“It was a leap of faith. Thankfully we had help from the Montana WBC to help us evaluate the business idea, finish our business plan and financial projections, and secure the Growth Through Agriculture grant.” ~ Jeff Droge, Dry Hills Distillery
The Droge family homesteaded the Dry Hills area of Gallatin County in 1905. Today, this fifth-generation farming family continues to operate the same farm, as well as the London Hills Farm near Harrison, MT. Between the two, the Droges raise several hundred acres of certified seed potatoes and several thousand acres of mixed cereal grains. The idea for a distillery started after realizing that about 5 to 8 percent of their seed potato harvest was being thrown away every year for cosmetic reasons.
In the spring of 2015 Jeff and Erica Droge, the managing members of Dry Hills Distillery, began working with the Montana Women’s Business Center (WBC) at Prospera. They had recently completed Moonshine University in Kentucky, the premier distilling school in the nation. Jeff’s 19 years of farming experience gave him a thorough understanding of their base products and a solid skillset in building and maintaining equipment. To complement that expertise, Erica’s nine years of marketing and office management experience provided a strong set of business operations skills. However, Jeff and Erica still faced some challenges. They needed help refining their draft business plan, establishing the financial aspects of their startup and evaluating tasting room locations.
After many rounds of review and revisions, Jeff and Erica finalized the Dry Hills Distillery business plan. They then continued working with the Montana WBC to secure a $48,000 Montana Department of Agriculture Growth Through Agriculture grant to purchase processing equipment.
Now, Dry Hills Distillery operates a continuous flow distillation system that was built by Headframe Spirits Manufacturing in Butte, MT. Their custom-built, food-grade processing line uses whole potatoes as a base for their gin and vodka, unlike the lower-quality potato flakes or potato powder used by other potato-based spirit producers. Every base product created at Dry Hills Distillery is made from their farm’s potatoes and cereal grains, so that the products are truly, “Montana Farm to Bottle”. The creation of value-added products not only reduces waste while diversifying the farm’s income, it also elevates the production and marketability of the farm’s commodities.
Located in Four Corners, the Dry Hills Distillery tasting room opened in the spring of 2016 offering unique cocktails, family-friendly seating and an on-site food truck run by Grille 406. Jeff and Erica now have two full-time employees, a tasting room supervisor and a production assistant, as well as six part-time employees including 5 mixologists and 1 person helping with production.
“We did a lot of research to figure out what would work best for our operation…the most valuable thing we got from our business counselor at the Montana Women’s Business Center was unbiased feedback. She also encouraged us to include a contingency plan, which was something we hadn’t considered but which was essential while we were opening the business.” ~ Erica Droge, Dry Hills Distillery
Photo courtesy of Sunrift Studios