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I love the legislative process in Montana. For 90 days every other year, representatives of Montana—rural and urban, native and non-native, young and old, all genders, all backgrounds, all career histories—come together to write and revise laws for all Montanans. I don’t always love the outcomes of the work, but I do love the very democratic process.

Headframe has participated in the legislative process since 2011, before our distillery was open, because John was out of work and had time to lobby on behalf of the Montana distiller’s shared interests. At that time there were only a small handful of distillers in Montana and it was easy to build an agenda and go after it. Time has passed and that process has changed quite a bit. It’s gotten much harder in some sessions but this last session was fantastic. And while distilleries, and opinions, in Montana continue to evolve, we all share the ability to come together around shared goals. 

Some back story: when Headframe opened our Tasting Room in 2012, we believed we were beholden to the same operating hours as breweries which can serve until 8pm and allow people to consume what they’ve been served until 9pm. After a couple years in operation, we learned we were mistaken about the parity in hours. The distiller’s laws were written in a different section of the code and the associated rules were interpreted differently. All of a sudden, we needed to stop serving early enough to kick our customers out of the Tasting Room by 8pm. It wasn’t a feel-good experience, but laws and rules are written for a reason and I’m a big believer that (most) laws should be followed and if we don’t like them, we should work to change them.

SB 209, a bill introduced and passed this last session, gives distilleries the consumptive hour we thought we’d had all along. Now, customers are allowed to be served until 8pm and enjoy their cocktails in the Tasting Room until 9pm. And, as an added bonus, the bill also increased daily bottle sales from 2 bottles to 6 bottles (more specifically, from 1.75 liters to 4.5 liters per person per day). Senator Greg Hertz from Polson sponsored the bill and Governor Gianforte signed it last week. The Montana Distiller’s Guild and our lobbyist Jen Hensley were instrumental in getting this bill introduced and keeping it alive despite challenges. 

12 years ago, it was enough for some scrappy distillers to show up and work on behalf of bills we wanted but time has passed and the landscape changed. Now, showing up with some savvy and some expertise is beneficial. It’s great to have a lobbyist who understands our business and our interests and knows how the process works well enough to navigate the politics on our behalf. It’s also great to have a woman represent our industry in a way that speaks to our shared industry values of job creation, value-added agriculture and economic impact.

Being able to serve until 8pm is wonderful. Being able to sell 6 bottles will be great for tourists and for special release products. And these rules aren’t beneficial only for Headframe but for all distilleries, their customers and communities.

So here’s to a success at the 2023 Montana Legislature. While we may not love all of the change that’s come out of this session, it’s pretty great to celebrate this bipartisan win and the people who came together to get us here.

In 10 years and almost 900 miles apart, John McKee of Butte, MT and Johnny Jeffery of Reno, NV have become close friends. Close enough that you could actually ask one about the other and hear their entire life story verbatim. 

McKee recalls when he first got into the industry. Jeffery was the one to show him the tools of the trade. In fact, the first barrel of whiskey that ever entered Headframe doors was made by both McKee and Jeffery.

That first barrel created the award-winning Kelley American Single Malt Whiskey – a brand heavily influenced by John and Johnny’s first collaboration.  

“I found Johnny at Michigan State University when he was there as a graduate student,” says McKee. “They had this artisan distilling program and I went to him. He taught me how to mash and ferment properly so I could make whiskey. I’ve known him since before (Headframe) was open.”

In the year previous to April 2022, John McKee and the team at Headframe made 1,000 barrels of whiskey from Montana grain and plan to make 4,000 barrels in the coming 12 months. “If not for that first meeting with Johnny, who knows if we could have accomplished all we have at Headframe,” McKee notes.

Now, Artisan Spirits Magazine recognizes them both as co-recipients of the 2022 Artisan Spirit Distillers of the Year. 

“I don’t care what kind of mountain man or hermit you are, somebody made your axe blade. You can’t do it alone. As soon as you think you can, you’re doomed to fail. You need collaboration,” said McKee. 

This becomes apparent in every work the two create together – from the Good Guys Distillers group formed to share accurate information for the industry, to the creation of Good Deeds Whiskey, where profits from each bottle sold are donate 100% to charities.

If you’d like to recognize John & Johnny in some way, consider helping us sell out Release #1 of Good Deeds Malt Whiskey.

McKee tells us that there are already similar future collaborations in the works. The next being Release #2 of Good Deeds Whiskey. “In 10 years, Johnny and I have done nothing but collaborate. It’s just sort of our ethos – it’s how we work.”

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