Montana Grower to Open Distillery

Published online: Dec 01, 2015 Seed Potatoes Michael Wright
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Each year come harvest time, potato growers pick out the ugly ones and often use them as compost or livestock feed. Jeff Droge, whose family has grown potatoes near Churchill, Mont., wanted to have more fun with them.

“Making vodka sounded like a lot more fun than feeding cows,” he said.

Now that idea is close to becoming a reality. Droge and his family founded Dry Hills Distillery and plan to open their doors near Four Corners, Mont., in February, specializing in potato-based libations like vodka and gin. The company got a boost last week from the Montana Department of Agriculture, which announced it was giving the business a $48,000 grant.

The grant came from the Growth Through Agriculture program, a grant and loan operation created by the Montana state legislature meant to “strengthen and diversify Montana’s agricultural industry through development of new agricultural products and processes.”

The grant to Dry Hills was just a portion of more than $400,000 in grants and loans announced Wednesday. It will help them buy a potato peeler and a dicer, tools that will help speed up the distilling process.

Droge, who will manage the distillery with his wife, said they had been toying with the idea for a decade or more. The family has a farm in the Churchill area, on the same land they have been farming since 1905. Their website says the farm was known in those early days as the Dry Hills, which gives the distillery its name. There they grow wheat, barley and potatoes, the latter being the inspiration for the distillery.

They grow seed potatoes, and a certain amount of what comes out of the field isn’t fit for sale to other potato growers for a variety of reasons, like being too heavy or misshapen. Droge’s older brother has a farm near Harrison as well, and between the two places they grow about 1,000 acres of seed potatoes a year.

He estimated they toss aside about 5 percent of what they grow, which adds up to a substantial amount of potatoes. Potato vodka isn’t such a crazy idea, but they don’t plan to stop there.

Now they’ve got a building and a plan. They’ve worked with the Butte, Mont.-based Headframe Spirits to get their mixes right and have even tested a few batches. They have plans for a potato gin, a wheat whiskey and eventually a bourbon, all made from crops grown on their farms.

“We decided we wanted to be 100 percent farm to bottle,” he said.

Droge said they hope to begin bottling in January. That way they can have some of their product on the shelves when they open the tasting room in February.


Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle