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What is Missouri Bourbon?

Dec 20, 2021 05:13PM ● By Jay Murry

Show Me the Bourbon


Missouri Shows That It’s More Than Beer and Wine


Distillers in Missouri are staking claim to the best craft bourbon. And why not? The Show-Me State is the hub of the world’s largest brewery. It possesses a wine country that competes with California’s Napa Valley. Everything we need to make great bourbon is right here. That means Jim Beam and Makers Mark will have to make room for crafters Copper Mule, StilL 630, Wood Hat, and S.D. Strong.


Don Gosen, the owner of Copper Mule Distillery in Hermann, was on a quest to create a Missouri bourbon. That mission accelerated during a visit to Louisville a few years ago, “We get distillers from all over the country—we had people from Texas talking about Texas whiskey, we had distillers from New York talking about Empire State Rye, all of these states had their names on the products. I’m sitting here in Missouri thinking if anybody should have a product named after their state, it’s Missouri bourbon.”


Great minds think alike, and owner Gary Hinegardner owns Wood Hat Spirits in New Florence. “We were importing alcohol into Missouri. That didn’t make sense to me. We have all the resources here. I went to the East Coast and the West Coast, went to 27 different distilleries. I asked ‘Why don’t people make whiskey in Missouri?’ I couldn’t find the answer so I just decided that I was going to do it.” That pioneering spirit led to the making of official Missouri bourbon.




The first step is procuring corn. Missouri just happens to be one of the biggest corn producers in the US. According to, Missouri was ninth in corn production in the US, with 560.9 million bushels in 2020.


“Changing the kind of corn is the most important thing you can do to create the desired taste, more so than changing the water source or other ingredients, or aspects.” Gary says. He has 42 different types of corn in a grain bank, as part of the Missouri Heritage Corn Project with help from the USDA. That helps him develop distinct flavors of bourbon.


Bourbon producers in Missouri have another home field advantage—highly desired white oak barrels. Don says, [Missouri] is literally the only place in the world where distillers come [to purchase barrels]. Kentucky can’t do it. Most states can’t. Other states have white oak trees, we have white oak forests. We supply the world with bourbon and whiskey barrels.”


Ancestral brewing and distilling were brought to Missouri by German immigrants in the 1800s. Many settled along the Missouri River valley. Some distilleries reside on farms

that have been in operation by the same family for over 100 years. Don utilizes three such family farms for his Copper Mule Distillery.


Others repurpose properties for their distilling operation. David Weglarz transformed an unused gourmet restaurant in 2012 into his StilL630 Distillery in downtown St. Louis. Lisa and Steve Strong created their S.D. Strong Distilling inside a cave in Parkville. These distillers and others have shown that they have the ingenuity to craft Missouri bourbon.





After the creative process was established, there was one remaining step—creating an official designation for Missouri bourbon. The distillers needed backing from the state’s tourism industry.


In 2014, and reported that Missouri was 30th among the most popular states to visit, and 34th among the states most interested in travel.


Those travel statistics helped convince legislators to get behind the passage of HB 266, a bill that gave Missouri bourbon the official state designation it needed. It was signed into Missouri law on July 11, 2019.


The Missouri Craft Distillers Guild spurred tourism with a promotion that reflected the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase by Lewis and Clark. The Missouri Spirits Expedition encourages tourists to visit all 33 member distilleries of the Guild to get a free bottle of bourbon. That expedition was a success. Don says, “Here in Hermann, we now have three distilleries. It’s given people new reasons to visit Hermann.” The promotion has generated quite a bit of traffic for distillers in the Kansas City area, according to a May 2021 report by KCTV5 News. Missouri bourbon has established itself nicely, but how much staying-power will it have?



On the national level, interest in bourbon is strong. indicates that on premise dollar sales of bourbon grew 12.9 percent in 2019. In addition, global data firm IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record) states that bourbon volume sales increased 7.9 percent in the past five years. Why the increase in bourbon interest? IWSR says that the largest percentage of bourbon drinkers is now centered in the 25-54 age group. Bourbon is not just for seniors anymore.



While touring each of the distillers in Missouri, channel your inner Meriweather Lewis.“As we passed on, it seemed those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end.” Be enchanted. Visit the visionaries that make Missouri bourbon.



Missouri Craft Distillers Guild


Copper Mule Distillery

2258 Highway 100

Hermann, MO

(573) 409-0007



Wood Hat Spirits

489 Boonslick Road

New Florence, MO

(573) 216-3572



StilL 630 Indomitable Spirits of St. Louis

1000 South Fourth Street

St. Louis, MO

(314) 513-2275



S.D. Strong Distilling

8500 NW River Park Drive

Parkville, MO

(816) 686-8269