Missoula Distillery’s Cocktail Makes Best-of List in New York Magazine

The Black Diamond, created by Caroline McCarty, was recently featured in New York Magazine. The drink consists of muddled rosemary, lemon juice, vodka, honey syrup and black pepper.

Missoula April 27, 2013 9:00 pm  •  By Jenna Cederberg

Along with serving twists on the classics like the Moscow Mule and White Russian (called the Dude Abides at Montgomery), cocktail creators at Montgomery introduced the Black Diamond to thirsty patrons about two months ago.

The Black Diamond mixes muddled rosemary with homemade honey syrup and the distillery’s Quicksilver Vodka to create a citrusy drink with a kick of spice.

Word of its unique taste spread quickly.

Editors from New York magazine called the distillery in March to ask for the cocktail’s recipe.

In April, the Black Diamond was featured it the weekly culture magazine’s article “Cocktail Country: Outstanding Drinks From All 50 States.”

“We’re officially nationally recognized,” said Caroline McCarty, the creator of the Black Diamond who worked at Montgomery until recently.

McCarty watched last week inside Montgomery’s tasting room as tasting room manager Tad Hilton picked the bottom leaves of a rosemary sprig and dropped them into a shaker.

It isn’t easy muddling rosemary leaves, but the taste it reveals is worth it, he said.

McCarty created the Black Diamond after experimenting with several flavor blends. First, she tried mixing the pepper with tarragon and thyme.

The Rosemary’s piny flavor worked best and the Black Diamond has become a popular selection at the tasting room.

“I wanted to do something with black pepper. A lot of people were nervous about black pepper being in a sweet drink,” said McCarty, whose love of cooking led her to start experimenting with cocktails.

When the pepper is combined with muddled rosemary, lemon juice, homemade honey syrup and the Quicksilver, the Black Diamond is a “great balance of sweet and sour.” The kick from the pepper comes out more with each sip, McCarty said.

New York was tipped off to the drink by an industry insider that had heard about Montgomery, Hilton said.

They sent the recipe and a photo to New York editors, who reproduced the Black Diamond and photographed their version for the magazine.

Also included in the list of 50 top cocktails was the Spring Whiskey Sling from the Red Feather Lounge in Idaho. From Wyoming, New York chose to feature the Handle Bar’s Yodelayheehoo, a Japanese whiskey hot toddy with Scotch-infused whipped cream.

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Montgomery opened in late September at 129 W. Front St. on a block street where 12 saloons sat during the late 19th century. Today, Montgomery is only microdistillery in Missoula.

But owners Jenny and Ryan Montgomery restored the old Pipestone Mountaineering building to resemble the rough and refined original facade of the saloon.

Montgomery was awarded the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission’s Commercial Adaptive Preservation Award to be presented Friday at a commission event.

Montgomery employees are given abundant creative freedom to create cocktails.

Hilton, a former chef who worked in New York City before he transplanted himself to Missoula via Whitefish, claims the process of cocktail creation is similar to making a delicious food dish. The idea is to create a cocktail that has the perfect balance of flavors.

For example, Hilton said, “if you make something with fish, something simple with lemon and butter, you have the balance with the fat and acid.”

Cocktails usually need a balance of sweet, savory, spicy or sour flavors.

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Both Hilton and McCarty agree that the classic cocktail is making a comeback.

“Cocktail Country” highlights the cocktail trend that is sweeping America.

“These are bad days to be a teetotaler: Never before has the country been so awash in excellent, exciting cocktails,” the article says. “We tracked down a drink recipe from every state (plus one in D.C.), and while doing so, we found an entire country in the throes of a full-on cocktail revival.”

At Montgomery, Hilton sees the younger crowd embracing the handcrafted cocktails whole heartily.

“They’re into it, more than 10 years ago,” Hilton said.

The popularity of artisanal cocktails goes along with the increasingly popular local vore movement, he said.

“People want to know where (ingredients) come from and want to support their neighbors,” Hilton said.

As soon as the seasons allows, Montgomery will get its rosemary from a grower out of St. Ignatius. The gin and vodka is made with wheat and grain grown in Montana.

Montgomery can sell three cocktails (aka 3 ounces of alcohol) to an individual each day in its tasting room, which is open Monday through Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m. All the alcohol added to the drinks has to be made on-site.

Quicksilver and Whyte Laydie are both available at liquor stores throughout the state.

“It’s growing every day,” Ryan Montgomery said of Montgomery’s distribution.

Seven barrels of single malt whiskey are being aged in Montgomery’s stillroom, which is downstairs from the tasting room. The whiskey won’t be ready for at least three years, Hilton said.

The cocktail menu changes with the season and as new drinks are conceptualized.

The Black Diamond is on the spring menu and is often requested when it’s not included on the abbreviated weekend menu, Hilton said.

McCarty has received congratulations from far and wide since her cocktail was featured in New York’s “Cocktail Country” list.

The positive feedback is strong motivation to keep mixing.

“It’s a really, really great feeling when people love your drink,” Hilton said as he cut mangos last week to prepare to make a new Montgomery cocktail that might make it onto on upcoming version of the drink menu. “They’ll say things like, ‘This is amazing. This drink changed my life. Do you want to get married?’ ”