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One distillery is turning local apples into alcohol. Our Bliss Zechman explains how Gulch Distillers in Helena is relying on the community and not a company to make one of their popular products.
Apple brandy is one of America’s original spirits. Workers at Helena’s only distillery say the brand of brandy has fallen out of popularity over the years. However, they’re trying to bring back the brew in a unique way.
“This project in particular is a great way to bring the community into the production of a product,” said Tyrrell Hibbard, Co-Owner of Gulch Distillery.
If you live in Illinois you can now purchase our products through the online retailer Big Fish.
Like most good ideas, Gulch Distillers’ Purple Prairie Barley Whiskey started with a conversation and the question, “What if…?”
In late 2016, Tyrrell Hibbard (co-founder of Gulch Distillers) and I sat down to talk about the newly-renamed company. It had been called Triple Divide Spirits when Tyrrell and his partner Steffen Rasile bought it in 2015 and then re-branded it a year later.
The discussion wandered, as interesting discussions are wont to do, and we covered some of the fine details about making spirits. To distill spirits, you work with a biological process to make an appealing product and each ferment is different from the previous one and the next one.
These are “yeastie beasties” working in the vats and differences in environmental conditions, cultures, and grain batches are just a few of the variables in the equation. The distiller has to manage the delicate balance between living creatures and chemical processes that can challenge the skills of a distiller. It’s in managing that balance that the distiller truly demonstrates his/her craft.
Like good bread and good beer, good spirits come from carefully managed natural processes. And the very best fermented food and drink comes from skilled hands using ingredients from known and respected sources.
Grain-based products – like whiskey – can be made with any cereal grain including wheat, barley, rye, and “wheat relatives,” like spelt and emmer. All of which are grown in Montana. However, Gulch Distillers uses only Montana-grown grains in their grain-based spirits.
My next (logical) question to Tyrrell was, “How about making some whiskey out of purple barley?” And the only answer could be, “Sure, let’s see what happens!” Timeless Seeds, Ulm MT, has grown, processed, and marketed barley with deep purple bran and a dark kernel for more than 15 years. I’ve worked for the company for the last 5 years, so I had to ask (of course), “How about partnering with Timeless to make whiskey out of our Purple Prairie Barley®?”
We have a job opening for an assistant distiller!
This is a versatile position requiring a range of skill sets. The Assistant Distiller will be involved in developing new products, milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, bottling, cleaning, record keeping, and a broad range of general labor and equipment maintenance as warranted. As such, the candidate must be versatile, mechanically apt, self-tasked, and open to a fluid daily schedule. This is a 30- to 40-hour permanent position.
Candidates should have a strong mechanical and scientific background, a passion for brewing or distilling, and should be seeking a creative work environment. Candidates must have a refined palate and should display an appreciation for a range of spirits.
The successful candidate must demonstrate knowledge of basic chemistry and microbiological phenomena necessary for the quality assurance of beverage alcohol. The ideal candidate will have successfully completed some higher education coursework in Chemistry, Microbiology, Biochemistry, or Food Science as part of a completed Bachelors degree curriculum, or can demonstrate a commensurate understanding based on years of experience in a related working field.
Compensation starts at $12 to $14 per hour, depending on experience. Benefits include paid vacation and sick leave after successful completion of a 6-month probation period. Professional development will be offered in the form of schools, workshops, and seminars in appropriate subjects. This position offers flexible hours and the ability—to a degree—to set your own schedule, as well as the potential to fill other roles in the company of interest to the candidate.
Interested candidates should apply here with a resume and cover letter.
Montana is a beer drinking state with new breweries popping up in every corner. But two guys, Steffen Rasile and Tyrrell Hibbard, are trying to change the game.
“Raising the awareness of the cocktail culture in this town,” Rasile said.
Gulch Distillers is a nod to the history of Helena’s gold mining days and is nestled in the heart of town. Rasile and Hibbard have been friends for many years and have always had a spirit for spirits.
“Creating unique spirits that can work well in cocktails has always been fun for me,” said Rasile. Hibbard added, “We’re concentrating the character and the properties of those products into something beautiful and enjoyable.”
