Flathead Valley Distilleries Getting National Attention

By MOLLY PRIDDY for the Flathead Beacon

Bottles of Wheatfish Whiskey are seen at the Glacier Distilling Company in Coram. – Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

Like some of the best things in Montana, the Flathead Valley’s distilleries started with humble roots and grew through hard work. Now, after several recent competitions, it looks like the rest of the country is starting to catch on to what the locals have to offer.

Ridge Distillery, Glacier Distilling Company and Whistling Andy have all won awards for their respective spirits since opening in the last 18 months.

Julie and Joe Legate, who own Ridge Distillery located between Kalispell and Kila, recently received three medals at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Their Silvertip American Dry Gin won a gold, while the Absinthe Verte took silver and the Absinthe Blanche took bronze, Julie Legate said.

Since the Legates are the only two involved in the operations at Ridge Distillery, traveling to and preparing for these competitions takes a lot of time and money, she said. They have no more plans to enter their spirits into any more competitions, but the San Francisco awards were greatly appreciated.

“I’d say we’re done for the year; I’m pretty happy with this one,” Julie Legate said. The Legates also went to trade shows in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and Julie said their liquor is now sold in both of those places as well as New York City.

They keep up with demand, despite being what Julie called “probably the smallest micro-distillery in existence.” “To be two happy people in the middle of Montana, we’re doing very, very well,” she said.

Ice water slowly drips over a sugar cube suspended over a glass of absinthe made at Ridge Distillery west of Kalispell.

The staff at Glacier Distilling Company is also celebrating winning a silver medal for the Wheatfish Whiskey at the American Distilling Institute’s 2012 conference in Kentucky.

Glacier Distilling employee Lauren Oscilowski said the Wheatfish Whiskey, made in conjunction with Great Northern Brewing Company, won a silver in the nontraditional whiskey category. Oscilowski said she and owner Nic Lee were pleased about the medal because they were going up against some older whiskeys, while theirs was aged 8.4 months.

The same whiskey also won a silver medal in a Beverage Tasting Institute competition earlier in March, Oscilowski said. “We were pretty stoked about it,” she said. While the national recognition is good for business, Oscilowski said Glacier Distilling plans on sticking to fun, local projects, such as helping the Glacier Sun Winery make port wine.

And in Bigfork, the spirits made at Whistling Andy are headed to more states and Canadian provinces in the near future, according to Lisa Cloutier. Currently, the Flathead liquor is sold in Missouri, Oregon, Nevada and Illinois, and shipments to eight more states and four provinces should begin in May, Cloutier said.

Cloutier said she was excited about the success of all the distilleries in the county, and believes that they, along with the breweries and wineries, could become a significant draw for tourists. Along with the shipment expansion, Whistling Andy’s Hibiscus Coconut Rum won the 2011 Platinum Award at the Spirits International Prestige Awards and a silver at the Micro Liquor Awards.

For more information on the distilleries, visit their respective websites: Ridge Distillery, Glacier Distilling Company, and Whistling Andy.