The Story of Stonehouse Distillery

John and Snezhi left their native Europe many years ago but found each other in the United States.  They searched for the perfect place to call their home and settled in Winston, Montana at the base of the Elkhorn Mountains overlooking the spot where the Missouri River expands to form Canyon Ferry Lake. It’s a peaceful place where in fall you hear elk bugle, antelope greet you with a snort and coyotes sing you to sleep at night. Each morning the sunrise paints the lake with an amazing array of colors. It truly is the “Last Best Place” to live and work and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Inspired by our admiration for the local values and traditions, we founded Stonehouse Distillery to handcraft small-batch Rum and Whiskey.

Snezhi’s family recipes were perfected over years in Bulgaria and the art of hand-crafting spirits as traditionally passed down from one generation to another. In Troyan, a small Bulgarian town, located in the center of the Balkan  Mountain Range, every summer for a certain period the entire population sets all other business aside to make Slivovitz, the famous plum brandy. Women and children are harvesting the plums while men are busy mashing and distilling it.

John came to Montana from Germany where his family was involved in developing various clear grain spirits, typically called “Korn”, the German word for ‘grain’. Now we’re continuing these traditional values by using the products harvested here. Some choices were natural, others not so much. Our neighbor grows some of the finest wheat, which led us to develop Winston Wheat Whiskey. A short ride up the highway provides us with beautiful rye and malted barley adding other varieties to our selection, such as Sweet Corn Whiskey, Rye and Wheat Whiskey.  The ‘not so natural’ choice is our fine Montana White and Dark Rum. Yes, Rum! Rum made in Montana is rather uncommon as rum generally originates in some foreign country. 

Most distilleries almost certainly would have chosen an easier approach: move to where rum is traditionally produced en masse and set up shop there. But we love Montana and searched for a compromise. Of course, that means doing it the hard way – bringing in the best and highest-grade molasses to create a fine, smooth Montana Rum right here in the greatest state of the union. All our spirits are lovingly created in-house: we grind the grain; mash with pure Montana mountain water that is naturally filtered through our local limestone deposits; ferment in single-batches; and then use our copper pot still to extract the finished product. Since our focus is on flavor rather than super-efficiency we installed a traditional copper still, which was hand-made in Portugal following an age-old design that retains the full body and aroma. 

In 2012 we traveled to Europe to further explore regional distilling techniques at the source. In Bulgaria we met with monks who shared ancient brandy-making practices. In Germany we talked with several distillers to discuss their specific approach to distilling. In Scotland we spent a (work-) week at  Glendronach Distillery where management and staff graciously instructed us step by step through all distilling stages. Applying what we learned from family traditions together with our international research, we are now bottling a portion as Moonshine Whiskey and White Rum and leave the rest in American Oak Barrels for aging. We never use any artificial ingredients, flavoring agents or chemical essences. We don’t buy outsourced spirits only to slap our label on it. We don’t mix or blend our spirits for “uniformity” or “consistency. Similarly to celebrating the difference of the four seasons, we enjoy the uniqueness of individual batches that provide slightly different flavor nuances. If we wanted uniformity, then every year we would have bought the same 1977 Buick station wagon with wood paneling...