With small farms sustainability dwindling in western Kansas families are searching for ways to stay living in rural areas. Tim Kyle followed a cliche. If life gives you milo, make vodka!
Tim Kyle, Greensburg, Kansas likes a challenge. He also likes doing things different than others might. He's found that making vodka from milo fits right into his box of figuring things out and supporting his family at the same time. Just last month, Kyle began selling his unique product, made in Kinsley and marketed as Ornery Brother Distilling and Milo Vodka. So far the reaction has been positive.
"The reception has been better than we anticipated," Kyle said. "I'm finding out that I really need five of me to get it all done, but I enjoy it and it's going well."
On Tuesday, as he was laying down mash for another go-round of distilling, Kyle talked about how he came to be doing what he was now.
"It was really an economic decision," he said. "I wanted to find a way to make money and keep my family here in rural Kansas. This is where I want us to raise our children, but since I didn't inherit well, I had to find a way to afford rural living."
Kyle said his family has always been ag-adjacent in that his ancestors were farm mechanics or part of businesses that revolved around agriculture.
"My grandfather worked at the Case dealership," he said. "But there is no way to make a living on 160-acres any more like he did, and the ag-related positions are fewer and farther between as small farming disappears."
Kyle and his wife, Kari, opened, operated, then sold the Green Bean Coffee Company in Greensburg several years ago, but in looking for another business opportunity, he came up short.
"After the big storm here, there just weren't affordable buildings to get started in," he said. "That's why I ended up in Kinsley. I found a former bank building there with high ceilings and a good cement foundation. It worked out just right for setting up a distillery."
Kyle studied his craft on the internet for many months before jumping in and beginning to make milo vodka.
"There are just a handful of distilleries around the Kansas City area, and there are five or so around Dodge City and out west," he said. "There is room for more, and there isn't anyone who is trying to make vodka out of milo."
To make vodka, three basic things are needed, Kyle said: water, fuel and a sugar source. Since Kiowa County is situated on the Ogallala Aquifer there is plenty of available water, and with the Hugoton Gas Field close by ready fuel is not a problem. Most distillers choose to use wheat as the sugar source in making vodka, but Kyle wanted to try something different and chose to work with milo.
"For one thing, it's inexpensive," he said. "Everything I need is raised local, and it's gluten and GMO free. That's a really good selling point."
Kyle picks up ground sorghum from a mill in Dodge City. It takes a ration 1,000 gallons of water to 3,000 pounds of finely ground sorghum flour to get the enzymatic process started.
Loosely, starch is changed into sugar with the use of yeast culture in a fermentation process. Complex carbohydrates are then heated to distill off the ethanol.
"I'm using a high pressure steam injected form of distillation," Kyle said. "I don't know of anyone else doing it that way."
Vapor released after the ethanol is cooked off is then cooled and condensed into vodka, a pure, clear product that so far, is getting good reviews from those who try it and leave Facebook messages.
Kyle said he goes through a wholesaler, Worldwide Beverage Company, to sell his product, though he is responsible for all his own marketing.
"So far it's been really good," he said. "I not getting rich and I sure would like to find a way to get more sleep into my routine, this has me putting in some really long hours. But I enjoy it and it seem to be taking off. It's hard to believe I've only been doing this a month already."
Kyle said his wife, Kari, helps with the bottling and social media aspects of their business. They have two young sons the keep him motivated to get it all figured out, something he enjoys doing anyway.
"I enjoy the problem solving," he said. "This sorghum grain is very tricky to work with, but there are so many advantages. I enjoy the challenge."
Ornery Brother Distillery and Milo Vodka can be found on Facebook. The milo vodka can be purchased locally at Heritage Liquor in Greensburg and Quint Liquor in Pratt, as well as several others places around the state of Kansas.