Portal Spirits Distillery asks two questions of its potential customers: Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be?
Marketing director and co-owner Michelle Moore answers both of those questions simply: It doesn’t matter as long as there’s rum.
Last August, Portal Spirits launched its first two labels out of its Evergreen production facility, the result of nearly three years of experimentation. Flathead Fog Rum pays tribute to the eponymous lake, and teases the palate with a splash of vanilla, touch of bergamot and a hint of old world oak, while the Tropical Tundra Rum evokes a Caribbean paradise with familiar maple and mango notes.
“I was not a rum drinker before this venture,” Michelle said. “But after this I’ve acquired a palate and I love it.”
The mastermind behind the rum venture is Michelle’s husband, Scott.
Five years ago, Scott was sitting at Moose’s with several buddies when the idea of making their own spirit emerged.
“They wanted to make rum in the garage,” Michelle said. “Then pretty soon they bought a distillery, then pretty soon they got the license and it just cascaded from there.”
Rum is a classic tropical spirit made either from sugarcane or a byproduct like molasses — not exactly what one might expect a landlocked, mountainous state to specialize in, but that open niche is exactly why Portal Spirits focused on the libation.
“We thought there was a niche for a fine-sipping, Montana-made rum,” Michelle said. “And that was the journey that we traveled on.”
The distillery started off as a larger partnership between friends, who Michelle says brought key components to the table and made the entire venture possible. Now, it’s largely the Scotts’ business, though they don’t discount the huge amount of support they’ve received from family, friends and the community.
After nearly three years of testing batches and tweaking the recipe, the original partners had honed in on a flavor profile for each blend and prepared to launch Portal Rum to the public.
Currently, the distillery bottles 24 cases of rum a week, and while the spirit is made in Montana, the ingredients and packaging are sourced from around the world. The raw cane sugar is brought in from the Mississippi Delta Valley, the distinct, hefty bottles come from France, and the cork is direct from Portugal.
“But even though we bring things from over the pond, we mix it in Montana, we use Rocky Mountain water and it’s made by real Montanans,” Michelle said.
Each bottle is corked and labeled by hand, though a label machine is supposed to arrive within the month, which will significantly speed up the packaging process.
Michelle and her sister Marie have spent much of the last year in their decaled Portal Spirits van, crisscrossing Montana to visit liquor stores across the state — they’ve hit all but 25 so far — and hosting tastings. Both rums are currently in about 80 stores, including all Town Pump liquor stores.
The Scotts purchased a property in Somers that they expected to turn into their main production facility and a tasting room, but Michelle said the company outgrew that site before they could move in. She says the plan is to build a larger facility next year, scale up the sills and overall production line and eventually open a tasting room, but currently the focus is on the product and getting the word out.
“I’ll be up front: five years ago I said I wanted nothing to do with this — it was Scott’s hobby with his friends,” Michelle said. “And now I’m out rum running. I’m a verified rum runner.”
Portal Spirits currently has released two rums that can be found in liquor stores across Montana, and has a third blend in the midst of a seven-year aging process. To find out where to purchase Portal Rum, or discover new cocktail recipes, visit www.portalspirits.com.
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