Ryan and Jenny Montgomery became acquainted over many memorable single malts. In 2009, they began planning in earnest to establish a traditional, small-batch distillery in Missoula. In 2010, they traveled to Scotland to learn the fundamentals of this traditional craft. There, Ryan studied under Frank McHardy at Springbank Distillery, where centuries-old distilling techniques still endure. During visits to small distilleries in the US, they sought out and worked alongside both master distillers and brilliant upstarts. Jenny obtained a certificate in herbal studies with Elaine Sheff of Green Path Herb School, which informed her choice of botanicals for Whyte Laydie gin and our tasting room cocktails. Today, the two aim to achieve a seamless blend of tradition and innovation at the distillery. Their passion is interpreting Old World spirits from around the globe using ingredients from the Montana landscape.
Distillery Farm, Tom and Chris Montgomery: Tom and Chris operate the family ranch in Heath, Montana where they grow our wheat and rye with loving care and trial heirloom strains for future spirits. Tenacious descendants of 19th century homesteaders, Ryan’s parents work harder than the rest of us put together and have fun doing it. They travel throughout Montana spreading the good word about our spirits and enjoy meeting folks wherever they go in Montana – though they already know most of them. Tom was District Director of the USDA Farm Services Agency for 31 years, getting to know farmers and ranchers and their stories all over the state, then coming home to work his own cows in the dark. Chris taught fourth grade in Lewistown for many years. If you are a former student, she will still call you “Sweetie” when she sees you.
Chad Larrabee, Head Distiller: Chad Larrabee, AKA Yukon Cornelius, has a large, transatlantic mustache. It often speaks without being spoken to, but never interrupts. The pride of Danville, Vermont, Chad traveled to Scotland at 15 with his mother to spread his grandmother’s ashes. One stop at Glenfiddich distillery and a great love of whisky was born. After a harrowing experience aboard an Atlantic fishing vessel, Chad decided to leave the open seas behind and head for the Rocky Mountains to look for gold in the form of a political science degree. (He promises he isn’t using it on us.) Following a short stint in a South African jail, he was inspired to found The Yukon Cornelius Subterranean Institute of Mechanical Innovation. There, the Yuke fashioned an array of scary looking instruments in his quest to master the black art of beverage production. In 2009, a botched thirty-gallon batch of Flathead cherry wine became the inspiration for his investigations in distilling. When not dancing solo in the still room, he can be found cheering wildly at the Augusta rodeo, jumping from a moving car onto the back of a running moose, cultivating his penicillin colony, and relaxing in a sarong in his leisure hours. He drinks mostly whisky, but is always on the lookout for a sublime spirit.
Christopher Conley, Distiller: Chris “Montucky Ninja” Conley emerged from the sticks of Aurora, Indiana with a skateboard under one arm and an enlightened glint in his half-lidded eyes. After moving to Ohio, where his father was employed by Seagrams, Chris fell in with a Breakfast Club-esque group of youths. Amongst them, he met his Irish soul match, Bridey. Shortly after gaining acceptance of his post-pubescent role in society, Chris had the opportunity to move to Oregon and took it. Realizing he had no idea about his role in society, he noticed it rained a lot in Portland and left. In 1996, he gave a friend a ride to Missoula and never found a reason to leave. Employed as a vintner for several years, Chris was happy to make the leap to distilling spirits, which he classifies as both science and magic. He can be found skateboarding around the still room murmuring koans. “It is as it is…”
Michael Lattanzio, Sales Manager: Hailing from the Constitution State, Mike Lattanzio marched to Missoula in 2005 with a huge crush on Phish. He led youth groups for the Montana Conservation Corps before pulling up to our bumper with a smile on his face and a few twigs in his sweater. He cleaned up nicely! A passionate scholar of cocktail history, Mike is a beloved bartender and the face of Montgomery Distillery on the road, where he handles over 100 sales accounts. He loves traveling around the Northwest transmitting the arcana of spirits and mixed drinks to clients, his fly rod belted safely in the passenger seat. Mike swoons for most any variation of the Negroni.
Tad Hilton, Tasting Room Manager and Head Bartender: Tad Hilton is a man of the law. He believe it exists for one reason: to be surveyed from all angles and shattered with one tap of his ice pick. Born in the Florida swamplands, Tad moved to NYC to attend Hunter College and serve as bottle saberer at ABC Kitchen. But all roads eventually lead west, so Tad has been wrench-deep in motorcycles and Montana mountainsides for the last few years, where he spanks rosemary and macerates cherries at Montgomery Distillery. His classical culinary background reinforces his artist’s knack for fashioning simple, perfect cocktails. When the single malt is finished aging, Tad plans to drink most of it – on the rocks. When not hiking, fishing, foraging, or rafting, Tad can be found drinking French rose around a campfire with a Desert Eagle strapped to his side.
