Where The Mad Buffalo Roam

 In Culture, Interviews

Way out west, a new earth-friendly distillery turns out the handcrafted spirits.


YOU MIGHT SAY THE BOOZE BUSINESS is in the Burnette blood. The family history is kettle-deep in bootleggers and moonshiners, and Chris Burnette was even unwittingly taken on moonshine runs as a child. So, when he and his wife, Elise, inherited the family farm in Union, MO, it seemed the natural choice to convert it into a small-batch distillery.

Mad Buffalo Distillery is set to begin production of its first Thunderbeast lineup of spirits this month—in an environmentally friendly, hyper-local process they’re calling “ground to glass,” on the Burnettes’ 200-acre Shawnee Bend Farms. The farm supplies almost everything the distillery needs, beginning with 100 percent Missouri non-GMO corn. Everything else, they get as locally as possible. The corn is malted, ground, mashed, distilled, barreled, aged, bottled, labeled and shipped—all from the same building.

FAMILY AFFAIR Mad Buffalo recipes are improvements upon those originally created by Burnette’s great uncle, who went to prison for bootlegging back in the day. Even the distillery itself is a flashback to the traditional Appalachian way of producing liquor—100 years ago, most distilleries were located on family farms, and Burnette warns that it’s not going to look pretty. “It’s a working distillery on a farm,” he says. “People pay a lot of money for those big shiny tanks.” Shiny isn’t a priority here. The labels and bottles come from Missouri, and even the barrels are made from Missouri white oak grown “right up the road,” then crafted into barrels by world-renowned McGinnis Wood Products in Cuba, MO. The Burnettes are keeping ownership of the whole shindig in the family, too—of the nine board members, seven are family and two are old friends.

STEP LIGHTLY With minimal trucking and shipping, Mad Buffalo has a tiny ecological footprint. Not only is the distillery not air conditioned, but the corn is hand-ground, bottling and labeling are done by hand, and the naturally limestone-filtered water comes from the farm’s two wells. Future plans are in place to collect rainwater from the distillery’s roof to cool the still’s condensers, and solar panels will be added to supply energy.

Burnette is putting as much care into the product as the ecology. During the distilling process, he cuts out the heads and tails (the less palatable parts of the distillate) and keeps just the heart—the good stuff—for a smoother, mellower whiskey that still maintains a higher proof. Many distilleries don’t do this because it produces waste, but at Mad Buffalo, there’s no such thing. The leftover grain, which still contains proteins and minerals, feeds the neighbors’ cows, and any leftover mash water is used to water plants.

SMOOTH FINISH Look for Mad Buffalo’s Thunderbeast Storm moonshine to hit store shelves next month, with vodka following in the spring, and bourbon and corn whiskey released over the next two years. As of press time, plans were underway for Mad Buffalo products to be sold at The Wine and Cheese Place in Clayton and at all Randall’s Wine & Spirits stores. For a complete list of retail locations, as well as info on the launch party at Hendricks BBQ’s Moonshine Blues Bar in St. Charles, visit the Mad Buffalo website at madbuffalodistillery.com.



Chris Burnette of Mad Buffalo Distillery

Chris Burnette, Mad Buffalo Distillery


Photo credit: Jarred Gastreich

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