BILLINGS – Making handcrafted spirits is a labor of love for Casey McGowan, who opened Trailhead Spirits in January 2013.
“We are a true production distillery where we make all the products that we sell,” said McGowan. “We ferment, we distill, we bottle, we do everything on site here.”
When McGowan says everything is done by hand, he means it. The bottles are hand labeled, filled, corked and boxed by the distiller, Joe Henan and his volunteer bottling crew.
It is the handcrafted nature of their products and an attention to detail that has allowed Trailhead Spirits to quickly make a name for itself around the region.
Trailhead’s award-winning “Healy’s Gin” is a perfect example.
“We’ve got some sweet grass and some sage and some mint and bitterroot that we put in there that is really unique to Montana,” said McGowan.
The Montana ties don’t stop there. All of the wheat used at Trailhead comes from the McGowan family farm in Highwood.
“We’re pretty proud of the fact that it’s all made locally using grains,” said McGowan. “Even more locally sourced knowing that the piece of ground that it came from was your farm that was in your family for 120 years.”
As a tribute to the place he grew up, the distillery’s whiskey line is aptly named “Highwood.”
For McGowan, a graduate of MSU’s agriculture program, the agricultural side of distilling is second nature. But his ties to the business don’t stop there. McGowan’s grandfather, Michael Healy, was an Irish immigrant in Butte who happened to be a well-known bootlegger and moonshiner in the prohibition era.
“Bringing those two family traditions and histories together here, 100 and some years later, was pretty cool,” said McGowan.
McGowan said the road has not always been easy, as spirits – specifically whiskey – can take years to produce.
“It ages for anywhere between 18 to 36 months,” said McGowan. “We started out with the vodka and a gin and we were making whiskey and having the costs of the current grain and the labor and the barrels and then you put it in a barrel and you put it in the corner and you wait two years. It’s a pretty long receivable for the business plan.”
While they are currently limited by space, McGowan said he hopes to expand to a larger space in the future, which would allow them to increase production.
Trailhead Spirits distributes across the state of Montana, as well as in Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota and Nevada.
MTN’s Samantha Harrelson