The Westslope Distillery is still in its infant stages as far as producing with only Sweet Sting Honey Spirit and Lost Trail Rye Vodka bottled right now. But just one taste of these and you know Hamilton and the Bitterroot are lucky to have this new spot to go to. There are more spirits in the works but this is a small batch distillery and it will take a while to build up product. There is a space above the distillery that will hold oak barrels for gin, rum, brandy, or even whiskey eventually.
The distillery is owned by Will Anderson and his mother, Susan. Both have been residents of the valley about 10 years and have been coming here to fly fish much longer.
Will has a science background as he started out in pre-veterinary medicine in college. However, he switched to business to finish his degree. He said he is self-taught in the art of distilling, “kind of a trial by fire.”
Susan is in charge of the tasting room and customer service. She said she wanted to create an environment that was relaxing, where people would want to gather, relax and visit. With comfortable chairs and seating areas, along with a bar where customers can watch their cocktails being created, the tasting room is just that, relaxing.
Will’s first offering at the distillery was the Sweet Sting Honey Spirit which is made from distilling honey mead (wine) from Hidden Legend Winery located at Sheafman Creek, south of Victor. It is not aged and is 90 proof. But don’t let that high number scare you. The cocktails they make out of this spirit are amazing and all feature a taste of Montana. From pears, lime, honey, vanilla and thyme, to kombucha, honey, local lavender, and herbs, these are unique drinks that are to be savored.
Jessi Trauth, the director of the tasting room operations, said they try to source the products as locally as possible. Grains come from Conrad, Montana, coffee from Big Creek Coffee Roasters in Hamilton, herbs from local growers, kombucha from the House of Kombucha here in the valley. And this summer, Hillary Sargent, from Two Poppy Apothecary, will be scouring the mountains for plants to make bitters from. “We like value added products,” said Will. “This helps everyone.”
Trauth said that creating the cocktails in front of the customer is a creative way to tell the story of the ingredients and Montana. A performer herself, she uses her background in dance, theater and music to enhance the experience. As a graduate of Stevensville High School, she said this is one way to give back to her community.
There is a small deck in back of the distillery where Trauth hopes to have music this summer. There is a food truck in back on Thursdays right now and its hours will expand as the weather gets better.
There are 10 employees at the distillery. They all have strong ties to the Montana lifestyle and the Bitterroot Valley. Every venture they take, whether fishing, hiking, skiing or riding, can be an inspiration for a new cocktail and a new experience at Westslope Distillery. The distillery is located at 172 South 2nd Street, in Hamilton. The phone number is 375-5590 and hours are Monday through Saturday, 12 to 8 p.m.