When you pull up to the wood-sided distillery on Main Street in Ennis, Mont., you’re looking for a drink. Inside, you’ll find award-winning, small-batch spirits from huckleberry cream liquor to moonshine. What you might find that you weren’t expecting, however, is that you’ll immediately feel like part of the family at Willie’s Distillery.
While the quality of the spirits made at Willie’s Distillery can’t be denied, one of the things that sets the distillery apart is its sense of community. In the tasting room, your bartender won’t just mix you a drink. They’ll show you how to make it and send you home with the recipe, so you can recreate drinks like the Spicy Margarita, made with jalapeño and pineapple infused moonshine, in your kitchen. The staff will mix your kids a Shirley Temple and invite you to stay for the local live music that happens every Friday night at 5:30 p.m.
It’s not just customers that the people at Willie’s Distillery see as family – it’s the whole Ennis community. You’ll find Willie’s staff at most events throughout the year serving up drinks from Music in the Park on Thursdays throughout the summer to the annual 4th of July Parade and Rodeo.
Willie’s Distillery was founded by Willie Blazer and his late wife Robin, in 2012. Today, their spirits can be found all over the West, including Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. They’re also available for purchase and shipment online, but to really experience a drink made with Willie’s, you have to head to Ennis.
Stop by any day of the week after 3 p.m. for a tour of the facility, or call ahead to schedule a tour for other times of the day or for groups of five or more. The staff will walk you through the distilling process from start to finish. You’ll head into the distillery to learn about the local grains staff grinds themselves, see where the mash goes into the cooking pot and head to the fermentation room to listen to the yeast bubbling away. The sound of the bubbling helps the distillers tell how their alcohol-in-progress is behaving. You’ll see the German copper pot still the distillery uses to distill their whiskies, ryes, brandies and more.
“It looks like something out of Willie Wonka,” says Tori Williams, the tasting room manager who has been with the company for more than five years.
Then, it’s on to the warehouse, which is Williams’ favorite part of the distillery.
“It smells amazing,” she says. “A combination of all the best smells: oak and whiskey.”
After seeing all the barrels, you’ll end at the tasting room where you can sample 11 types of spirits, some exclusive to the tasting room like the Flathead Cherry Brandy. Or, order a handcrafted cocktail like the Spicy Margarita or the autumn Fall Bourbon Maple Sour, one of Williams’ all-time favorites.
Make sure to check out other items for sale in the tasting room like the in-house barrel-aged maple syrup.
Don’t miss bringing home a bottle of Devils Brigade Whiskey. The whiskey is made of 60% American Bourbon and 40% Canadian Whiskey, an homage to the Devil’s Brigade Unit, an all-volunteer WWII unit that was the first special forces unit for both countries and trained in Montana. A portion of each sale is donated to the Montana Special Forces Association: Devil’s Brigade Chapter, which is a non-profit veteran’s services organization. This project is near and dear to founder Willie Blazer’s heart as he was an Army Ranger, a Special Forces Medic and a Hotshot wildland firefighter and smokejumper before he became a distiller.
Women in Montana Distilling History
Willie’s Distillery has a strong history of women in distilling, thanks to its late founder Robin Blazer. It’s a common misconception that distilling is a male-dominated industry. You might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of women making whiskey, bourbon, moonshine and other spirits today. Robin Blazer, former president of Willie’s Distillery in Ennis, Mont., was one of those women.
“It’s just like farming,” said Blazer, who grew up on a wheat farm not far from Ennis. “Nobody cares if you’re a man or woman, as long as you get the job done well.”
In fact, the history of women making spirits in Montana goes back more than 100 years. During prohibition, women often dominated bootlegging because it was illegal for police to search them. Male bootleggers often sought out women to do business so they wouldn’t get searched, and many women opened their own operations. A woman was even behind the now iconic design of the Maker’s Mark wax-sealed bottles.
Yet, Montana’s women have also made history in another realm: politics. Women in Montana got the vote in 1914, five years before it became legal on a federal level. A Montana woman was also the first female in Congress in 1917.
For more information:
312 Main St., Ennis, MT 59729