft distillery.
Boot Hill Distillery produces two whiskeys, a gin, a vodka and Old West bitters — all made from grain grown by the distillery’s owners.
“We like to think of ourselves as a ‘soil-to-sip’ distillery,” Hayes said. “From the moment the seed goes into the soil to when customers take their first sip, our distillery completely controls the process.”
The tasting room is one of the premier cocktail lounges in western Kansas, offering a bar reminiscent of the late 19th century.
“We’ve created a feeling of community,” he said. “Our tasting room allows people to come together, relax and enjoy what they are drinking. We don’t want to be a party bar.”
Instead, the idea was to create a destination where people could visit and sip a frontier-style Kansas whiskey with massive amounts of character. The hand-crafted Red Eye whiskey is aged for a minimum of two months and blended to recreate a powerful, yet balanced brew that’s similar to what a person would have tasted in the 1880s. And all the cocktails poured at the tasting room use Boot Hill’s own spirits as the base.
So, how did this idea of making whiskey in Dodge originate?
Hayes, a fifth-generation farmer, grew up on the family’s Haskell County land near Sublette. The farm consists primarily of corn and wheat with some sorghum, and beans. Crops consist of dry-land (no application of water) and irrigated (responsible water application). He graduated with a degree in ag business from Kansas State University but always knew he’d move back and farm. He also wanted to try something different.
“How can we use the wheat and corn we raise to make something else? That’s when our farm-to-bottle distillery began to make sense,” Hayes said.
They considered constructing a shed on the farm or a large metal building outside of Dodge City, but when a historic building prominently located just off US Highway 50 was slated for demolition, they knew they had found the perfect place.
After gutting the old building that had served as a school, city hall and chamber of commerce, among other things, the trio spent more than $1 million refurbishing the property and installing the distillery.
Accustomed to solving problems and tackling challenges, the partners drew on their backgrounds to figure out the distilling process.
The goal was to make the best whiskey they could. They understood the basics of chemistry, physics and a little biology. They also wanted to take advantage of the full flavor of the grain they grew in Haskell County. The partners spent more than a year experimenting with full-scale distilling equipment before releasing a product they deemed ready for consumption.
“We wanted our first spirit release to be a high-quality product,” Hayes said. “We wanted it to taste good, be something we’d be proud to drink ourselves and serve to our guests.”
If you’re traveling through Dodge City, stop at 501 West Spruce Street. Take a load off at the Boot Hill Distillery lounge and order up a whiskey or the libation of your choice. And, if you’re so inclined, buy a bottle for a good drink later. Cheers.
For more information about the Boot Hill Distillery in Dodge City, visit www.boothilldistillery.com. You must be 21 or older to access the page.
This article originally appeared in Kansas Living magazine and has been edited for our website. Read the full, original article by John Schlageck.