Montana Made: Behind the Brand at Willie’s Distillery

Facebook Cover M2B2 Willie's

  • WHO: Willie and Robin Blazer, Husband/Wife and partners in Willie’s Distillery. Willie and Robin met at the University of Montana and moved to Ennis in 2007.
  • WHAT: Willie’s Distillery, Montana-made Moonshine, Bourbon and specialty flavored spirits, including a Montana Chokecherry Liqueur, Huckleberry Sweet Cream Liqueur, brandies, gins and a few experiments along the way.
  • WHERE: Ennis, MT
  • WHEN: Established in 2012

It has been years since I have made the short, hour-long drive from Bozeman, MT to the quaint little town of Ennis. This little place is rich in history, surrounded by breath-taking scenery and filled with a community of people who all know each other and are always welcoming guests. Its a town that I can be free to smile and wave to complete strangers and they always return the favor. I was very excited to making the drive this week, as the weather had broken free of the rainy, chilly conditions of Montana springtime and into a sunny, warm and welcoming day to enjoy. As I drove the winding highway the valleys, foothills and mountain tops all beamed with the kind of green, lush glow that only a native Montanan could appreciate. I found myself saying several times “Wow! We are so blessed here in Montana” as I reached Norris to make the turn to Ennis. 

I’m not quite sure what initially drew me to the brand, but I couldn’t wait to learn more about Willie’s Distillery. I do know that after creeping on their Facebook page, I applauded them for the engagement they have with their fans and the community of Ennis- they put people first. They do it right. I reached out to Willie Blazer for an interview for what would turn into this blog. My hope is that I can do this for all of the Montana brands that I feel a connection to. 

Enjoy the first (my hope, of many) installment of Montana Made: Behind the Brand at Willie’s Distillery. 

Willie served 12 years in the Military as a Ranger and Special Forces Medic, spending time in Afghanistan, Malaysia and Iraq. Willie was also a Wildland Fighter for several summers on Hotshot Crews and Smokejumped out of Missoula.  Wanting to be closer to family and friends in the area, Willie and his wife Robin (who grew up on a farm near Townsend, MT) moved to Ennis. Robin began working in a local bank while Willie built their house and eventually went into security contracting for about 3 years overseas: “Basically just using my background and skills for work.” These monies eventually helped fund the start of the distillery.

“It was an idea that popped up in my head,” Willie adds. “Can we make moonshine legally? Can we make bourbon legally? There had been some laws just passed that year (2005) that opened up opportunity for Montana distilleries to do what they can do today. So we started researching it, going to different distilling schools, stuff like that. Eventually we needed a pretty good amount of money so that’s when I worked security overseas. Between saving every penny and a business loan or two we were finally up and running.”

Their building is one of the oldest in Ennis (c. 1890), so renovations were a large part of their start-up costs. They’ve kept the original beams at the core, and added insulation, Sheetrock, plumbing and electrical wiring.

TIMELINE:

Started Willie’s in summer/fall 2012

First Moonshine in Dec 2012

Honey Moonshine May 2013

Bourbon summer 2013

Huckleberry Cream Liqueur 2015

So what sets his distillery apart from the other 16 in Montana? “Plenty of people make some amazing tasting stuff without having to be a scientist or having a chemistry degree. It helps I’m sure but that’s not really who we are. And I think we [Montana Craft Distilleries] offer something a little different from each other. We just try to make the best tasting product we can, sourcing as much local ingredients as we can. Our water is well-water from here in Ennis; obviously Montana has some of the best grains in the country and we use those as well. In the end it’s about what our customers prefer for taste and that they know where their drink comes from.”

Are Willie’s products going to be available all over the world someday?  “We’ve sent some stuff abroad to places like Singapore, but for now we have to try to keep up with the local and regional demand and that’s the challenge for us right now.”

A very heartfelt and sincere thank you to Robin, Willie and the entire staff at the distillery for making me feel right at home during this interview! Your integrity, genuine love for the community of Ennis and your dedication to our state sets you apart from so many others. Thank you so much for allowing me to do this for you!” – Brad

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