Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is Montana About to Become the Whiskey Center of the West?



Headframe Spirits of Butte, Montana, announced today it plans to open a third distillery in Butte with enough capacity to rival the large distilleries in Kentucky and Indiana.

Headframe already operates two small distilleries in Butte. Headframe's owners, John and Courtney McKee, opened Headframe Spirits in 2012 and were named Montana’s Entrepreneurs of the Year for 2013. Even though they've only been in business for two years, they swear they distilled their Neversweat Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which is only just barely possible.

Last summer, Headframe entered into a year long project with Butte Silver Bow Community Development, the Community Development Block Program, and SMA Architects to evaluate three potential sites in Butte suitable for "producing a full size barrel of whiskey every seven minutes."

Assuming a 40-hour work week and a 48-week work year, that's about 16,500 barrels a year. The smallest major distilleries produce about 20,000 barrels a year, so their math is a little off, but for micro-distilleries, who are doing well if they fill a barrel a day, that's huge.

Headframe says that although it will be a value-added agricultural manufacturing facility, the goal of site selection included the need to create ties between agriculture, history, manufacturing, and tourism.

With preliminary engineering and architectural work complete and a suitable site selected, Headframe intends to enter into negotiations with property owners Butte Silver Bow County and Atlantic Richfield Company with the goal to take over 20 acres of a former industrial site, The Kelley Mine Yard, to redevelop it into the largest distillery west of the Mississippi.

This project will incorporate Headframe's proprietary continuous flow distillation technology to produce beverage alcohol both for their own brands and for bulk sale. Not a lot of explanation of this 'proprietary technology' has been provided, but it apparently has to do with adapting for beverage production something owner John McKee and Manufacturing Director Mark Chadek worked on at Nova Biosource Fuels, which developed a commercial-scale biodiesel distillation facility with a rated capacity of 10 to 60 million gallons per year.

Headframe says they will maintain the history of the site, with production and restaurant space located in the historic hoist house. Barrel storage, packaging, shipping and receiving will be located in the 54,000 square foot Kelley garage building.

They also envision the site built out to act as an eastern anchor to Historic Uptown Butte, America, with a strong emphasis on tourism, outdoor event space, and economic development. Onsite overnight bungalows and a restaurant were incorporated into the master plan in order to promote a more fully integrated experience onsite and in the Uptown neighborhood.

Headframe anticipates that this project will create approximately 50 new long-term jobs and they intend to keep the ownership in Butte.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chuck,

Thanks for writing about our project out here in the west. We're really very excited about it and believe we have something pretty incredible in the works.

To clarify one note, our Neversweat is very clearly labeled a blended product.

If you'd like to discuss details, please feel free to reach out to us anytime. We'd appreciate being able to share not only our backgrounds but the background of this specific project and its place in the world.

Thanks for all you do. Regular reader, first time contributor.

Best,
John McKee

Chuck Cowdery said...

The Headframe web site, under 'products,' claims that Neversweat is "100% Straight Bourbon Whiskey", and hence not a blend, so there's that.

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Blended as like Seagram's 7 or blended as in MT produced product blended with products from other distilleries?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'm glad you asked. After consulting with Mr. McKee, I can tell you that it is not blended whiskey, it is a mixture of straight bourbons, therefore it's straight bourbon. Headframe did not, however, distill it. It is all sourced whiskey from one or more of the usual suspects. The web site has been corrected. Use of the word 'blended' at all is unfortunate because of the blended whiskey connotation. It just confuses people.

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Thanks for clarifying. If I ever see it in a store, I might try it but look forward to seeing MT-produced bourbon in the future. Should be interesting to see how long they age their own product.

Anonymous said...

"Blended," or not isn't the question here. These folks produce a fantastic bottle of bourbon. Having been a "Maker's" fan for more years than I'll admit, their Neversweat far and away eclipses the "veteran." I am not the only one of this opinion as seen from awards already taken in competition against some of these "big boys" along with a GLOBAL expansion of their market. Kinda hard to find fault in that performance. My two cents...

Regards,
Jim Guidry

Tom said...

Straight whiskey does need to all come from the same state, yes?

As for the blog post's headline question, I've been pushing for a Montana Whiskey Trail for years. Of course, it would take about twenty hours to drive it....

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'm glad you like it. I'm excited about the company's ambitious plans. But be clear that, in the case of Neversweat, 'produced' means bought from the distillery that actually made it and put into a bottle by Headframe. There is nothing wrong with that and I get that you're a fan and trying to promote them, but they're hardly taking on the majors worldwide. They're barely out of the box.

Chuck Cowdery said...

And 'blended' versus 'straight' is hugely important to drinkers of American whiskey. Your friends do themselves a disservice by allowing the word 'blended' to appear anywhere on their label.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Yes, for a mixture of straight whiskeys to be considered straight, all of the whiskeys must have been distilled in the same state. And, by the way, unless that state is Montana (doubtful), Headframe is in violation of 5.36(d).

Funky Tape said...

What's kinda weird about this is Headframe seems to be mainly available all throughout Illinois, right in Chuck's backyard. Binny's, Randall's and Liquor Barn all carry their products.

And the label does clearly claim distilled and bottled by HF in Butte followed by '100% straight bourbon whiskey' which I've never seen before. If it really is a blend, shouldnt it say 'whiskies?'

Anonymous said...

Why call yourself a distillery if you are not actually distilling anything?

Anonymous said...

I live in Montana, and bought a bottle of Neversweat over a year ago. I sent the owners an email asking about the claim on the label that it was straight bourbon and distilled by them. They never responded. I'm glad they've finally been called on their deceptive practices.

Also, at 28 to 30 bucks a bottle the value of Neversweat Bourbon is extremely poor; 10 or 12 is about where it should be.

evasive said...

It's a sourced bourbon, and from what I've heard, they'll start bottling their own when it's ready. They call themselves a distillery because they distill. That's pretty simple.

As far as reported claims on the label or 'deceptive practices,' all the bottles of Neversweat that I've seen have a label on the back reading "Blended and bottled in Butte, Montana."