In western Montana, Glacier National Park and all the mountains, rivers, lakes and wilderness areas nearby are a major draw for tourists.
Montana hosts more than 12 million nonresident visitors every year, and the majority come to the western half of the state. They come for scenery and outdoor recreation, but once the hiking, skiing, boating or picture-taking is finished, a good stiff cocktail might be in order.
And in Montana, a plethora of locally owned craft distilleries and breweries offer both tourists and residents a way to taste the harvests of the state’s agricultural producers, as they use everything from Montana barley to wheat to cherries and herbs to brew up their boozy products.
In fact, the state of Montana has taken to promoting agritourism, and especially distilleries and breweries, as a key attraction. If you were to take a road trip, say, from Glacier National Park down to Missoula through Whitefish and Kalispell or Bigfork and Potomac, there are plenty of options to explore.
Here are the highlights of a few of the distilleries, (and also see our sidebar of all the breweries in western Montana):
Glacier Distilling Company, 10237 U.S. Highway 2 E. in Coram. They offer the North Fork, a traditional American-style rye whiskey, and the Wheatfish, a single-malt whiskey. The Fireweed is a cherry bourbon made from Flathead Lake cherries, the Bad Rock is a 3-year-old straight rye whiskey with hints of toasted vanilla and the Two Med is a hopped malt whiskey. They also have apple, pear, grape, cherry and plum brandies to go with a wide mix of vodka, gin, rum, absinthe and flavored liquors.
Whistling Andy Distillery, 8541 Highway 35 in Bigfork. They have three different whiskeys ranging from unaged to a 3-year barrel bourbon. They also have a pink peppercorn gin and a pear gin, along with a cucumber gin. There’s a white rum and a coconut hibiscus rum, a hops schnapps and a vodka made with 100 percent Mission Valley corn. All the whiskeys are made from Montana grain, and they use all natural botanicals and flavors. "The Farmer's Daughter is our most popular cocktail," said manager Beth Woods. "It’s muddled cucumber vodka with rosemary-infused lemonade. People ask for it a lot in the summer. It's delicious."
Spotted Bear Spirits, 503 Railway Street in Whitefish. Their cocktails are crafted from fresh organic produce, fresh juice, house-made syrups, tonics and bitters. They offer vodka, coffee liqueur, an agave spirit and gin.
Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits, 2134 Highway 2 E., in Evergreen (just northeast of Kalispell). They offer spirits such as Orange Clove Rum, Montana Wheat Vodka, Botanical Gin, Huckleberry Liquor and Cranberry Moon (a cranberry juice whiskey). They also have a Rock Creek Vodka, a Highline Whiskey and a Contraband clear whiskey. They will be releasing an agave liquor at the end of April. They also feature menu of burgers, tacos and nachos.
Vilya Spirits,101 E. Center Street, Suite 104, in Kalispell. They offer Silvertip American Dry Gin, Vilya Spirits Absinthe Verte, Absinthe Blanche, and Wild Huckleberry Liqueur. They also grow many of their own rare herbs required for their spirits in their own garden.
Steel Toe Distillery, 23545 Highway 200 in Potomac. Owned by Carl and Christina Bock, one of their specialties is Settler’s Tea, which is made of rosehips, mint, English breakfast tea and 60-proof vodka.
"It's based of the tea the English colonists used when they were trying to fight scurvy," Bock said. "Our version is delicious."
They also offer American moonshine whiskey and a European-style gin made with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, grains of paradise and star anise without a lot of juniper flavor.
Once you get to Missoula, there are three distilleries to choose from:
Rattlesnake Creek Distillers, 128 W. Alder St. in Missoula. They offer Circle Square Vodka, Hogan’s Hooch Light Whiskey and Crystal Springs Gin to go in their ever-changing menu of different cocktails. Be sure to ask about the bartender’s secret menu and don’t miss the sunny outdoor patio.
The Montana Distillery, formerly known as Flathead Vodka, 631 Woody St. in Missoula. They make a Woody St. Premium Vodka, a Fallen Dove Gin and a whole line of flavor-infused vodkas using everything from ginger to jalapenos to bacon.
Montgomery Distillery, 129 W. Front St. in Missoula. They make a Sudden Wisdom Rye Whiskey, a Whyte Laydie Gin, a Skadi Aquavit, a Quicksilver Vodka and a Montgomery Single Malt. They have an extensive menu of cocktails, including the Nightburner, which is rye, smoked vanilla syrup, bitters and a tobacco rinse. The Corpse Survivor is gin, curacao, lemon, fresh grape juice and an absinthe rinse.
Don’t forget about Western Cider, 501 N. California St. in Missoula. They can and distribute their Poor Farmer and Poor Farmer Hopped Ciders, and they also have a wide variety of both dry and sweet locally crafted hard ciders made from local and regional apples.
Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery, 4175 Rattlesnake Dr. in Missoula. The company offers a wide variety of locally produced red and white wines, as well as dessert wines and a special Howlin’ Pear variety.
At Lolo Creek Steakhouse, a new distillery is expected to be open by summer. They’ll have a variety of spirits as well as a 4,000-square-foot tasting room next to the restaurant. It’s located at 6600 Highway 12 in Lolo.