Headframe Spirits, a distillery located in Butte, has been honored as the 2024 Montana American Single Malt Distillery of the Year. This accolade recognizes Headframe’s outstanding contributions to the American Single Malt Whiskey industry and its commitment to excellence.

“When you think of single malt whiskeys you probably think of Scotch or Japanese single malt whiskeys,” notes John McKee, owner and founder of Headframe Spirits. “Headframe would like to introduce you to American single malt whiskeys with the Kelley American Single Malt Whiskey.”

This announcement is confirmed as Headframe’s Kelley American Single Malt Distiller’s Select whiskey also received gold marks during this year’s spirits competition, scoring 95 points. 

“It’s an honor to receive a gold for our Kelley Distiller’s Select,” said Blake Mueller, head distiller at Headframe Spirits. “Each Distiller’s Select barrel is hand-picked by the distilling team and sold exclusively in our Tasting Room. Not just with our tastes in mind, but with attention to the differing pallets of everyone that comes to Headframe.”

The awards, bestowed by the New York International Spirits Competition, highlight Headframe’s innovative spirit, superior production techniques and the unique flavors that distinguish its American Single Malt Whiskey. 

With over +1400 spirit entries from 39 countries and 38 states across the US, Headframe notes it’s rewarding to see their spirits stack up against some nationally recognized distilleries – especially because whiskey production is a waiting game.

“We opened this distillery to make an American Single Malt,” said McKee. “At the time, 12 years ago, no one was doing this. As the largest American Single Malt distillery west of the Mississippi, Headframe is so proud to have won this award and we can’t wait for you to experience our American Single Malt whiskeys for yourself – both in the Kelley American Single Malt and a new release set for later this month.”

In celebration of this milestone, Headframe will release a new American Single Malt – the Copper King. Aged for 5 years, finished in Cognac barrels and crafted in honor of Modern Mavericks, the Copper King will be released during a special event at Headframe on Thursday, June 27th. The event will feature a tasting of their award-winning American Single Malt Whiskeys plus the first taste of Headframe’s new Copper King American Single Malt they are adding to their spirits profile. 

“Barrel finishes are always fun, they give us a playground to experiment with different flavors and create fun relationships with other people doing interesting work,” said Mueller. “It also helps keep the creativity and passion at the front and center of our efforts by giving us something unique we can share with the world.”

Headframe Spirits has quickly established itself as a leader in the American Single Malt category. In 2016, Headframe Spirits joined 8 other distilleries to found the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission to address the growing need for an elevated American-based product protected by federal category classification. 

An American Single Malt is classified as 100% malted barley, distilled entirely in one distillery and mashed, distilled and matured entirely in the US. Headframe noted their success lies in the unwavering commitment to using Montana-sourced products from start to finish. By partnering with Montana farmers and a neighboring malt facility, the distillery ensures that the grains used in their spirits are of the highest quality and sustainably grown. Every spirit Headframe creates not only supports the local agricultural community but also guarantees a unique and authentic flavor profile that is true to Montana.

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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