Husband and wife team up for a spirited endeavor
A marketing expert and a science teacher walk into a distillery….
Okay—that’s not exactly how Restless Spirit Distilling came to be, but it’s close: Michael Shannon (the marketing expert) knew he wanted to own a business. The conversation started with his best friend; then talk turned to research and research turned to location scouting.
“We knew we needed a few things in a space,” says Shannon. “It had to be in a light industrial zone. It had to have 15-foot ceilings to accommodate the equipment. It had to have a pre-existing wet fire system. And it had to have enough visibility to customers, which is almost unheard of in industrial parks. But it all came together for us here and, luckily, the Northland greeted us with open arms.”
A North Kansas City native, Shannon worked his way up the corporate ladder at companies like Bic, Rubbermaid, H&R Block, and Avery Dennison before taking the leap into entrepreneurship.
“I’m a marketing guy,” he says. “I can’t help but analyze the data. So we know that the craft distillery business will mature quickly and that the expectations of consumers will continue to increase. We know that the bourbon, rye, and vodka market is saturated with options. And we know it’s a challenge to differentiate ourselves from everyone else.”
Enter Stone Breaker Whiskey.
“It’s our flagship,” says Shannon. The spirit is a blend of four-year finished imported Irish and Restless Spirit’s own malt whiskey, the latter of which is distilled twice in traditional pot stills.
“Irish whiskey is aged in used bourbon barrels,” says Shannon. “Jameson, for example, is aged in barrels that are up to 100 years old. American whisky is aged in a new barrel every time. We’re replicating the Irish process here. No one else is doing that.”
Stone Breaker is one of the distillery’s four spirits. It was in the original business plan. The other whiskey—Sons of Erin—wasn’t.
“A friend who lives here in Kansas City was traveling to Ireland,” says Shannon. “I gave him a t-shirt and asked him to please get a picture of my shirt at a distillery there. He did. Then he was in an elevator—wearing the shirt—and a man got on with him. He said ‘tell me the story’ and, after my friend told him about us, the man handed him a business card and said ‘tell your friends to call me. I’d like to help them.’”
Turns out, that serendipitous meeting was with John Teeling of Cooley Distillery fame, the same John Teeling who sold his legendary distillery in to Jim Beam in 2011.
Emails turned to a partnership and Teeling offered Shannon 1,100 gallons of his Irish whiskey. That whiskey is now private labeled as Sons of Erin.
The distillery also offers two clear spirits: Duffy’s Run vodka, a 90 proof vodka made from Missouri corn, and Builder’s Gin, which is where Benay—former science teacher and Shannon’s wife—comes in.
“Making a 90 proof vodka that doesn’t tasted like rocket fuel isn’t easy,” says Shannon. “But this is where Benay’s talents really shine through. She created a filtration process that made our vodka unique and really good.”
The gin, however, is Benay’s true triumph.
“Our business partner’s only contingency was that we have a gin,” says Shannon. “Now it’s turned into a cult classic that liquor stores can’t keep on the shelves and it’s behind the bar at places like The Farmhouse, Affäre, and Justice Drugstore. Benay is one of a very few women in distilling and we’re so proud of what she’s accomplished.”
Benay says she researched and read everything she could find about gin.
“Sometimes having a clean slate helps,” she says. “I was starting from scratch. I knew the flavor profile I was after: bright, fresh, green, and happy. I researched common botanicals and went shopping at herb supply stores. I read The Drunken Botanist and came away with about 25 herbs that I wanted to test.”
She turned their home kitchen into a lab—with equipment borrowed from her classroom—and started experimenting. In the process, she learned that one of the botanicals that lent a lush, herbaceous note to the gin, Irish Meadowsweet, is one of five ancient Ayurvedic remedies for headaches.
Despite the deeply respectful backstory and spirit names that pay homage to and reflect Shannon’s Irish heritage, the space is free of stereotypical Irish motifs. Instead there are chandeliers made of barrels and a sizeable tasting room with impressive windows that afford easy viewing of the distilling equipment.
The Shannons enlisted family to help build the space and together, they did as much of the work as possible including drywall, flooring, plumbing, and tile. Ian Byrne—of The Elders fame—carved the back bar.
“When we were designing the space,” says Shannon, “I said that I want people to walk in and see Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And they do!”
Restless Spirits Distillery is open to the public two days a week and offers tours—tasting included—for five dollars. They encourage anyone interested to join them on Tuesdays for volunteer bottling night (there’s a waiting list), Benay is planning distilling classes and they are working with Danny O’Neill at The Roasterie on an Irish coffee.
Learn more at RestlessSpiritsDistilling.com and Facebook.com.