14 Montana Distilleries Coming to Whitefish for Distillers Fest

Cocktail samplings, hors d'oeuvres, and a silent auction are all part of the festivities

By Mike Kordenbrock
From left, the Rocky Mountain Caesar, the Pisco Sour and the Fire in the Hole cocktails from Glacier Distilling Company in Coram on Aug. 9. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Fourteen different Montana distilleries will be bringing their spirits, and a selection of creative cocktails, to Whitefish on Friday, May 24, for the Fifth Annual Distillers Fest.

Nic Lee, the head distiller and owner of Glacier Distilling Company, said that he believes in terms of distillery participation, this is the best turnout yet for the event, with distilleries coming from as far east as Billings.

The event, which goes from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Grand Banquet Room at Grouse Mountain Lodge, is styled a little bit like a beer festival, in that tickets for entry ($45 if bought in advance online, $50 at the door) include drink tickets for six different tastings, as well as a souvenir glass. Attendees will also have the opportunity to snack on hors d’oeuvres provided by Grouse Mountain Lodge, and participate in a silent auction with an array of different prizes.  

The cocktails being served are scaled down to what Lee described as a tasting portion, as opposed to full-sized drinks. Eventgoers will have a chance to not only sample the wares of different distillers, but to also chat with representatives from those distilleries, including distillers themselves, about their craft, process and products. For people who especially want to geek out, and for industry professionals, Lee recommended paying extra for VIP tickets, which offer entry an hour before general entry, a couple extra drink tickets, and a chance to attend a Montana Whiskey 101 Class, which will be a presentation on how whiskey in the state goes from grain to bottle.

The cocktails served at Distillers Fest are designed to highlight the products that different Montana distilleries bring, and Lee said the festival can sometimes be an opportunity for people to try new products that have only been released over the course of the last year, and may not be widely available otherwise.

Glacier Distilling, for example, plans on mixing two different cocktails. One, called Northern Lights, uses their Bearproof Huckleberry Whiskey with a spruce and huckleberry reduction, which is topped with soda water and Tamarack terpene-infused cocktail bitters. They’ll also be mixing up a classic Sazerac made with North Fork Rye and Trail of the Cedars Absinthe.

Another Flathead distillery, Spotted Bear Spirits, plans to highlight its new grapefruit-flavored vodka with a cocktail called the OMG or Oh My Grapefruit. The cocktail includes orgeat almond syrup, tahini, Don’s mix (typically a blend of grapefruit juice, cinnamon and sugar) with a strawberry angostura float, Thai basil and a black sesame garnish.

Lee also sits on the board of the Montana Distillers Guild, a nonprofit organization that supports craft distilling in Montana. Montana distilleries have taken home awards at national and international competitions, Lee said. In his view, that makes this an opportunity to not only try quality spirits, but to support local economies “up and down the food chain” due to the commitment some Montana distilleries have to using local grains and ingredients, including in some cases by growing their own.

“People are much more familiar asking for ‘What’s your local beer?’ but I think it’s just as important to ask ‘What’s your local spirit,’ because part of the guild ethos is a commitment to source local ingredients?” Lee said.

The full list of distilleries participating in this year’s Distillers Fest are: Bozeman Spirits (Bozeman), Crawford Distillery (Havre), Dry Hills Distillery (Bozeman) Glacier Distilling (Coram), Gulch Distillers (Helena), Headframe Spirits (Butte), Lakeside Distillery (Townsend), Portal Spirits (Kalispell), Montgomery Distillery (Missoula), Spotted Bear Spirits (Whitefish), Undammed Spirits (Billings), Westslope Distillery (Hamilton), Whistling Andy Distillery (Bigfork), Wildrye Distillery (Bozeman) and Willie’s Distillery (Ennis).

For more information, including to purchase tickets in advance, go to https://montanadistillers.org/events/.

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