KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City’s oldest distillery operates today inside a place that was built by the largest beer brewery west of St. Louis at the time.
But wait, there’s more. While these two historic Kansas City businesses just overlapped in 2019, their unlikely marriage was actually more than 100 years in the making.
In 1884, Ferdinand Heim moved from Germany to Kansas City and started a Ferd. Heim Brewing Company. The brewery grew in the once-thriving East Bottoms, and they opened a bottling plant next door. Production increased to 125,000 bottles a day. Business was booming.
A few years after the Heim family came to KC, Jacob Rieger arrived. An immigrant from Austria-Hungary, he soon started a distilling company. The company became the largest mail-order whiskey house in the United States.
When the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act was passed in the U.S. on Nov. 18, 1918, Ferd. Heim Brewing closed. The 18th Amendment was passed a year later, cementing Prohibition for the next 13 years. In December, 1919, J. Rieger & Co. shut its doors as well.
Fast-forward almost 100 years, and Ryan Maybee, a KC restauranteer, met Andy Rieger, the great-great-great grandson of Jacob Rieger. Together, they decided to re-open the old distillery.
Exactly a century after Ferd. Heim Brewing Company closed, the two entrepreneurs began renovating the company’s old bottling plant. And 100 years after J. Rieger & Co. first shut down, the reborn company relocated into their current space, planting roots to survive longer than their predecessors.
J. Rieger now has two bars, a full-scale distilling room and a barreling room. The place is so big that they even built a museum that details their history and a literal slide to travel between floors.
The slogan, “O! So Good!” is an original distillery slogan from the early 1900s.
However, you can still see details from the old Ferd. Heim beer company. One stands out on the building’s façade – a special German character of a crescent and the number 11. It refers to an old German drinking rule, which translates to “You will drink again.”
How fitting that this symbol seems to fulfill a prophecy of rebirth in Kansas City. You can find it set in the center of the top of the building, which, after 100 years, is providing drinks to Kansas City once again.