WICHITA — It’s been a long, laborious process, but Wamego residents David and Kim Bahre on Wednesday received final approval to open Wheat State Distilling in Wichita this summer.
“The city of Wichita did not know what to do with us,” David Bahre says of licensing. “It’s not that they didn’t want us.”
Wheat State will open in 3,200 square feet at the southwest corner of 37th and Hydraulic within — if all goes well — 45 days.
“I am the first ever licensed distiller in Wichita,” Bahre says. “I am proud of that.”
He says Kansas has some of the most stringent alcohol regulations nationwide.
“It’s been an uphill battle so far,” Bahre says. He says he also had a gas line issue that he worried would force him to abandon the site he chose and possibly the city as well, but he says it’s been resolved.
The Bahres, who are natives of Wichita, plan to produce vodka, flavor-infused vodka, gin, wheat whiskey, bourbon and two kinds of rum. The rum products, which will be made from a mixture of molasses from Florida and evaporated sugar cane juice from Maui, won’t be under the Wheat State name since they won’t be made from wheat.
Bahre says he’s been a business owner since he was 19. He has bought and sold a number of restaurants and has other business interests as well.
“Our real passion is what we’re doing right now in Wichita,” he says.
Bahre has a degree in milling science, which is the process of turning grains into products, from Kansas State University.
“It’s a lot of food chemistry and food science,” he says. He’s also finishing a master’s degree in agribusiness.
“I would like an identity-preserved program with … a premium grade product,” Bahre says of tracking the wheat that goes into his products.
“Kind of my dream is to buy the farm that goes with the distillery, but we’ve got to take one thing at a time,” he says. “Farms are expensive.”
Bahre says he’d like a small working farm that would be open to the public.
The distillery will be open to the public for tours, which will include Kansas history and information on distilling in general.
“This is a movement similar to … brewpubs in the 1980s,” Bahre says.
He says the distillery trend started in Colorado and Oregon and that the number of distilleries has grown from about a dozen 10 years ago to about 300 now with another 75 licenses pending.
Bahre says he’ll be able to sell directly to the public, but he expects most of his business will be through liquor stores.
He has distilling equipment that should be arriving from Germany next week.
Bahre won’t share product names until they’re trademarked.
“We’re working on 10 right now,” he says.
Except for the vodka and gin, it will take at least a year before the rest of the products are available.
“Some of the best whiskeys in the world are made from wheat, and the best wheat in the world is in my backyard,” Bahre says.
“We intend to use Kansas wheat, and we intend to advertise that. Premium wheat. That’s kind of our niche.”
He says he’s convinced that he can make products “as good or better than anyone else in the world.”
“There’s no reason why people in other parts of the world should dominate the … premium whiskey business,” he says. “It does come from Kansas.”