Tastings: 'Spirited' Gifts for the Season!

 By Stella Fong, Photography by Daniel Sullivan

It’s that festive time of year when you can rejoice and celebrate the season, toasting your blessings with a friend, and of course, a spirted drink. The good news is, you don’t have to travel far to find one of these jubilant beverages for gifting and celebrating this time of year. The Tastings Team scoured the city and delivered a bevy of beverages you just might want to sip into. During this holiday season, gift a loved one a “spirited” gift and triumphant joy will reign over silent nights.



Judy Anderson: Judy Anderson, a recently retired flight attendant for United Airlines has been a dedicated volunteer for the MSU Billings Wine and Food Festival.

Amy Brown: As a retired librarian from St. Francis Primary School, Amy Brown has chaired the MSU Billings Wine and Food Festival.

Courtney Burton: Courtney Burton has worked for Meridian for five years, and is now a new mother to Maxwell.

Kelley Armstrong: For more than four years, Kelley Armstrong has worked for T and E Realty, moving into sales in the last couple of years. 


SPIRIT OF MONTANA sits inside the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company “Garage” where proprietor George Moncure greeted the team with his “spirited” personality armed with a tennis raquet. Moncure guided the TASTERS through a sampling of his Cliffhanger Vodka and 40 Love Gin. Afterwards, manager Marcy Baumgartner made cocktails with their spirits for the team’s review. Her “Montana Mustang” made with Cliffhanger Vodka and Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company Wooley Bugger was the hands down favorite especially for the winter season.

Stephanie McGowan of TRAILHEAD SPIRITS provided a bottle of their Highwood Chocolate Flavored Whiskey for the team to taste. At their distillery located in the old Beanery building next to the railroad tracks on Montana Avenue, the company also makes vodka, gin and rye malt whiskey and serves up cocktails featuring the spirits in a rich wood clad tasting room.

Mary Kennedy of KENNEDY’S provided one pair that could definitely be pleasing to the palate this holiday season. She suggested a bottle of Ménage à Trois “Silk” Soft Red Blend 2014 accompanied with a Brix Extra Dark Chocolate Bar.

Sue Rydquist of SIMPLY WINE offered up a bottle of Blanc de Bleu as her favorite pick for the season. Our team was definitely surprised when this sparkling wine was poured, since it is indeed blue in color.




Two of the gems of Montana’s first micro-distillery just might be Cliffhanger Vodka and 40 Love Gin. While Cliffhanger Vodka is advertised to “free the spirit” while honoring the power of rock climbing, 40 Love Gin is “loaded, ready to explore in a burst of energy, transferring racquet power into ball motion, with a spin.”


“This vodka is nice and gentle, with a nice buzz down the throat.” ~ Amy Brown
“This has a lot more aroma than other vodkas I have tasted.” ~ Judy Anderson


“It smells like a walk in the forest.” ~ Judy Anderson

“This is very fresh tasting, very smooth.” ~ Kelley Armstrong

“The aromas are more like an aftershave, smells so good. I really loved the gin on ice for it was a unique experience.” ~ Amy Brown

“There is a good sweetness.” ~Courtney Burton




From Simply Wine, Sue Rydquist suggested Blanc de Bleu, Cuvée Mousseux Sparkling Wine from Premium Vintage Cellars, the “World’s First Blue” grape sparkling wine. This turquoise colored wine is made from Chardonnay grapes grown in Northern California with added blueberries.

“This is fabulous. It makes me want to go swimming. It just looks so tropical.” ~ Judy Anderson

“It is a beautiful, very fine blue. I love the ‘applely’ flavors.” ~ Amy Brown

“Tiffany blue. The wine tastes very smooth.” ~ Courtney Burton



Here, Mary Kennedy shared a bottle of Ménage à Trois “Silk” Soft Red Blend 2014.  This wine made from a blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Malbec and 10% Petite Sirah advertises “a smooth, seductive red blend that caresses you with every sip.” To accompany the wine, Mary recommended a Brix Extra Dark Chocolate Bar made with a cacao content of 70% that offsets “the massive tannins in full-bodied red wines.”
“I find flavors of plums and wood. It is really rich and silky.” ~ Kelley Armstrong

“I love that. It goes down really smooth. I normally do not like red wines and I like this.” ~ Courtney Burton

“It is really good. I taste charred wood and fruit. But the chocolate is the star.” ~Amy Brown

“The chocolate is really good with this wine.” ~ Judy Anderson


From Trailhead Spirits, Stephanie McGowan contributed their Highwood Chocolate Flavored Whiskey made from wheat grown on their family’s farm with specialty malts and infused with dark roasted cocoa nibs and vanilla beans.


“I get a great lingering chocolate taste.” ~ Kelley Armstrong

“I smell chocolate and vanilla on the nose. This would make a great sauce for bread pudding.” ~ Amy Brown

“I am not a whiskey drinker, but I like the chocolate flavors.” ~ Courtney Burton



Blanc de Bleu: Kelley

Ménage à Trois “Silk” Soft Red Blend: Courtney, Judy & Amy

40 Love Gin: Amy



Kennedy’s Food Wine/Beer Catering

1520 24th Street West in Billings

ON THE WEB: kennedys-billings.com


Simply Wine

ON THE WEB: simplywinestore.com


Spirit of Montana

2123 B 1st Avenue North in Billings

ON THE WEB: spiritofmontana.com


Trailhead Spirits

2314 Montana Ave in Billings

ON THE WEB: trailheadspirits.com




If you do choose to share some of the offerings from Spirit of Montana as a gift this holiday, why not tuck these two delicious cocktail recipes in your gift bag? Both are courtesy of the micro-distillery’s manager, Marcy Baumgartner.


1 ½ ounce Spirit of Montana Cliffhanger Vodka

1 ½ ounce coffee liqueur

12 ounces Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company Wooley Bugger Root Beer

1 ounce cream
DIRECTIONS: Fill 16-ounce glass one-third full with ice. Pour in vodka and coffee liqueur. Fill to one-inch from rim with root beer. Top with cream. Stir.



RED, WHITE & LOVE: Serves 1

1 ounce Spirit of Montana 40 Love Gin

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice to taste

½ ounce simple syrup

3 to 4 fresh raspberries

2 ounces club soda

Lemon twist for garnish


DIRECTIONS: Muddle raspberries with simple syrup and lemon juice in a 16-ounce glass.  Fill glass one-third full with ice and then add gin, and stir well. Add more ice and top with club soda with a lemon twist garnish.


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