Tell us about Bozeman Spirits and how you got into distilling.
Jim Harris: In 2012, Distilleries in Montana were just getting going. I was interested in producing a Montana Made product, made in Historic Downton Bozeman, as it had never been done. We jumped through a bunch of hoops with the city and they have been great supporters of manufacturing ever since. We opened in the fall of 2014 after almost two years of preparation and buildout. When we opened the door on Halloween, we had a vodka and a whiskey. By December we had figured out the recipe for the Huckleberry flavored vodka as well as our gin, which includes 12 botanicals all sourced locally. Thomas McGuane, head distiller, and myself began making all the products. As the business grew, we hired an assistant, Cortney, who can now run the entire distilling operation so I could focus on growth, sales, marketing…now a desk job…not as fun as the distilling! Hired my wife to come in and she now runs all the events and outside sales where we focus on Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and North Dakota. As a side note, if I had known all the people in craft distilling segment were so cool and fun to be around, I would have wanted to start a distillery just to be in the group. There are some amazing folks across the United States, all making unique craft spirits.
What’s your top-selling product?
J.H.: Our top-selling product is Cold Spring Huckleberry Flavored Vodka at 80 proof. Naturally flavored (secret recipe!) with no sugar added. The Huckleberry is a wild berry that grows in the northwest areas of the United States. Like a blueberry, but smaller and slightly tart. It’s a staple from jams to vodka here in Montana!
How would you characterize the growth of the Montana craft spirits scene?
J.H.: Montana is seeing positive growth with distilleries. Each year, more and more Montana Made spirits are displayed on the shelves in liquor stores. Our state liquor store sales are growing across the state (all distilleries). By the time we opened, we were the 9 th distillery to bottle hooch. There are now 19 open with a couple more in the works. The Montana Distillers Guild is taking a larger roll in helping create awareness across the state as well as work on legislative items that will help all of its members. Jobs, tax revenue and agriculture benefits put us along with breweries as the 2 nd fastest growing category in the state.
In addition to your vodkas, you have a gin and a rum. How do you see those categories progressing over the next few years?
J.H.: Since we have opened, all the products have seen growth. Our Montana 1889 whiskey follows as second behind the Huckleberry Vodka. We are small and have expansion plans underway with a newly purchased 20-acre property in Bozeman that will allow us to fill up to 5,500 square feet with more production and aged 1889 whiskey! We should see major growth in our whiskey portfolio in 2-3 years.
Gin and rum are gradually catching on and becoming more popular. Ruby River Gin is heavier with citrus than most, which allows non-typical gin drinkers to give it a try and become fans. It is one of my favorites and we have been told it is the best Gin in the northwest!
Describe some of the feedback you get from consumers.
J.H.: Since we are in Downtown Bozeman, a large part of our customer base are tourists who visit Montana in the winter to ski Big Sky and Bridger Bowl, to summer while visiting Yellowstone National Park. My favorite feedback is from a guy who was driving across Canada heading to Vancouver. A friend had given him a bottle of our Gin for Christmas. He was in Banff and realizes he is just north of Montana, sends me a message through Facebook and asks if we are open on Sunday. I tell him yes and he drives some 9 hours to come to the distillery tasting room to purchase more Gin! He could have stopped just across the border to get a bottle at the liquor store, but he really wanted to come to the source. I think that is the power of locally made products, across Montana & the US.