Smoky Valley Distillery hidden gem of small-town pride

Alice Mannette
Shane Von Stohe places the plug on his Wild Plum Flavored Vodka at his company, Smoky Valley Distillery, in Marquette.

MARQUETTE -- Decades ago, Bud Von Strohe and his good friend, Dewey Grooms, would drive in a Cadillac down Washington Street in Marquette, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars. Half a century later, Bud’s grandson, Stan Von Stohe, in remembrance of his grandfather, is cooking up a batch of Bud & Dewey’s Premium Straight Whiskey in his new business, Smoky Valley Distillery in Marquette.

Although Stan grew up in Denver, he spent his summers helping out on his great aunt’s farm in Marquette. It was then he vowed someday he would return to this central Kansas town and buy the century-old grocery store on the town’s main street.

Stan and his wife Michele spent several years researching the distilling business. Less than one year ago, the empty store Stan had dreamed of went up for sale. Stan and Michele retired, bought the building and began plans for their distillery. Three months ago, their son Shane quit his job and started mixing and distilling spirits full-time at the family’s distillery.

“We’re always trying to tinker with different kinds of flavors,” Shane said. “It’s a trial and error.”

Along with straight bourbon whiskey, Shane and Stan produce both wild plum and smoked jalapeno flavored vodka. By the end of November, they will start on lingonberry vodka. This week, they are starting to distribute their liquor throughout Kansas.

“We infuse our flavoring and we proof it with Longford water,” Stan said.

Shane and Stan handcrafts their liquor in small batches. When they get a batch together, they ask friends to come in and help.

“When I was a kid, I made a lot of great relationships in town,” Stan said. “We’ve got a lot of big plans for Marquette.”

Along with the distillery, the Von Stohe’s opened a gift shop and tasting room. Although they have set hours, Stan said he’s willing to open in advance upon appointment. For him, refurbishing and growing downtown Marquette is essential, as is building up the small town’s economy.

“I don’t want to retire,” Stan said. “I truly love what I am doing.”

Friends join the Von Strohe's as they bottle their Wild Plum Vodka at Smoky Valley Distillery in Marquette.