On Saturday December 10, 2022 I got to give the Commencement speech at Montana Tech. I put a lot of love and effort into speaking and this one meant a lot in many ways. I framed the talk around one of my favorite quotes, by Gary Snyder, “Find your place on the planet, dig in and take responsibility from there.” In many ways I’ve built my life—and we’ve built our business—around this quote.

For me, public speaking is always an opportunity to dig in and practice one of my core values: Courage. Not just to talk about what it means to be courageous, but to practice it, real time. And not just practice it by simply reciting words in front of a group, but by using a talk to be vulnerable. To be honest.

I grew up thinking that badass, amazing people must have been born that way—that they were lucky. I’ve learned instead that badasses are made by our actions and our words. It’s a choice and it takes effort to live our values. I want to always model courage which I think is one of the most badass skills we can bring to the world.

I also love to share the things I don’t think we hear enough of in our lives: that success means being more like ourselves, not more like everyone else. That money isn’t Purpose and that a life full of Purpose will be a life well lived. That we’re capable of more than we could possibly imagine in this moment. I meant these things as I shared them with the students and I mean them for you, right now, in this moment, too.

I’ve made mistakes, I’ve failed at things. That isn’t what defines me. My Values and my sense of Purpose are what defines me. The way I use those things to dig in, to take responsibility, to take action, that’s what defines me. That’s true for each of us, I believe.

I’m honored that Butte, America is my place. That Montana is my place.

I’m also honored that a kid who didn’t graduate high school got to be the Montana Tech commencement speaker. No joke, that was the first time in my life I ever put on a cap and gown.

I wish each of us a clear sense of purpose and the knowledge that we have the power to dig in and take responsibility, whatever that means to us.

To our Grads and to the rest of us, let’s all go forth and be our rad-ass best.

A Limited Release Exclusively for Town Pump Liquor Stores

Headframe is excited to announce the Kelley Distiller’s Select American Single Malt Whiskey.  This product is a 6 barrel, single barrel release of some of Headframe’s favorite expressions of Kelley and can only be found only at Town Pump’s package stores across Montana. 

What does Six Barrel, Single Barrel mean?  

Traditionally, when whiskey producers, including Headframe, package whiskey, we’re selecting a number of barrels, blending them together, proofing them down to packaging proof – usually something between 80-90 proof – then bottling them. 

In a Single Barrel program, each barrel selected is proofed and bottled individually. This allows the characteristics of each barrel to come through directly into each glass of whiskey. It’s an exciting way to share the range of a product, highlighting the unique characteristics each barrel can impart. The six barrels in this Distiller’s Select offering showcase the range of sensory experiences possible inside a single product.

Town Pump has been doing a great job bringing unique single barrel expressions of nationwide whiskey brands to their customers and Headframe is proud to be the first Montana distillery to participate.  

“Two of Headframe’s core values are Community and Giving Back,” said Co-owner and Co-founder of Headframe, Courtney McKee. “We’re proud to work with Town Pump, another great Montana company that exemplifies these values.”

The Kelley Distiller’s Select is crafted from 100% Montana malted barley and, depending on the barrel, is aged in either new oak barrels or used Neversweat Straight Bourbon Whiskey barrels. 

“The Kelley American Single Malt Whiskey is the whiskey we built Headframe to produce,” explained McKee. “This was an exciting project, selecting six standout barrels of Kelley to share individually. The character varies so interestingly from barrel to barrel and we’re excited to share these with Montana’s whiskey connoisseurs.”

Each barrel was tasted, hand selected, proofed and bottled by our head distiller. 

“Starting at 8.30 in the morning with 44 barrels in front of you can feel daunting. By early afternoon, though, you’re feeling a lot better about the task, that’s for sure,” Headframe head distiller, Blake Mueller noted. “Sampling can surprise you. The expectation that barrels will taste like they smell isn’t always true. I wanted to showcase how different the barrels can be and the different flavors you can get. We always think whiskey is whiskey but in truth, the barrel has such an impact and I was excited to share the variety of flavors that come from individual barrels.”

These whiskies are as unique as the barrels they matured in. We are excited to highlight the individual characteristics of each barrel, knowing that once they are gone, those flavors will never be reproduced again. 


Over the last 11 years, Headframe has made a point to be more than just a business in Butte. We are – at our core – a part of the vibrant, generous Butte Community. In every decision we make we aim to amplify the awesome impact we can have on our family, our friends and our neighbors. One of the ways we are able to help our Community is through free breast cancer screenings.  

Many of us have been personally impacted by breast cancer. 1-in-8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and, by the time you finish reading this, another woman will be diagnosed. 

These women are members of our communities, but more, they’re our partners, our mothers and grandmothers, our children, our siblings and our best friends.

“Diagnosis comes from screenings,” said Theresa Dennehy of Montana Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening Program. “If [people] do not get screened, there is no diagnosis. Early detection saves lives.”

During the month of October, our Orphan Girl labels transform to increase breast cancer awareness and access to breast cancer screenings. $1 from each purchase is donated right back into our Community into the Montana Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening Program. 

In the last four years, Headframe has provided 30 free breast or cervical screenings to women in southwest Montana. And we’ve done it because of your help.

“If women don’t have the funds and have no insurance, they don’t get screened. Times are tough right now,” continued Dennehy. “[Headframe] has raised enough money that we have been able to screen every woman that has called us.”

As a dedicated member of our community and a B Corp, our values here at Headframe drive everything we do. Two of those values are Community and Giving Back. With our Orphan Girl Breast Cancer Awareness bottles, we are able to give back thanks to our community. 

