When Brian Anderson started the process of opening Whistling Andy Distillery in the 2000s, he wanted to create a world-class product that could go anywhere.
“The main reason for starting a distillery is because I love spirits,” Anderson said. “I enjoy beer and wine, but spirits are definitely what I geek out on.”
A geohydrologist by trade, Anderson had dreams of opening a distillery back in 2003, but distilleries were still illegal in Montana. After waiting years for legislation to pass and jumping through financing hurdles, he finally bought a building in Bigfork for the distillery business in 2009, despite the recession.
Now in 2020, Montana’s oldest operating distillery is celebrating its 10th anniversary in a different type of economic downturn. Instead of a party, the distillery is launching Montana’s first pit distilled Bottle in Bond Whiskey, which aged for five years and has specs that fall under a strict set of legal regulations that were enacted in 1897.
“Because of COVID, we didn’t feel it was responsible to throw a big 10-year anniversary party and pack this place,” Head Distiller Gabe Spencer said. “But we wanted to something really neat for everybody that’s supported us.”
All of Whistling Andy’s grains are sourced locally, Spencer says, including barley from Ronan and corn near St. Ignatius, making the Bottle in Bond spirit entirely from Montana.
“I really love it because there’s nothing to hide behind,” Spencer said. “Being a bottled in bond spirit, it has to be distilled at your facility, aged at your facility and bottled at 100 proof. It’s not a sourced whiskey that somebody’s gotten out-of-state.”
In addition to Bottle in Bond, which was released at the end of November, the distillery will launch two more spirits through the end of December.
Of Whistling Andy’s 13 different spirits, Spencer says the Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the most popular. It’s sold in a limited supply since making quality whiskey requires far more patience than spirits like gin or vodka. The whiskeys are all aged in charred oak barrels for several years, darkening the color and giving them “oaky whiskey flavors.” The time-consuming process means distillers forecast about four years in advance, which Spencer says is a challenge.
But the distillery’s other popular spirits like the Hibiscus Coconut Rum, Cucumber Gin and Sperry Huckleberry Vodka are ready not long after fermentation since they don’t need to age.
In addition to the distillery’s local fan base, the spirits are also sold internationally, and the Pink Peppercorn Pear Gin was recently featured in Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Anderson always planned to sell his spirits worldwide. Whistling Andy is sold in six states outside of Montana, as well as in Taiwan and Australia. Anderson had big plans this spring to expand the market and launch Whistling Andy’s spirits in South Africa, Japan, the UK and more locations in Australia, but the pandemic put those plans on hold.
This spring, the distillery pivoted to start making hand sanitizer after bars and restaurants shut down and the demand for sanitizer grew. They made more than 9,000 bottles and are now starting to think about making another batch as they run out.
Anderson says the shutdown heavily impacted the distillery in the spring, especially with so many of their customers being bars and restaurants. But once Montana’s economy reopened, Anderson and Spencer say the distillery kept busy with tourist foot traffic this summer.
Whistling Andy Distillery is open from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
For more information, visit www.whistlingandy.com.
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