Today's itinerary: Kansas City's booze and barbecue; robots doing all kinds of stuff
August 23, 2019
LAYOVER IN KANSAS CITY
Kansas City’s got spirits (as in booze, not ghosts)
In Kansas City’s Electric Park neighborhood, history is being celebrated and preserved—and more history is being made.
On July 12, J. Rieger & Co hosted the grand opening of its ambitious, expanded distillery space and “spirits destination.”
The J. Rieger & Company distillery actually dates back to 1887, and it enjoyed considerable success, offering 100 kinds of alcohol—whiskeys, gins, rums, stomach bitters (what is THAT?)—and running a lucrative mail-order delivery business with more than 250,000 customers around the country.
Then came Prohibition. And J. Rieger & Company had to close its doors.
Fast-forward to 2014, when Andy Rieger, the great-great-great grandson of the original distillery owner, joined forces with restaurateur and “cocktail connoisseur” Ryan Maybee to revive the venerable company. Their initial offering was the pre-Prohibition styled Kansas City Whiskey, which follows in the footsteps of popular 1800s whiskey that was infused with a touch of sherry. Since then, the company has added Midwestern Dry Gin, Caffè Amaro (a coffee liqueur), and Premium Wheat Vodka, along with some specialty items.
The venture was so successful that J. Rieger & Co. began running out of space. With distribution in more than 20 states, it needed to ramp up production to address the demand. So it bought the Heim Brewery bottling plant, which was next door to its production building. It then turned the production building into a warehouse with a 5,000-barrel capacity (and a private dining space in the middle of it). Now, millions of renovation dollars later, the distillery has the room it needs—at least for now.
More than a distillery
The 60,000-square-foot space is way more than just a distillery operation. Yeah, there’s distilling going on—inside a 15,000-square-foot, two-story, glass-enclosed production facility, smack in the center of the building, so visitors can see how it’s done.
But you’ve also got…
A 4,000-square-foot historical exhibit
A second-floor cocktail lounge overlooking the production area
A tasting room
A 40-foot corkscrew slide for patrons to get from the second floor to the
first (a nod to the neighborhood’s amusement park history—and a damn fine gimmick)
Event, conference, and private dining and meeting spaces
A basement lounge called the Hey! Hey! Club, named after a 1930s KC jazz club
A custom bottling station
A Clinebell freezer and ice-cutting machine (artisanal ice--yep, it’s a thing)
Daytime co-working and coffee service
With this expanded facility, J. Rieger & Co. is hoping to increase production (depending on who you listen to, from threefold to fivefold), to breathe new life into Kansas City’s distilling industry, and to help spur development in Electric Park.
Co-founder Andy Rieger summed it up in Feast magazine: “We’re not just restoring a building; we’re reviving a long-forgotten legacy in Electric Park and inviting visitors to enjoy world-class spirits and hospitality while celebrating the past.”
DANGER WILL ROBINSON
From the flight deck
Will robots inherit the earth? It's too soon to guess, but you may think it's possible after reading the next 3 robot stories.
Robots: the answer to construction talent shortage?
Everybody’s been talking about the talent shortage in the construction industry. Fortunately, high schools are starting to change their curricula and make partnerships with local construction businesses to help alleviate the problem.
However, construction companies are now incorporating robots to fill the gap.
That’s right. Robots for demo, site prep, road building, welding, drywall installation, brick layer, etc.
A new report forecasts that revenue for robot suppliers will increase from $22.7 million in 2018 to $226 million annually by 2025. More than 7,000 construction robots will be deployed during that period.
Reports say these robots are designed to work alongside human counterparts instead of replacing them entirely. The goal is to improve productivity for tasks that would otherwise be considered busywork, according to the Robotics Business Review.
We’re just wondering if they’ll install the catcall chip.
Texas hold ’em with a robot
Which would you rather see: an AI bot playing poker against five humans or five versions of the bot going up against one human? Turns out to be bad news for the humans either way.
But AI has won at poker before. What makes this drubbing especially significant is that it was six-player poker—not two-player, where AI has developed winning strategies in the past. Multiplayer poker introduces far greater complexity, with more variables, hidden information, and possible outcomes for the AI bot to learn and utilize.
More than 10,000 hands of poker over 12 days, facing a pool of 15 professional poker players (who’d each won at least $1 million in previous tournaments) … and Pluribus prevailed.
Of course, it's about more than poker. Scientific American cites these use cases for this AI: cybersecurity, financial trading, business negotiations, and competitive price setting—wherever someone needs to make a decision without knowing for sure what the other parties have in mind.
For now, though, the progress is staggering, even to co-creator Tuomas Sandborn. “I never would have imagined we would reach this in my lifetime.”
Two University of Michigan professors have introduced a low-cost, lightweight autonomous delivery robot known as REV-1 aimed at areas of the country like their own that suffer long bouts of winter weather, according to a report in TechCrunch.
Matthew Johnson-Roberson, a DARPA Grand Challenge veteran who teaches robotics at the university, and Ram Vasudevan, who worked on control algorithms for autonomous vehicles operating in ice and snow for Ford, developed what they call the “Goldilocks of autonomous vehicles,” for their own company, Refraction.
The REV-1—which weighs about 100 pounds and is the size of an electric bicycle—operates in bike lanes in rain or snow and can carry about five grocery bags of goods, according to the article. It’s not fast, but its top speed of 15 mph allows the vehicle a short stopping distance and uses cameras instead of expensive lidar sensors, keeping vehicle’s cost to $5,000.
Backed by eLab Ventures and Trucks Venture Capital, the Michigan entrepreneurs are hoping to tap what eLab’s Bob Stefanski calls a huge market for lightweight, autonomous vehicles that can deliver in inclement weather in densely populated areas.
BACK IN KANSAS CITY
All hail Kansas City barbecue!
In a 1972 Playboy article, food writer Calvin Trillin proclaimed a Kansas City barbecue restaurant—Arthur Bryant’s—to be "the single best restaurant in the world.” A bit of a stretch, maybe. But that’s Trillin. And that restaurant, credited with popularizing KC’s famous “burnt ends” (the crispy edges of smoked brisket) is still going strong. In fact, it recently garnered an Experts’ Choice Award, along with five other Kansas City barbecue restaurants.
Award selections were made by TripExpert, based on 1.5 million reviews from travel professionals, and covered restaurants, hotels, and attractions. Narrow the field down to just restaurants, and you still have a list of more than 10,000, of which only 2% received an award.
In addition to Arthur Bryant’s, the KC winners were BB’s Lawnside BBQ, Danny Edwards Blvd Barbecue, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue, and Q39.
If you’re new to the Kansas City barbecue scene, these award winners will help get you started. Then you can move on to the zillions (~100) of other barbecue restaurants in town. And if that prospect is too daunting, there’s an app to guide your way. The KC BBQ Experience lets you track your barbecue journey, posting pictures and earning badges. It also offers themed “trails,” so you can embark on your own barbecue tour around Kansas City.
Cool Pub of the Week
Kelly's Westport Inn is a famous drinking establishment in Westport, Kansas City, MO, constructed around 1850.
It started off as a grocery store that catered to KC’s elite. When Prohibition was repealed, a guy named Phil Taggart rented the building, made it into a saloon and named it Wrestlers Inn.
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