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Headframe Stories

2022 Artisan Spirit Distiller of the Year

Co-Recipient John McKee

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, 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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