When I first met Roger Kelman and his son Hayes, they were bidding on a tote full of whiskey at the American Distilling Institute convention in Seattle, with the intent of filling bottles for the distillery in Dodge City, Kansas they had more or less inherited. Even then it was clear that, although they were already selling spirits under the Dodge City label, Hayes had a grander vision in mind, and I want to be among the first to congratulate him on having realized it.
This weekend, on the very site of the original Boot Hill Cemetery, Roger and Hayes, along with partner Chris Holovach, will open the doors of a distillery that has previously existed only in Hayes’ imagination and his co-owners’ faith in his ability to make it happen. Located in Dodge City’s old municipal hall, which was built in 1929 and recently restored, and situated atop the infamous Boot Hill of Wild West lore, the distillery will celebrate its grand opening with samples, tours, live music, and local food.
“Dodge City’s entire history is built on spirits,” Hayes says. “From the initial soldiers, to the buffalo hunters, to the cowboys of the cattle trails. And with our distillery perched on top of the original Boot Hill, we’ve now become the history of Dodge City.”
The Kelmans’ approach to spirits at Boot Hill Distillery is as far removed from their original business model as could be imagined. Having abandoned the practice of bottling and marketing spirits sourced from a contract distiller, their new product line is “obsessively-local”, with Hayes and his team maintaining complete control from seed to sip. Being farmers first and foremost, the ownership group produces every single grain that the distillery uses to craft their spirits, grain which is milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, filtered, proofed and bottled right onsite at the distillery. It’s everything that a true micro-distilling operation ought to be.
In the spring of 1872 George M. Hoover loaded his wagon with whiskey barrels, tied a bandana to his wagon wheel and counted out exactly five miles west from the edge of Fort Dodge, Kansas, where the sale of liquor would be legal. In creating western Kansas’ first and only craft distillery, Hayes and Roger Kelman have come at least that far.
Boot Hill Distillery will produce vodka, gin, and white whiskey at the start of their run. For more information on their grand opening, visit them at www.boothilldistillery.com