The Value of Vodka

Bigfork distillery creates a special spirit to support the rebuilding of the Sperry Chalet

By Madeleine Lamon

A little less than a year ago, the Sprague Fire east of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park burned down the Sperry Chalet. Now, as the Glacier National Park Conservancy (GNPC) works to rebuild the iconic structure, Whistling Andy Distillery is donating profits from a specially made spirit to help with the reconstruction.

The Bigfork distillery launched its newest vodka, The Spirit of Sperry, last month, announcing that it would donate all profits from the first year of the liquor’s sales to GNPC.

The distillery’s leaders began ruminating on how to help the park almost immediately after learning the chalet was lost to the fire. General Manager Dax VanFossen said he, head distiller and co-owner Brian Anderson, distiller Gabe Spencer and other employees were inspired to help because of their respective experiences in Glacier.

Working closely with Doug Mitchell, the executive director of GNPC, the group soon had a plan.

“The idea was formed that we would do a spirit and we would fight back with vodka,” VanFossen said.

He said they chose vodka, in part, due to the fact that it has a relatively short production time. Then they had to determine a flavor profile.

After a long trial-and-error process, the group soon settled on a huckleberry-flavored vodka, “because,” VanFossen asserted, “what’s more Northwest Montana than huckleberry?”

Lisa Cloutier, Brian’s wife and co-owner, helped develop the flavor profile, determining that the hucks sourced from the Huckleberry Haven outside of Kalispell would pair well with Japanese shiso leaves and Douglas fir tips.

The distillers then worked with QuelDesign in Bigfork to create an appropriate label, which would showcase an image of the chalet set against a purple background reminiscent of the drink’s main flavor.

“It’s delicious,” VanFossen raved.

The distillery began selling The Spirit of Sperry in mid-July from its tasting room and has shipped out bottles to liquor stores and bars throughout Montana as well. In the first three weeks alone, customers purchased roughly 2,000 bottles of the product, earning $8,899 for the chalet’s reconstruction.

Originally constructed in 1913 as part of a series of wilderness lodges built by the Great Northern Railway, the Sperry Chalet was reduced to rubble in August 2017. Since then, the GNCP has sought to restore the historic dormitory in its original location in the park, estimating that reconstruction will last two years and cost between $8 million and $12 million. Construction began in July.

Although the distillery can’t continue such a costly venture in perpetuity, VanFossen said Whistling Andy intends to maintain its partnership with GNPC in the years to come by continuing to give 5 percent of the vodka’s gross sales after the first year to the park.

“Once the Sperry Chalet is rebuilt, that doesn’t mean that the work in Glacier National Park is done,” he said.

For more information, visit www.whistlingandy.com.