Southwest Montana is home to four unique craft distilleries. Like our micro-breweries, each of the distillers in Southwest Montana has a unique story to tell as part of our charming communities.
Craft distillers are gaining popularity across the U.S. and more and more people are including a visit to a distillery on their Montana itinerary. For locals and visitors alike, these businesses serve as community gathering spaces and the perfect place to rest your feet after a long day exploring Southwest Montana.
While it is possible to visit all four distilleries in a day (319 mile loop), we recommend spending more time in the communities to have a true Montana experience. That being said, we took a whirlwind trip around Southwest Montana just to share our experience with you!
*Due to the pandemic, all of the distilleries have limited seating available and are not offering tours at this time, but all are open and ready to welcome you!
Our first stop of the day was Willie’s Distillery in Ennis, Montana. You may be wondering why Ennis first? The answer is simple: Willie’s opens at 9:00am.
Right off the bat we were welcomed by the tasting room staff and found ourselves at the bar asking questions and getting a full run-down on the spirits, their tasting notes and even a little back story on the distillery. The tasting room is set up with a large glass window to the production floor, so while we were unable to tour the facility, we could catch a glimpse of the copper pot still made by Bavarian Holstein Stills from Germany.
Willie and Robin Blazer opened the distillery in 2010 with the goal of “creating brands and products that embody the independent spirit and authenticity of the American West while supporting its local economy and residents.” Willie is a veteran of the United States Armed Forces and U.S. Forest Service while Robin has a background in business development and marketing.
Ennis is a true outdoors community and Willie’s provides the perfect place to relax (after a day of fishing), gather with friends and enjoy the simpler things. Don’t forget to leave your mark by adding a pin to their “Where are You Visiting From?” maps!
After a quick stop at Maples, a local coffee shop, we were off! This time bound for Butte.
As a quick aside, if you have the chance to drive into Butte on I-90 from the east (specifically at night) you will catch one of my all time favorite views of Montana <3
Headframe Spirits opened their tasting room doors in 2012. John and Courtney McKee founded the business and have been making waves in the distilling scene since they were established in 2010. Since they opened, Headframe Spirits has won a variety of awards not only for their spirits, but for their distilling process and still manufacturing division. In 2017, they became a certified B-Corp and have provided extensive support to the Butte community!
Possibly more famous than their spirits is their incredible list of cocktails – all of which blow expectations out of the water. I’ll interject a quick moment of thanks because amidst the craziness of 2020, they released their Holiday menu early to spread a little cheer – AND you can even grab a couple of their “cocktail kits” to go!
To kick off the experience, we ordered a tasting and were offered tasting cards that included tasting notes, a brief history of the spirit’s namesake (most of which give a nod to Butte’s incredible mining history) and recipes for the spirit!
And just like that, we were off again! Well, not before a quick trip to Sparky’s Garage to grab a burger to go. 🙂 Hopping on I-15, we headed to Montana’s Capital City – Helena.
Gulch rests on Front Street, just two blocks (easy walking distance) from the Great Northern Town Center. In 2012, the distillery opened as Triple Divide Spirits; when Helena natives Tyrrell Hibard and Steffen Rasile purchased the distillery in 2016, they rebranded the business as Gulch Distillers. They ferment, distill and bottle on site, and when it comes to their grain-based spirits, they use only Montana grown grains! That means these unique and delicious spirits are part of the Made in Montana program.
Due to COVID-19, the indoor seating at the Gulch tasting room is closed, but luckily for us the patio which is nestled between two buildings and adorned with colorful tables and heaters is ready to welcome visitors! After doing a quick sampling, learning about the award winning Burrone Fernet, and admiring the incredible artwork featured on the bottles, we bundled up, ordered a couple of their warm beverages (a Wassail and a Hot Toddy), and met some friends in the Gulch Oasis!
If you are looking for some great stocking stuffers or just a little something to spice up the holidays, Gulch offers a full selection of Mixers and some delicious hand crafted spirits!
Last but definitely not least on our Southwest Montana Distillery tour was Stonehouse Distillery. The small community of Winston is located just ~25 miles east of Helena on Highway 287. Those who travel the highway are likely to have caught a glimpse of the Big Bull Bar which is known for their burgers, but just off the beaten path sits Stonehouse Distillery.
We recommend calling ahead to set up a tasting (406.465.2816). When you get to Winston, you’ll turn south into the residential area, pass over the train tracks and continue down the dirt road for about a mile. As you approach the end of the residential area, you will see a house on your left with a metal sign welcoming you to Stonehouse Distillery. John and Snezhi are gracious hosts and by the 3 hours we spent in the cozy tasting room (which was designed and built by John himself) we can almost guarantee you will love the experience.
John and Snezhi both hail from Europe, John from Germany and Snezhi from Bulgaria, both of their families being involved in distilling. John is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about craft distilling, and believes in only crafting spirits that he enjoys. That’s why Stonehouse specializes in distilling Rum and Whiskey and the care put into each small batch is undeniable. While we tasted each of their spirits, John recounted the history of distilling, and we even found ourselves discussing the Boston Tea Party and the tax on molasses. Bringing it even closer to home, we talked about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and their rations of Whiskey.
Stonehouse provides visitors with an intimate and unforgettable experience.
Our 12 hour tour of Southwest Montana left us eager to continue exploring the region and wishing we had more time to spend in each of the communities.
If you choose to travel through Southwest Montana, make sure you are up-to-date on the latest travel information for the State!