Kira Bassingthwaite, Assistant Distiller and Bartender: Kira was born in Iowa, but grew tired of the corn fields by the age of six months and encouraged her family to wander West and settle in Missoula. There, she filled her time running around Glacier National Park, playing cello, and signing up for every sport a tomboy could dream of. One day, Kira dusted herself off and decamped for the Culinary Institute of America in New York. There, she completed a fancy degree, met Martha Stewart, and took a month-long wine course which triggered an important life interest — makin’ booze! Though food filled her days, drink filled her nights. Kira found herself brewing impressive amounts of mead, cider and Kombucha in her basement. Soon, Montana called her back home, where she now manages our casking program, wrangles the CARL still, and leads our tours to Scotland each fall. When she’s not climbing, hiking, playing
hockey, acting, or telling inappropriate jokes, she’s dipping her finger and swirling the onion in her Gibson.
Whitney Bergum, Bartender: Before Whitney Bergum turned five, she picked wild snozberries and sniffed for moose prints in the Beartooth Mountains, a pastime we often see her returning to. Having spent the remainder of her wonder years in Great Falls re-enacting Lewis & Clark expeditions, most consider her to be more al fresco than al dente. It’s this infatuation with pioneering the unknown that led her to pursue and collect a degree in Ecology and Organismal Biology from the University of Montana. In essence, Whitney’s studies prepared her well for the subcellular mysteries of the cocktail trade. Ask her to slap some basil, crush some ginger, and voila, you’ve got a botanical sonnet and Montgomery classic: the Go Gingerly (her favorite cocktail). When she’s not muddling herbs she’s tending to patients in her nursing clinicals. The girl doesn’t sleep, but with so much goodness on the horizon, why bother?
Christine Gill, Bartender: A nomad by nature, Christine Gill has resided in California, Portland, NYC, and the volcanic plains of Venus, though her roots lie in the South Side (Billings). Pursuing a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Montana, she is interested in the varying ways humanoids can resemble their feelings. It’s curious, considering Christine is an acro-yoga instructor and can often be found flying through the air in a twisty Lotus pose. Maybe labyrinthine is a new emotion, maybe she just likes throwing pretzels. When she straightens out, she’s a switch hitter for Montgomery, as she can tend bar, cook up kickin’ syrups, and carry a full tray above her head like a hypnotized audience member. To unwind, Christine will slap Hamiltons on the bar and sip gin ‘til the moon goes blind. Then ask you how you’re feeling.
Jessie Lewis, Cocktailer: Crosshatch Bear Grylls with a medieval metalsmith and you’ll find whistling in your palm the inimitable Jessica Lewis. Born in Hollywood, raised in Montana, she’s like Brad Pitt but can actually fly-fish. A proficient plane-jumper, Jess has touched down in New Orleans, Alaska, and Japan without a poke in her parachute. And that’s no metaphor; she uses her long, brown hair as paracord. A lover of aged, brown spirits, Jess can be found bouldering, backbending, or hammering gold into talismans while sipping bourbon, with or without the cube. So stop by, have her make you a necklace from a bullet shell, a martini from wormwood – it’ll hurt so good you won’t even feel your knees getting weak.
Philip Schaefer, Bartender: Philip Schaefer is a Midwest mongrel with a heart full of wild wheat. Bred and buttered in Missouri, he’s also lived in Nashville and Chicago, where he discovered rye, Amaro, and the art of sleeping in. After tending bar at Girl & the Goat, he (and his sweet wife, Natalie) decided to head west in pursuit of an MFA in poetry through the University of Montana. An award winning poet with a few published chapbooks, lately Philip’s been writing about bionic rain and Elvis Presley. The king is not dead. Long days of hiking, disc golf, and poor attempts at fly fishing lead him to the deep, peptic waters of a Sazerac or Boulevardier – stirred in spitfire, palmed with purpose. His spirit animal is a moose giving birth to a bear.
Megan Toenyes, Cocktailer is a ton of yes. A thoroughbred Missoulian, she spent much of her childhood stretching musical theatre boundaries, painting funny bones on wooden horses and dentures on nativity Jesus. She also tore up the school playground with fellow co-worker Kira B. Upon entering her late tweens, Megan decided to pursue her love of art and performance by becoming a Gandalf of animation and design, which earned her a BFA in Media Arts. After brief stints ice-carving in California and wrestling alligators in Portland, she returned to the last best place. She owns a freelancing design business and concocts video magic for SciShow. If you catch her in the right mood, which is always, hold out your paw. She might just hand you a Bloody Olaf (extra spicy). But watch out, you’re on camera.