Edible Bozeman

In wine tasting, serious or social, there are four components to documenting the event for posterity and learning over time:

Look—a simple visual inspection of the beverage under neutral lighting.

Smell—the aromas that waft up from the glass.

Taste—the structure and flavors.

Think—the observations stored in one’s long-term memory.

The goal of these steps is not necessarily to declare a “Best of the Tasting” or make judgements, but rather to democratize the tasting process to treat all delegates equally in an effort to take notes and hold in manifest destiny one’s thoughts on the characteristics of the dram; to discover and uncover the treasures hidden beneath the process.

Recently a social gathering of toasty tasters applied these same components to the locally sourced and locally produced Montana beverage: whiskey. Namely, we tried rye and bourbon. Here are our notations. Hopefully they will help guide you in your own journey of discovery.


Tasters were pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount and diversity of rye and bourbon whiskeys made in Montana.

Tasters wondered if there are distilleries closer to where some of the grains that make up the mash are grown, like barley grown in central and eastern Montana. A simple online search revealed that distilleries are mostly located in the more populated areas of the state. The ingredients, it turns out, can be had no matter where the distillery is located.

Tasters realized they’d previously held a bias against the lighter-colored whiskeys for no real reason because the color doesn’t necessarily line up to the flavors you’re going to experience.


Glacier Distilling, Coram

Mash comprised of rye, rye malt, and corn that’s aged two years in new-charred oak.

Look: Dark brown, almost maple syrup in color

Smell: Rich, complex, caramel, malty

Taste: Grain mash clearly comes through on the palate. Toasted grain, secondary flavors lead to a long finish

Think: “This is great!”


Headframe Spirits, Butte

Named after the Butte mine of the same name, a blend of corn, rye, and wheat, aged no less than two years.

Look: Light in color and body

Smell: Heather, citrus, Highlands Scotch whiskey more than bourbon

Taste: Heathery, citrus, Irish whiskey

Think: “I like that better than any bourbon I’ve ever tasted in my life. Usually, I can’t stand bourbon.”


Montgomery Distillery, Missoula

Mash is estate-grown rye from the family farm in Lewistown, processed from start to finish in Missoula, and aged no less than three years in heavy char American white oak casks.

Look: Amber in color, viscosity in the glass

Smell: Light heat hits the back of the sinus

Taste: Cherry notes, the grain comes through in the flavor

Think: “This is a sipping rye.”


Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits, Kalispell

Named for the source of the grains—Montana’s Hi-Line— and made using a blend of rye, Montana wheat, and a touch of corn.

Look: Light, pale straw in color

Smell: Very light fruity nose remarkable for what is does not have; heavy, caramel, vanilla notes

Taste: Dances lightly on the palate with a soft lingering finish

Think: Not everything in Montana is rough. “This makes for a great base to a classic cocktail.”


Bozeman Spirits Distillery, Bozeman

Named after the year the state of Montana entered the Union, the Montana-made mash of the 1889 is 75 percent corn plus 20 percent barley and 5 percent rye.

Look: Lighter amber in color

Smell: Highly representative of the mash, dominated by nutty, earthy notes of corn

Taste: Sweet corn flavors swirl over caramel notes of American oak

Think: “An exceptionally smooth sipper distilled in downtown Bozeman.”


Wildrye Distilling, Bozeman

Southwestern Montana sweetcorn and central Montana malted barley aged at least one year in charred new American oak.

Look: Dark amber in color, almost Scotch-ale looking

Smell: Caramelized sugar

Taste: Caramel notes

Think: “Now that’s easy to drink. Really smooth.”


Willie’s Distillery, Ennis

Mash distilled at Main Street location in a Bavarian Holstein still custom-built for Willie’s Distillery and aged one year.

Look: Straight amber in color

Smell: Most complex nose of all the drinks

Taste: Very balanced on the palate with a light lingering finish

Think: “That is a good sipping bourbon.”


Dry Hills Distillery, Bozeman

Montana-grown, four-grain blend of corn, wheat, barley, and rye from the family’s fifth-generation farm.

Look: Dark red amber in color, more viscosity in the glass than the rye whiskeys

Smell: Complex notes of a fine grain mix underscored by a subtle sweetness

Taste: Fuller, more robust in flavor, lingering finish

Think: “I didn’t know this is from right here in Bozeman. Wow, this is good.”

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