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A Family Farm-to-Bottle Distillery

How a fifth-generation farmer created a soil-to-sip distillery in western Kansas.

Born from a barrel, forged in the dust, and obsessively crafted by artisan distillers is the legacy Boot Hill Distillery upholds in the historic city of Dodge City, Kansas.

When Hayes Kelman graduated from Kansas State University in the spring of 2015, he followed his dream of returning to the family farm but wished to bring a unique business home with him.

“I wanted to do something more than just take the grain to the elevator,” says Kelman. “By creating the distillery, we added value to our crops and are able to produce products straight from our fields. That’s where we use our soil-to-sip approach.”

The Farmer Mentality

Completely owned by Hayes Kelman, his father Roger Kelman, and partner Chris Holovach of Scott City, Kansas, the three multigenerational farmers wanted to take their farms a step further than the traditional farm by establishing a Midwest soil-to-sip distillery.

“The biggest thing for us is quality,” says Kelman. “People want to know where their products came from, and we encourage them to tour the distillery and come out and visit our farm and see their product growing.”

BHDHAYESWATCHING
Hayes Kelman watches freshly harvested hard red winter wheat being loaded at his farm. Some of this wheat will travel an hour to Boot Hill Distillery in Dodge City, Kan. where it will become one of the distillery’s products. Photo by Boot Hill Distillery

Established in 2014, the farmer-run distillery prides itself on growing 100% of the grains in 100% of its products. From the moment the seed goes into the soil to the moment spirits are poured into a glass, Kelman says the distillery has full control over the final product. Growing corn, wheat, milo, soybeans, white corn, barley, and rye, the Kelmans and Holovachs keep busy year-round.

“We could have started a feedlot,” says Kelman, “but that wouldn’t be near as fun.” With a craftsman’s eye for the highest quality ingredients, Kelman felt the Dodge City area needed its own whiskey beverage product.

Kelman also bounced around the idea of brewing beer but knew spirits would be best with the crops they grew and the lasting shelf life spirits maintain. However, Kelman says he had a great deal of learning to do.

“I really approached the idea with a farmer mentality,” says Kelman. “Give me a problem and I’ll solve it, and that’s what farmers do every day. I went to a couple distilling classes, read up as much as I could, and from there it was just trial and error.”

The farm-to-bottle operation opened its doors in July 2016 with the first product sold in November of that year. Since then, Boot Hill Distillery has released five more products including vodka, gin, bourbon, white whiskey, red eye whiskey, and prickly ash bitters.

How It's Made

Each of the distillery’s spirits are distilled in 500-gallon batches. Once harvested, the grain is delivered to the distillery or kept stored on the farm. Every step from milling to mashing, fermentation to distilling, and bottling is completed in the renovated building of Boot Hill Distillery.

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Boot Hill Distillery produces each of their products on a hybrid still setup, as well as a stainless steel vodka column. Photo by Boot Hill Distillery

The distillery houses three 500-bushel bins to hold the grains. For making bourbon, Kelman says the distillery needs 510 pounds of corn and 490 pounds of wheat. When making the 100% wheat vodka, Kelmans says it takes nearly 1,000 pounds of wheat for each batch.

“Above all, it’s a fun job with a lot of hard work and long hours,” says Kelman. “Like a lot of farmers, though, I enjoy making something you can hold in your hands. I started with seed and now there’s a bottled spirit sitting in my hand that we produced ourselves. It’s a neat industry to be in.”

The distillery offers tours twice a week involving the history of the company, the historic building, and, of course, in-depth tasting of all the spirits. Boot Hill Distillery products are currently available in Kansas, New York, Oregon, Iowa, and Illinois. California, Missouri, Texas, and Colorado will also have some products within the next few months.

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