But how does it taste?

The Indy partakes in a blind test to see if local spirits stack up


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High Ore, Headframe Spirits, Butte

$26.45, 80 proof

Distillery description: “Made from the freshest waters of the Montana snowmelt, and crafted with care and attention to detail, High Ore Vodka is just as refined, just as satisfying.”

Our score: 32

Refined wasn’t the first word that came to mind for our judges. One described the finish as “gritty and harsh.” Another called it “a campfire vodka,” explaining it was “not smooth enough for a fancy cocktail, but refreshing enough for backpackers in the mountains.”

Best comment: “Great for a martini in the same way binoculars are great for meeting people.”

  • Cathrine L. Walters

Cliffhanger, Spirit of Montana, Billings

$21.65, 90 proof

Distillery description: “Hand-crafted using the highest quality ingredients, including spring water from the ice fields of Froze to Death Plateau high above Red Lodge.”

Our score: 34

The judges came in all over the map on this one. One judge thought it tasted “like plastic,” while another noted a smooth finish with no burn and said she would serve it at a wedding.

Best comment: “Nothing stands out in a good way. This is a versatile vodka.”

Smirnoff No. 21, Diageo, Russia

$16, 80 proof

Distillery description: “The world’s No. 1 vodka. Its classic taste has inspired other varieties throughout all four corners of the world.”

Our score: 27

The world’s top-selling vodka came in dead-last in our blind taste test, which is a good sign for Montana distilleries looking to knock Smirnoff—and its dozens of flavors—off precious shelf space. One judge said he’d only drink it at a “European nite club while wearing tight white pants.” Another called the taste “hot and antiseptic, like meeting someone in the ER.”

Best comment: “This tastes like college.”


Great North Vodka, Trailhead Spirits, Billings

$26.20, 86 proof

Distillery description: “A small-batch vodka hand-crafted in Billings, made with wheat grown on the family farm near Great Falls.”

Our score: 37

The vodka category winner is about as understated as its description, but impressed all of our judges with a smooth, flavorful finish. Every judge remarked that they would try this vodka again, with one saying it was the only vodka that didn’t need a mixer. “Just put this on ice,” he noted.

Best comment: “A smooth sort of vodka that could sneak up on you.”

Flathead Vodka, The Montana Distillery (formerly Flathead Distillers), Eureka

$20.80, 84 proof

Distillery description: “I’m an 84 proof vodka derived from sugar beets. By myself, I am warming and slightly sweet with a smooth finish.”

Our score: 32

That smooth finish didn’t translate to our judges. One felt it tasted like “plant matter” and another likened it to “sucking on swim shorts after a day at Splash Montana.” Yikes. While the taste suffered, Flathead Vodka scored high with a sweet aroma and thick texture.

Best comment: “Neutral, but with a still-present aftertaste, like a delicious tongue depressor.”

Quicksilver, Montgomery Distillery, Missoula

$25.55, 80 proof

Distillery description: “Produced from local wheat in our traditional still, which employs a towering 21-plate rectifying column to bring the alcohol vapor to its ideal concentration, while maximum contact with copper helps purify the spirit of off-flavors. We make large ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ cuts, bottling only the purest ‘heart’ of the run. A final chill-filtration finishes the spirit.”

Our score: 35

Our judges were allured by Quicksilver’s distinctive aroma, which one described as “like heavily buttered corn.” Another picked up on the same flavor notes in its taste, saying she liked it “because it tastes like margarine.” Overall, it rated the most consistent between all of the judges, although just a few points below Great North.

Best comment: “Sweetest in the lineup. A very pleasant, almost creamy taste.”


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