Montana is well-known for our fantastic local breweries. In 2019 we were ranked 2nd in the nation per capita for craft beer producers, with at least 80 operating around the state, wrote the Missoula Current. You'll find a brewery in just about every town, and many have created award-winning beer and cider.

You might not know that Montana also has a thriving distillery scene. We found 20 that you can visit (see below). These "micro-distilleries" create some of the finest, small-batch spirits possible and they incorporate locally sourced ingredients in most of their recipes. The industry is regulated by the Montana Department of Revenue.

What's the difference between a distillery and a brewery?

In simplest terms, beer, wine and liquor all begin with the same process. One that has been used for literally thousands of years. Typically, (for beer) a grain mixture is combined with sugars, yeast and water and left to ferment. This "mash" has beer-level alcohol content and can be finished and bottled as beer, or if grapes were used, it would be wine.

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Humans learned long ago to get creative when making alcohol and it can be made - with varying success - from just about anything (potatoes, cherries, apples, rhubarb, peaches, corn, wheat, rye, barley, etc.) as long as there is sugar and yeast. So how does this soupy, smelly, low-alcohol "mash" turn into delicious liquor?

Basics of Distillation

A distillery takes large quantities of low-alcohol "beer" or mash, and turns it into high-proof liquor, using magic. Just kidding. It's science. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water. Heating the mash causes the alcohol steam to rise, where it hits cooler temperatures, condenses and eventually drops out the end of the still system as a nearly pure booze.

What's up with all the shiny copper?

When you tour a distillery the centerpiece of the operation is usually a huge copper device. One design looks vaguely like a massive vertical flute, with various copper pipes and fittings shooting off in different directions. The other design, a pot still, may look more like a giant copper pumpkin. WhiskeyStill.net says one of the reasons copper is preferred over stainless steel for most craft distillers, is copper "absorbs sulfur compounds and yeast cells produced during fermentation and prevents the production of ethyl carbonate, a toxic chemical formed from cyanides." Plus, it looks really cool.

On your next Montana adventure, stop by a local distillery. Here are twenty you can visit for sampling, tours, or to purchase a bottle or two. Don't forget to grab a cool tee-shirt or shot glass on your way out.

20 Montana Distilleries You Have to Visit

The Montana distillery scene is certainly taking off, and with the access to local ingredients, you can feel good about supporting these establishments all across the state. Here are 20 distilleries that are worth a visit.

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