PARKVILLE, Mo. — The story begins with moonshine – a start befitting a distillery in a cave, harkening back to the days of clandestine speakeasies and Prohibition shenanigans. S.D. Strong Distilling owner Steve Strong wouldn’t look out of place in a pinstriped suit, but this small Parkville distillery in the Park University Underground wants to exceed expectations.
“I was in a rockabilly band,” Strong said of the genesis of S.D. Strong Distilling. “One of the guys in the band started making moonshine in his garage in Kansas City. I thought you had to live in the hills of Kentucky or North Carolina or something to do that.”
By March 2013, S.D. Strong sold its first bottle of vodka — which he describes as a smooth sipping vodka also suitable for mixed drinks.
Strong is working on expanding the line, as well as sales. He recently entered into a relationship with beverage distributor Major Brands, which so far has taken S.D. Strong Vodka to restaurants, bars and grocers as far away as Columbia and Springfield, Mo. and Lawrence and Topeka, Kan.
Last year, Strong sold 400 cases of vodka with sales slated to double this year. He’s currently aging rye whiskey in Missouri-made white oak barrels, with an eye to selling it next year. A new gin is also in the works, as well as potentially a few short-run or seasonal products.
“I’ve been thinking about an absinthe,” he said.
Strong might not have started his business if he hadn’t tried that moonshine a few years back.
“It was good,” Strong said. “It wasn’t until I tried it that I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is something I could do.’”
Strong had tried home brewing beer in the past, so he wasn’t a complete stranger to the world of alcohol production, but attempting to make spirits would be a huge step up in both scale and skill set. He went home and started the discussion with his wife, Lisa.
“My wife and I talked about it and talked about it,” he said. “Finally, it was like — am I going to do it, or am I going to just wonder if I should have.”
In 2012, Strong started his venture, self-funding the purchase of distilling equipment and ingredients. He attended conferences, visited other distillers and read books on the subject.
During this time, he also settled on the company feel — vintage — and the name, based on his own.
“My wife says the initials stand for Super Duper Strong vodka,” he said with a laugh.
But when he looked for a location for this start-up, he encountered a roadblock.
“I knew I wanted to keep it in Parkville,” he said. “We live here, and it kind of has this cool vibe already.”
However, cool as its vibe might be, the City of Parkville also has restrictive fire codes. This led Strong to a chat with the local fire marshal for the Southern Platte Fire Protection District. He suggested the commercial caves under Park University.
“I thought, ‘Why not?” Strong said. “It sounded kind of bootlegger and cool.”
The fall festival season in general has been good for S.D. Strong Distilling with mentions in various Kansas City media and service in restaurants such as 54th Street Bar and Grill. The vodka will also available to the public to try this weekend at the Rot and Ruin Fest at the Rock and Run Brewery in Liberty.