Kyle Merklein’s background and education in engineering and fermentation led him to find his professional path in the distilled spirits business. As a Master Distiller, Kyle brings his passion for the bourbon industry to production, and the evidence is clear in the taste of Holladay Bourbon.
Born and raised in Phillipsburg, Kansas, Kyle has been a Kansas resident for his entire life. Upon graduating high school, he attended Kansas State University where he earned a B.S. in Biological Systems Engineering and an M.S. in Biological and Agricultural Engineering with research focused on optimization of various fermentation systems. After completing these programs, Merklein settled in Atchison, Kansas where he currently resides with his wife and two children.
Kyle’s first professional role came after he completed his undergraduate studies. He worked as a Production Shift Manager for Cargill making Biodiesel and refining Glycerin. In this role, he had the opportunity to put his academic knowledge of food safety and troubleshooting operational inefficiencies into practice.
While working towards his Master’s Degree, Merklein was employed by RBC Medical Innovations as a Systems Test Engineer where he learned the product development process and tested medical devices to ensure they worked properly. His next shift opened the door for a career in the distilled spirits industry. Kyle’s interest in the industry led him to MGP Ingredients in Atchison, Kansas where he gained experience as a Production Shift Manager. In this role, he was exposed to the production process of beverage alcohol for the first time with neutral grain spirits and gin production. This experience assured him he had met his match with the industry.
In 2016, Merklein joined the team at the Holladay Distillery as the Distillery/R&D Manager. Focusing on bourbon and new product development from the beginning, Kyle’s experience and talent in this area made him an obvious fit for his next move, Master Distiller.
When asked what he enjoys most about his career, Kyle shared that he has always been drawn to technical challenges, so he thoroughly enjoys working through the complexities involved with making bourbon and other spirits. Between troubleshooting a processing issue to analyzing flavor compounds on a GC/MS Chromatogram, there is always a new challenge to explore. The career is never boring, and he loves that. He also really enjoys bourbon on a personal level.
A personal concept Merklein lives by is shaped around the measure of time. His mindset is centered around ensuring that what he does today is not what is most convenient now, but rather what is best for six or ten years in the future. While he knows he can’t predict the future, he knows that certain behaviors and actions will compound and produce good results over time. If you produce a high-quality distillate using time-tested traditions, place the distillate in a well-made barrel, and then store in a rickhouse for several years, good things will happen. That line of thinking is how he approaches all areas of life beyond just bourbon.
Kyle is currently working towards a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Mississippi State University where his focus will be in data analytics and operations research. His schedule keeps him busy, but when he’s not working or studying, you can find him spending time with his family or enjoying his craft with a glass of bourbon neat in hand.