Montana Business News

Glacier Distilling Company

Montana Success Story

Glacier Distilling Company is a craft distillery in the small town of Coram, located just minutes from Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana.  Their prime location - along with a national trend for appreciating the quality and flavor nuances of micro-batch spirits - have led to significant growth since owner Nic Lee was granted the legal permits to operate on December 28, 2010.  But, Nic didn’t originally come to Montana to be part of the craft distillery industry boom; he arrived from his previous home in North Carolina “just to ski for a winter” in 2007, and like many before him, fell in love with the place.

“After being here for a few months, my girlfriend and I couldn’t imagine leaving or living anywhere else…we knew we wanted to make it work here.”

The idea to start Glacier Distilling Company came from a snow-bound day up in the remote Northfork area west of the Park.  As Nic recalls, an afternoon sipping whiskey and recalling the story of Josephine Doody, “the Bootleg Lady of Glacier Park”.  The allure of being able to ‘self-sustain’ with homemade spirits, and recent favorable changes in state law, inspired Nic to pursue opening a craft distillery just down the road in Coram.

Nic has always focused on using almost exclusively local ingredients in order to evolve the unique flavors of his spirits, and to give visitors something they wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else:

“After being here for a few months, my girlfriend and I couldn’t imagine leaving or living anywhere else…we knew we wanted to make it work here.”
- Nic Lee, Owner Glacier Distilling Company

“I love the idea that there’s once again something you can only get if you go someplace; that you can’t just order online wherever you are…And I’m always looking for potential collaborations with other local breweries, wineries, and farmers because that’s how we innovate our product line.”

Of course, being so close to one of the country’s most beloved national parks - attracting nearly 2 million people in 2014 alone - means Glacier Distilling’s business is booming during the warmer months.  But, Nic quickly realized that he needed to develop inventory during the winter months when business slowed down.  So, he approached Chris Parsons at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at nearby Flathead Valley Community College to discuss financing options available to help build up his inventory.

Chris worked with Nic to craft a business plan and develop accurate cash flow projections.  He also helped Nic apply for an Incumbent Worker Training Grant that Nic used to attend a course on producing brandy.  Nic used the knowledge gained during that course to produce a brandy from local Flathead cherries - and then blended that brandy with an aged bourbon to produce their signature Fireweed Whiskey that has become one of their most popular offerings.

After working with the SBDC, Nic was able to obtain the funding that helped the distillery better prepare for the 2013 season.  Operations and growth have been steady since.  Glacier Distilling now employees three full-time, year-round employees and brings on five more people to manage retail operations and production in the summer.  Their spirits are now distributed through state liquor stores and regional bars, but Nic is focusing of meeting local demand before he considers further expansions:

“Within the last year we doubled production with a new still, and we now have twelve products we’re offering…that seems like a good place to be for now. We’re going to continue to focus on quality over quantity and diversifying our product line so our customers get the best we have to offer.”

Craft spirits enthusiasts can look forward to Glacier Distilling’s next release planned for Winter 2016 - an apple brandy distilled from apples grown in orchards surrounding Flathead Lake.  


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