Headframe Stories

10 Years of Headframe at a Glance

As told by Courtney McKee

older man shows off new alcohol labels

“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

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