After years of discussions, they decided to take their passion to the next level and open their business. Three years ago the two guys bought the business that was then known as Triple Divide Spirits. The next step for them was to buy a still that took more than a year to arrive.
“So it gave us about 18 months to get our act together and figure out what we were going to do with it,” Rasile said with a laugh.
Gulch has many of the usual options, like vodka, rum, gin and even a new apple brandy.
“And that’s all apples grown in the Bitterroot,” added Rasile.
There’s even a spirit you may have never even tried – Fernet, which is an Italian style liquor.
Rasile explained more about Fernet, which he said is, “Very commonly drank after dinner to settle your stomach down.”
There are 18 botanicals in the fernet recipe and the gulch guys are one of only ten other distillers in the country to create this spirit. With so many different ingredients, it’s hard to source everything from Montana.
But, “We’ve got fields of mint growing in our backyards,” Rasile said with pride.
Scanning through the shelves, there is one thing noticeably absent: Whiskey.
“We’ve been making whiskey since day one and we haven’t released any yet because we want to do it right,” Rasile said.
That’s right. Behind the tasting room, whiskey is aging in barrels just waiting to be served. But anyone looking for Gulch whiskey will have to keep waiting.
“It’s tasting delicious, but we would like to give it a little more time,” said Rasile.
The quality of the ingredients is important to the Gulch brand just as is educating the public about cocktail culture.
“It’s not difficult to have a good bar in your house. It doesn’t have to be expensive and you can make really nice things and we like to show people how to do that,” Hibbard said.
There are currently 35 drinks on the menu and those offerings change seasonally. When Rasile and Hibbard aren’t serving, teaching cocktail recipes or running the still in the back, they are working their full-time jobs.
Rasile is a web developer and Hibbard is rancher just outside of Helena.
“I mean it all starts from a raw, agricultural product,” Hibbard explained, noting the similarities between distilling and ranching. “It’s a product of soil and sunshine.”
“This truly is a passion project for both of us and the only way that it really works is through that partnership,” added Hibbard.
“We love Montana and we wanted to highlight the Montana grown products and make alcohol out of it,” Rasile said.
If juggling full-time jobs and distilling award winning liquor wasn’t enough to keep them busy, Rasile also competes in beard competitions.
“I’m currently the world silver medalist in the freestyle sideburn category,” he said with a chuckle.
Currently, he’s training for the World Championships, adding, “It’s been a really big passion of mine. It’s been a really great way to travel around the country and see a lot of my bearded friends and win some awards.”
The Triple Divide Vodka is the most popular spirit the Gulch distills at the moment. You can find at least one product of theirs in almost any liquor store across Montana, in an online retailer for Illinois residents and a few bars in Seattle.
Greetings from the Gulch! It’s the season to produce, and as the saying goes we like to make hay while the sun shines. For our customers that means an upcoming variety of events and distilled Montana sunshine both in and out of the tasting room. Read on for information on our Apple Brandy, Tiki Tuesdays, currant vodka, and cocktail classes. Here’s to a productive and enjoyable summer for all of us!
Steffen & Tyrrell
Early last year we scooped up some surplus MacIntosh apples from a grower in the Bitterroot Valley. We made a lovely hard cider that we then distilled twice through our copper pot still. We laid that spirit to rest in American White Oak casks and the result is a beautiful, clean and balanced spirit with light cinnamon and honey notes, and we cannot wait to share it!
Join us in the tasting room for our release party on Monday, June 11th. Our neighbors at Bad Betty’s are also getting into the spirit for the release: they are going to feature applewood smoked BBQ and Drunken Apples, so grab your BBQ and pair with a craft brandy cocktail.
Even if you missed out on our Smoothbore Rum release, you can still enjoy some of this quality 2-year aged rum. While supplies last we are celebrating all things tiki every Tuesday in our tasting room. This smooth, rich spirit boasts notes of orange peel, vanilla, and hazelnut and is a one-off, limited bottling. Join us each Tuesday for Tiki Tuesday to indulge in tiki specials like the Mai Tai, Smooth Sailing, Piña Colada, Rum the Jewels, German in Paradise, Mojito, well you get the idea. Wear a flowered shirt and receive a dollar off of any tiki cocktail!
