Courtney and John McKee may be forging an innovative path in an industry experiencing record growth, the tale of Headframe Spirits’ success truly begins with a good old fashioned Montana love story.
John is a native of Butte, Montana; practically growing up on the campus of Montana Tech, where his father was the head of the Petroleum Engineering department and later Vice-Chancellor. John later earned a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Montana in Missoula, before returning to Butte for a B.S. in Computer Science, and later a Master’s in Engineering Project Management from Tech. Courtney grew up in Connecticut, but made a beeline to Montana straight out of high school to attend the University of Montana where she earned a B.A. in English Literature. Although the two attended UM at the same time, it wasn’t until John’s best friend from college married Courtney’s best friend from college, three years later (after Courtney had actually returned east for a job opportunity) that the two met - and the sparks flew, according to Courtney
“We spent that whole weekend talking. After that I went back to Connecticut, gave notice at my job, and seven weeks later John arrived at my doorstep to meet my family and drive me out to Butte.”
“The light just went on: we knew Butte would be a great place to start a craft microdistillery...so we just jumped right in.”
Fortunately for Montana, and purveyors of fine spirits everywhere, she never looked back.
John and Courtney certainly represent the type of ingenuity and diverse talent that define Montana entrepreneurship. Initially, they worked on the same team at an IT firm in Butte - an opportunity to learn that they also worked well together in a professional capacity. A couple years later, Courtney was running her own IT firm, and John took a job with a local company that was building biodiesel refineries all across the midwest. That company grew fast and sold - and John was faced with the prospect of having to leave Montana to continue to work in the industry, or stay in Butte to work for someone else. He and Courtney had zero intention of leaving Butte, and John was reluctant to go to work for someone else. As Courtney tells it, the idea for Headframe Spirits (a name that reflects Butte’s mining heritage) came from that unexpected crossroads:
“John had this great knowledge of distilling from his work with biodiesel - and we both enjoy a good cocktail. The light just went on: we knew Butte would be a great place to start a craft microdistillery...so we just jumped right in.”
John and Courtney started the process of getting Headframe Spirits up and running in 2010: everything from incorporating the business to site location and product development. They found a perfect building in historic uptown Butte, and began the financing process with their life savings. They even put their talents to work in building their own still - a unique piece of equipment that provides continuous flow distillation vs. the pot stills most micro-distilleries use.
“For eight months, we owned this building, operated on a single income, and poured ourselves completely into this business because we so strongly believed in what we were doing. We knew following our instincts was the right move.”
They were absolutely right.
Headframe Spirits opened its doors to the public on Leap Day - February 29th - 2012, and business has been booming ever since. In addition to selling their signature craft-distilled spirits to thousands of tasting room visitors and distributing products to licensed retailers and individuals across the country, John and Courtney continue to manufacture high-end custom distillation equipment for the rapidly-growing micro-distillery industry
With the success Headframe Spirits has experienced, Courtney and John could take the business anywhere. So, why Butte, Montana? Courtney is quick to answer:
“We love Butte. This is a phenomenal place to be raising our children, and we can be fishing, skiing - whatever we want - within an hour of our front door. And, the cost of living here is affordable. We were able to bootstrap our business while still paying our mortgage here, and had the full support of our community. We’re here to stay.”