Dark Horse Distillery marries the two in an impressive event space and distillery in south Kansas City.
The tradition of distillation dates back hundreds of years, but realizes its modern potential in the form of microdistilleries. Now it’s up to state and federal governments to keep up.
Whereas microbreweries have flourished at an astounding clip in the United States, microdistilleries have struggled to gain a strong foothold. At the source are government regulations and restrictions that have lingered since Prohibition. Microdistilleries aren’t distinguished in terms of size and therefore remain held to a high degree of regulation. Fortunately, some states have begun to change the tides, including Kansas. In all, seven have loosened the reins.
Dark Horse Distillery, located off W. 87th Street Parkway and Highway 35 in Lenexa, was a key player in making new distinctions a reality in Kansas, which helped their own space reach its potential.
Kris Hennessy, CEO of Dark Horse, founded the distillery in 2010 and made the first batch of whiskey in May 2011. The space she took over used to be a high-end designer showcase—the two public restrooms remain as eclectic works of art—and she was tasked with finding effective use for all 20,000 square feet.
After figuring for the equipment and processes, roughly 6,500 square feet remained open for use. Originally, they listed it as warehouse space. Flooring specific to a warehouse was put down and operations began.
But then they saw potential in that area and, organically, plans formed to create an event space that could play off of the distillation process. Walls and separations were already in place to create three distinct but connected rooms surrounding the distillation process. Using that framework, the possibilities for uses came into focus, leading to what is now the Stable, Rider and Paddock rooms. While the rooms came together, Dark Horse did its part to update Kansas law.
“At that point, you could only get a manufacturer or liquor license,” says General Manager Eric Garcia. “After a law was passed, it changed from a manufacturer to microdistillery license. The economy changed and the state was looking for companies to come here. There was no change before because it wasn’t necessary. The law reacted to how the market is changing.”
The event space still could have been used, but it would have been more challenging, requiring a bartender with a mobile license. Now, thanks to the work put into changing the law, and Kansas being receptive to changes, Dark Horse has a beautiful venue to host weddings, receptions, seminars and more.
Thanks to the dynamic nature of the three rooms, flexibility is there for 50–350 guests and any function. Any combination of two of the rooms or all three can be used, and they work quite well together. In every decision, the thinking was the same: “We wanted that traditional feel, but with a modern approach,” Garcia says.
The Paddock Room is a long space tucked off to the back of the building, perfect for…