Not Your Daddy’s Whiskey

New Crossroads Distillery Crafts Artisanal Spirits in Renovated Stable

Words: Rhiannon Ross

In the late 19th century, at 17th and Cherry Streets, the yeasty aroma of bread rising from the corner bakery permeated the pre-dawn air and mingled with the pungent odor of delivery horses waiting in the two-story, red-brick stable across the street. The days of equine-delivery bread service have long passed in Kansas City. Today, in the trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood known as the East Crossroads district, one can still catch a whiff of fermentation. This time, it rises from an unlikely space: the renovated, former stable at 1734 Cherry St., the home of Lifted Spirits Distillery, which opened its doors in November. But this ain’t your grandpa’s backwoods’ moonshine. Nor is it your daddy’s commercially manufactured alcohol. Here, business partners Kyle Claypool and Michael Stuckey craft artisanal gin, vodka, whiskey and traditional absinthe.

“We’re melding the old tradition of distillery with the science of it,” Claypool says. “Science proved there’s a better way.”

Claypool, 30, ambles across the painted concrete floors of the 10,000-square-foot, renovated space in tennis shoes. A lanky man who holds a degree in marketing, he gives a tour of the first-floor distillery with the energy of a long-legged colt. Nearby, in a small office — perhaps a one-time horse stall –—Stuckey, 33, sits tucked under his desk. A former pastor and real estate agent with a degree in theology, he scans a computer screen. Fittingly, Stuckey came up with the company name.

“We’re creating community,” he says, “a place where people can feel uplifted.”

Both men are married fathers boasting four children between them, all under the age of four (and one a newborn). They met one another about eight years ago through their wives — Gina Claypool and Bekah Stuckey— who have been besties since high school. The couples met for weekly card and board games. Claypool, who experimented with infusing crafted spirits, would share his intoxicating concoctions. His creations were popular; his passion real. Before long, the entrepreneurs and their wives began to ask, “Why not open a distillery?” The search for a space was a short one. In 2014, when Claypool and Stuckey found the building on Cherry, they fell in love with its good “bones,” location and history. However, more than simple renovation was needed. For the past 35 years, the building was used to house overflow storage for Architectural Salvage, a reclamation and antique store in Kansas City’s West Crossroads.

“It was filled, nearly wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, with old windows,” Claypool says. Undaunted, they signed a long-term lease with Abbot Properties and began the 18-month process of renovation. “But rehabbing a 130-plus (year-old) building with old gas and water lines is a challenge,” says Claypool. “The building was in really rough shape.”

Claypool then pauses, as if counting into the hundreds when asked to list all the challenges the building presented while at the same time trying to retain its historical ambiance. Today, the scrubbed space feels cavernous while keeping to what one supposes was its original look.

Claypool says, “media blasting” the walls other interior surfaces, instead of sandblasting, helped with the restoration look. “All the brick and wood were media blasted. It’s a gentler process than sand using glass beads and water for restoring the original look and feel.”

The distillery features brick walls and exposed beamed ceilings with original timbers on both floors. Natural light enters the many, aligned windows where horses once peered out into the streets and fresh breeze aerated the stalls. Vases of wheat decorate several window ledges. Cable spools found in the alley are repurposed as tables. A 20-plate silver still surrounded by glass for viewing, lives on the first floor of the distillery. Locally sourced grains from Wellsville, KS – a specific strand of Kansas Red Winter Wheat and rye – are delivered in the back, where it is then milled, mashed, fermented, distilled and aged in barrels, all on site. A wooden staircase leads to the former hayloft, where hay bales were once hoisted from the ground up through the second-floor window. The bales would drop through a hatch to the first floor to feed hungry horses. Today, The Hayloft – as it’s cleverly named – serves as an event space that accommodates about 200 people. An ADAapproved lift ferries those who do not wish to take the stairs. In addition, windows from outside of the building have been added to inside of the loft so customers can look down and view the distilling process below. A cocktail bar and an infusion bar are located at the front of the distillery where customers may both smell and taste. The infusion process allows customers to select among dozens of botanicals – hibiscus, lavender, lemon peel, to name but a few – to infuse spirits they craft at the distillery.

“They can infuse their own vodka and make their own gin,” Claypool says.

All gin first begins as vodka. The infusion shelves, standing next to a Toledo industrial-sized scale, are constructed from repurposed barn wood from Kearney, MO, obtained through Got Barn Wood in Lenexa, KS. Also, the bar was fashioned from reclaimed wood. Tasting Room Manager and Head Mixologist Jason Dowd, says tasting is essential to the overall experience at Lifted Spirits.

“It allows people to fall in love with different craft beverages.” “We’re about transparency and authenticity,” says Claypool, who will lead daily tours.

‘It’s also about the sensory experience. People can stick their hands in the grain and smell it and feel it. It’s the science of smelling and tasting. “Authenticity seeps into everything we do and produce. It all comes from local brains, from the renovation to the distilling — all from the people in the building.”

Lifted Spirits Distillery opened to the public on Dec. 2. For more information, call 816-866-1734 or go to: www.liftedspiritskc.com.

Rhiannon Ross gulped her first (and last!) mouthful of moonshine from a backwoods’ still in southern Arkansas. Firewater, she says, accurately describes its taste unlike the smoothness of a Lifted Spirits’ product.