Who was Ben Holladay?

Ben Holladay is one of the greatest unknown figures in American history. Born in Kentucky, he moved to Weston, Missouri, as a teenager to seek his fame and fortune.

He became the original transportation tycoon, famed as the “Stagecoach King” for creating the Overland Express stagecoach lines that were ultimately sold to Wells Fargo, just one piece of a transportation portfolio that also included steamships, streetcars, and a railroad. He even owned the Pony Express for part of its brief history.

With everything from silver mines to saloons also under his domain, he was the largest individual employer in the US in the late 1800s and kept close counsel with everyone from President Lincoln to Brigham Young. He built an empire that spanned the entire country, and this distillery is the only piece left standing. Little did he know that whiskey would be the lasting legacy that carried the Holladay name well into the future.

Where it all began

The Holladay Distillery was established over 166 years ago, but the history of the property goes back even further. Over fifty years before founder Ben Holladay acquired the land, Lewis and Clark passed through in 1804 during their famed expedition to the West. They discovered and charted the limestone springs that run abundantly throughout the property and traveled through what would later become Weston, Missouri.

It wasn’t until 1837 that the town of Weston was officially established, earning its name by virtue of being the “farthermost town west in trade” of that era. It was a small town of fewer than 300 people, but it was the second-largest port on the Missouri River at the time, surpassing both Kansas City and St. Joseph.

Ben Holladay purchased the land in 1849. The site consisted of several acres of land and a stone building that had served as a meatpacking house. Upon discovery of the site’s limestone springs, the idea for Ben’s next business venture was born. As a Kentucky native, Ben knew that limestone water was optimal for bourbon production and he and his brother, David, went to work on acquiring the necessary items needed for distillation.

In 1856, Ben and David distilled their first batch of bourbon under what they had named the Blue Springs Distillery. The barrels were stored in an ancient cave on site that had previously been used for meat curing and preservation. To this day, the same cave is intact and continues to be a fan favorite along the tour route of the facility.

After a short year of aging, the first batch of whiskey from the Blue Springs Distillery was sold for 35 cents per gallon. Shortly after, Ben transferred ownership of the distillery to his brother, Major David Holladay. The business stayed in the Holladay family through the end of the 1800s, passing from David Holladay to his son and son-in-law to become Barton & Holladay in 1894.

Over the next century, the distillery changed hands only three more times (purchased by George H. Shawhan in 1900, Isadore Singer in 1936, and Cloud L. Cray in 1950) before being acquired by the current ownership group in 1993.

The distillery through the years

This timeline provides an overview of the last 166 years of our history.

Preloader
  • Lewis and Clark

    Lewis and Clark passed through what would later become the Holladay Distillery and discovered the limestone spring water source

  • Weston

    The town of Weston was officially established with a population of less than 300 people. It was the second largest port on the Missouri River, surpassing both Kansas City and St. Joseph

  • Ben Holladay Purchases Land

    The Holladay Brothers distilled their first batch of bourbon under the label Blue Springs Distillery. The barrels were stored in an ancient cave on-site that had previously been used for meat curing and preservation. To this day, the same cave is intact and continues to be a fan favorite along the tour route of the facility.

  • Ben Holladay

    The Holladay Brothers distilled their first batch of bourbon under the label Blue Springs Distillery. The barrels were stored in an ancient cave on-site that had previously been used for meat curing and preservation. To this day, the same cave is intact and continues to be a fan favorite along the tour route of the facility.

  • The Original Whiskey

    The first batch of whiskey from the Blue Springs Distillery was sold for 35 cents per gallon

  • David Holladay

    The distillery is transferred from Benjamin Holladay to his brother, Major David Holladay.

  • Missouri River Flood

    A flood causes the river to shift into an old channel a couple of miles away. It is speculated that if the river had not shifted, Weston might have become what Kansas City is today

  • Barton & Holladay

    Following David Holladay’s death in 1893, the business passed to his son, David Holladay Jr., and son-in-law, Thomas Gregory Barton, to become Barton & Holladay in 1894. The business remained in the family through the end of the 1800s.

  • Bottled-In-Bond Act

    This classification is a prestigious mark of transparency and legitimacy in the distilled spirits world. The Bottled-in-Bond Act was established in 1897 to guarantee that the product a customer was purchasing was truly whiskey. The Act requires that spirits are aged and bottled according to a certain set of guidelines.

    Prior to the establishment of this Act, many people would sell spirits labeled as whiskey that were not authentic. Some would be colored, flavored, or diluted to provide a deceiving taste and appearance of true whiskey. Distillers fought for the government to get involved and that is how Bottled-in-Bond came to be.

    To be labeled bottled in bond, a whiskey must meet the following criteria

    1. Product of a single distiller in a single season—spring (January to June) or fall (July to December)
    2. Aged for a minimum of 4 years in a federally bonded warehouse
    3. Bottled at 50% ABV / 100 proof in the same location it was distilled
  • George H. Shawhan

    The distillery was sold to George H. Shawhan after his original distillery in Lone Jack, Missouri, was destroyed in a fire. The name of the business was changed to the Shawhan Distillery.

  • Prohibition

    Prohibition began and the distillery continued to produce whiskey for “medicinal purposes”

  • Isadore Singer

    Isadore Singer and his brother purchased the distillery and renamed it the Old Weston Distilling Co.

  • McCormick Distilling

    The distillery was renamed McCormick Distilling Co. after the rights to the company name and formulas were purchased from the original McCormick Distilling after its Waldron, Missouri, location was destroyed by fire.

  • Midwest Grain Products

    McCormick Distilling Company is purchased by Midwest Grain Products, a company owned by Cloud L. Cray of Atchison, Kansas. The company purchases the distillery primarily to store alcohol in the large empty warehouses due to the threat of impending war in Korea.

  • Distillery Fire

    A devastating fire nearly destroys the distillery building, the oldest building on the distillery site.

  • National Register of Historic Places

    The site became recognized on the National Register of Historic Places

  • No more Bourbon

    Bourbon production on-site is halted and the company shifts focus to the production of value spirits

  • New Direction

    McCormick Distilling Co. was acquired by a group of private investors led by spirits industry veterans Michael S. Griesser and Edward A. Pechar. The development of a premium brands portfolio becomes a priority, paving the way for innovative new brand concepts.

  • Closed to the Public

    Distillery tours are closed to the public and the Country Store is moved to Main Street in Downtown Weston

  • Renovation

    The distillery underwent a $10 million renovation of the original stillhouse and began distilling bourbon on-site for the first time in 30 years, resurrecting the Holladay Distillery name in honor of the original founders.

  • Holladay Distillery

    Distillery Tours begin again after a 20-year hiatus

  • Real Missouri Bourbon

    According to House Bill 266, signed on Thursday, July 11, 2019, any whiskey labeled as Missouri bourbon must not only meet the federal standards for bourbon but also be mashed, fermented, distilled, aged, and bottled in the state; aged in oak barrels manufactured in the state; and—beginning January 1, 2020—made with corn exclusively grown in the state. The law went into effect on August 28, 2019.

  • Ben Holladay Bourbon

    Holladay Distillery releases Ben Holladay Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a six-year-old, Bottled-in-Bond, Small batch, Real Missouri Bourbon