Or pick up your own bottle any other day of the week to enjoy at your own backyard barbecue. 750 mL bottles of our Smoothbore retail at a cool $31; 375 mL bottles sell for $17. And once they’re gone, they’re gone.
In case you haven’t heard, Big Sky Pride is coming to Helena this month. We thought we would get in on the fun and make something colorful, flavorful, and distinctly Montanan. So in conjunction with Big Sky Pride, we will release a limited bottling of Currant Vodka.
We distill our vodka from Montana-grown grains–when we infuse that with currants grown outside of Choteau, the result begs enjoyment. This special spirit will be available in the tasting room and at select bars in Helena.
Sign up for one of our free monthly cocktail classes. Held at high noon on the third Saturday of the month (with the exception of this month’s class) we invite customers to join us for an hour-long discussion and demonstration on a specific mixology topic.
Next Saturday we revisit an old favorite: Amaro Like There’s No Tomorrow. Sample a variety of bitter liqueurs and pick up tips on making your own. In July we will look at another important cocktail ingredient: Shrubs. Learn what they are, how to use them, and how to make them. Finally, in August we will look at basic mixology techniques: Shaken vs. Stirred.
Classes are free but registration is required to save your space. Register on our website to claim your seat at the bar.
I dare you to find a place more “local” than Gulch Distillers. Owned by two heartful Helena natives, Tyrrell Hibbard and Steffen Rasile, every batch of grain-based spirits are made using only Montana-grown grains in a facility that was once the Montana Distillery and Bottling Warehouse. The names of the spirits are locally inspired. Every cocktail contains locally grown produce whenever possible as well as house-made syrups and shrubs. The artwork is local, the website is local, the locals are local. Okay, you get it. LOCAL. What’s more? It’s all really, really good.
(Helena, MT) – Locally produced Guardian Reserve Gin was recently recognized on the national stage. Gulch Distillers received acclaim for their barrel-aged gin by winning a bronze medal in the American Distilling Institute’s (ADI) Judging of Craft Spirits competition in Portland, OR. ADI is the oldest and largest organization of small-batch, independently owned distilleries in the US with a mission to promote and defend the art and enterprise of craft distilling. This year marks the 12th annual Judging of Craft Spirits, making the event one of the longest running, largest, and most respected spirits competitions in the US.
Guardian Reserve Gin pays tribute to Helena’s iconic landmark, the “Guardian of the Gulch” Fire Tower. Helena’s distillery crafts this gin in small batches of only a few hundred bottles from a base of Montana grains. This “New Style” gin relies on a simple, five-botanical structure, including juniper, coriander, and angelica root. It undergoes a finishing process in French oak casks, which imparts a light straw color to the spirit.
“The cask finish really brings a lot of finesse to the spirit, which I think is ultimately what caught the judges’ attention,” said co-owner Tyrrell Hibbard. “The light barrel age adds a depth and maturity that really make this a wonderful sipper. We are honored to receive recognition for our gin.”
HELENA – A Helena man received acclaim this weekend at The World Beard and Moustache Championships.
Steffen Rasile, owner of Gulch Distillers, placed second in the world for Freestyle Sideburns and is Montana’s most decorated Beard competitor.
The Championship was held in Austin over the weekend. Over 750 competitors from 63 different countries competed in 27 different categories.
Rasile said that his beard was a year’s worth of length. It took him roughly 4 hours to get his beard ready for the competition that day.
A pair of Montana distilleries produced special runs in honor of Montana Land Reliance’s millionth acre under conservation easement.
Gulch Distillers in Helena recently launched Perpetuity Gin, scheduled for an initial 20-case run, and may consider additional runs depending on popularity.
Co-owner Tyrrell Hibbard, whose family ranch is under an MLR easement, said the request was serendipitous as the distillery considered specialty bottling and his family’s history with the organization. MLR worked on the flavor profile and designing the label, he added.
Willie’s Distillery in Ennis released Million Acre Bourbon, a 100-proof offering made from the same stock as its Bighorn Bourbon.
A portion of the proceeds from sales of the gin and bourbon will go to support the work of MLR.