To be part of the Good, purchase a bottle at our Tasting Room or at your local liquor store in Montana. You can also make any donations in our Tasting Room or on our website that go straight to the Montana Breast & Cervical Cancer Screenings Program.

“We’re here to celebrate 10 years in operation and 10 years is a Big Damn Deal. But that success doesn’t belong just to Headframe or just to me and John, it belongs to Butte. It belongs to all of us.

You likely already know what we do, but in case you don’t, in the last 10 years, Headframe has opened and operated a distillery where we make our own spirits, run a Tasting Room, where we welcome the public and the community to share what we do and connect with one another. We also built a Manufacturing division where we build stills, which we sell to clients all over the world. Many of our clients are small businesses like us, looking to add value to their own communities and we are proud to serve them. We also do contract distilling work, which enabled us to open the largest Single Malt Whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi, utilizing 18,000 pounds of Montana grain daily. 

When we started Headframe, we never imagined what it would be today. 

John was raised here and we love living here. In 2010, John lost his job building biodiesel refineries–essentially big biodiesel distilleries–around the midwest. We were living here, raising our kids here and John was traveling a lot for work. When he lost his job, we had to either leave to chase biodiesel jobs or stay and find something new for John to do. John knew distillation.  He loved a good cocktail. And we both loved Butte. So we stayed and used what he knew to create Butte’s first ever legal distillery. (I say legal because we all know there’s been plenty of booze made without a license in Butte’s past–and probably also her present).

Butte’s always been great at telling the stories of her past. I realized in 2010 as we were getting started, that Butte was in fact so good at telling the stories of her past that we weren’t telling the stories of our present or our future. We were so focused on what we had been, we forgot to keep writing the stories of what we would become as a community.

We built Headframe with respect for the past and an eye to the future.

Part of that means putting our community, and the people in it, first.

And we’ve seen our community step up for the last 10 years – helping us write a story of Butte’s present that we are proud of. Even now, we are seeing places on every side of Headframe like Paper Cranes, the Dykman, Sláinte and the Colonial Apartment building be reinspired. Not by us, but by members of this community who believe in this neighborhood.

Great new uptown businesses like 5518, Pita Pit and Taco Del Sol, Sláinte, 51 Below, the Miner’s Hotel, Butte Brewing and North 46 have opened, each staking a claim, believing in Uptown Butte. Believing in their community to support them, believing that Butte’s future can and should be built on respect for Butte’s past.

NorthWestern Energy recommitted to Butte, building a beautiful new building in Uptown. The Finlen Hotel is under new ownership, still by people who live in and love this community and the Elks Club is thriving under great leadership. 

WET–Water and Environmental Technology– continues to grow and lend its environmental restoration and remediation expertise to our community and many others across the country.

Other new buildings like the Emma Park Community center and the Uptown parking garage add to the beautiful Uptown landscape.

Almost every one of these projects, and certainly Headframe’s revitalization, couldn’t have happened without great support from Butte’s local government, the State of Montana and you.

Thank you for believing in your community. Believing in Uptown Butte, believing in Headframe and believing in me and in us.

What made this community bounce wasn’t someone from the outside making change, it was us–all of us. The dreamers and the doers and the shoppers and cheerleaders. We’ve done it together and there’s still more to come!

Earlier this year, Butte incorporated the Uptown Master Plan into the city’s comprehensive plan for the future. The Uptown Plan is full of vision, and concrete plans, for the Uptown and I’m proud of the work that’s been done and excited for the work that’s yet to come.

I believe in Butte. And you’ve been very gracious to read to my long winded love letter to you and to this place.

I’m excited to share our rebrand with you. New website, new labels and new merchandise which our team has worked incredibly hard to bring to life for the last year. We did this because 10 years is a great time to reexamine the landscape and ask how we could do better.

Lastly, 10 years ago we named ourselves Headframe Spirits, after the legacy of this incredible place. When we started building stills, we called that Headframe Spirits Manufacturing. You have called us many things: Headframe, The Headframe’s, Headframe’s Distillery. We’ve joked you should call us whatever you want, just don’t stop calling us. Now we’ve made our name shorter and easier to remember: Headframe. One word to refer to everything we do.

Thank you for 10 years of making your dollar vote for Headframe and for the other small businesses in our community. We’re grateful for 10 years of love and support and look forward to many more years together.”

heartfelt moment between husband and wife


Cheers, John and Courtney McKee

On February 18, 1882, Butte threw a switch and joined New York City in the advancement of electricity. As one of the first places to experience such an excitement, miners knew that this revolution would bring a change to their city.

As the world electrified, the demand for copper continued to grow and with it, so did the increase in mines and headframes that now crown the Butte Hill. Against all odds, workers envisioned and erected these steel giants and used them to benefit not only the city of Butte, but the entire world. These stewards remain as inspiration to all of us in Butte as to what can be accomplished in our Community.

Here at Headframe, we look to our city for inspiration in everything we create – from our spirit names to the structural steel frames that support our stills. We believe that we can move forward and honor the legacy of Butte while creating more efficient equipment that not only makes more booze, but uses less energy to do so. Our continuous flow distillation system is capable of producing an assortment of beverage alcohols, from low to high proof spirits; faster, easier and cheaper than other technologies.

When you purchase a still from Headframe, you are supporting manufacturing in the United States and promoting jobs right here in Butte, America. Thanks to our clients, we continue to grow our facility and job opportunities for those in our community.

We build stills not only for ourselves, but for other distilleries all across the globe. We appreciate every opportunity to meet new people and share the story of our business and our place in the world – Butte, America.

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