Downtown Missoula will have a third microdistillery by the end of this year if everything goes according to plan.
Sean and Dan Hogan, both longtime Missoula residents, have applied for a conditional use permit from the city for their business, Rattlesnake Creek Distillers, and they hope to be open this fall in the best-case scenario.
Their distillery, outside seating area and indoor tasting room will be located at 128 W. Alder St., next to Double Front Chicken and across the street from the James Bar. They plan to feature homemade vodka, gin and moonshine that they will mix into cocktails like the “Nine-Mile Mule Kick” and the “Gin and Ginger,” named after their parents Jim and Ginger.
Dan, the “older and smarter” of the two, said he and his “younger and better looking” sibling have strong family ties to the downtown area.
“Family history plays a major role in the development and design of Rattlesnake Creek Distillers,” he said.
Their paternal grandfather Clifford Hogan was a partner in the historic Park Hotel and operated the Spur Lounge, and family lore attributes the neighborhood name Circle Square to him. Their maternal grandfather Francis Skahan and maternal great-grandfather Joseph Skahan were concrete contractors downtown, and many existing sidewalks in Missoula still bear the stamp “J.E. Skahan & Sons, Contractors, Missoula, Mt.”
“We hope to put some of those stamps on the wall inside, along with some historical pictures,” Dan said.
The actual spirits will be made on site.
“We will use locally sourced grains and potatoes for vodka, and then the gin is where the true craft comes in because you get to pick your botanicals and mix it and create your own flavor profile, so that’s the exciting part of it,” Sean Hogan said. “And then the moonshine is just a good, solid, entry-level, high-demand product.”
The moonshine will be distilled from grain, corn and rye, or some combination thereof.
“You can use it all, but mostly corn, just because it used to be the cheapest commodity,” Sean explained. “I’m not sure if that’s true anymore, but that’s why moonshine is made out of corn.”
The duo hopes to take advantage of Montana’s abundance of high-quality grain.
“We’ve got a friend over in Havre who has a wheat farm, and he’s real excited about giving us all the wheat we can take,” Dan Hogan explained.
In the grand scheme of things, they will also create their own barrel-aged whiskey.
Initially, the brothers plan to focus on selling their spirits to the Missoula market.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of, what’s our market going to be outside Missoula? But that’s just exciting,” Dan explained. “For us, it’s exciting to create a business and it’s something that we both like. We really want to focus on the local market and then branch out from there.”
The tasting room and distilling operation will employ six to 10 people. The pair is in the process of remodeling the storefront and the interior, which most recently was a garden and homebrewing supply store. A large parking lot to the west of the store also has room for what will eventually be a sunny deck.
Dan Hogan said that even though they will be required to stop serving alcohol at 8 p.m. per Montana law, their customers will benefit other businesses when they decide to saunter to other bars and restaurants downtown.
The idea of opening a distillery appeals to both men because of the new interest in local food and beverages.
“It seems like across the U.S., it’s been this post-World War II thing of just homogenization across the entire country – everything from Wonder Bread to Miller beer, everything became national,” Sean Hogan explained. “And now, people are going back to local. And we’re big believers in keeping things as local as possible and trying to keep things as low-impact as possible. We want use local materials as exclusively as we can. We want to make it a neighborhood place and make it something that people visiting can come and see what Missoula’s all about and people that are from Missoula can jump on their bikes and ride on over.”
Although there will be two other distilleries in downtown Missoula – Montgomery Distillery and the yet-to-open Montana Distillery – Dan Hogan said Missoula will benefit from having more options.
“If you come to Missoula, what are some auxiliary things you can do?” he asked. “So with all the marathoners coming in, and they take the brew tour, and then now there’s three distilleries to go to. That’s a pretty amazing evening, when you think about tacking that on to fishing or marathons or parents coming to their kids’ Griz games, or for all the Griz fans around the state. It’s pretty exciting to get people to come to Missoula. You wouldn’t come to Missoula to visit just one microdistillery, but when you get three or four it kind of creates its own market.”
The Hogans say other distillers have been extremely open and helpful in doling out advice.
“The small-batch distilling industry is very bohemian,” Dan Hogan explained. “Everybody helps each other out. Somebody helped them, so they’re willing to pay it forward. It’s fun to be a part of that. The rising tide raises all ships. Everyone is very positive and enthusiastic.”
“We spent time some time in Washington State doing research, and every single person offered advice or anything they could do to help,” Sean Hogan added.
Sean, a 1993 graduate of Hellgate High School, said the brothers decided on the Rattlesnake Creek name because it is a special place for them. Sean used to catch fish there when he was a kid, and Dan and his family bought a house in the neighborhood.
The best part of the job for both men will be producing a Montana-made product that they can be proud of.
“It’s kind of neat to see people get excited about that aspect, just keeping the Montana ’from the ground to the bottle vibe going,” Sean Hogan explained. “It’s a good thing for Montana.”
To see the full permit application, visit mt-missoula3.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/26378.