Steel Toe Distillery is a family run business located out of Potomac, Montana, about a 30 minute drive from Missoula. Owned and operated by Carl and Christina Bock, it is a genuine ‘Mom and Pop’ business.
Steel Toe was established in 2013 after years of careful study. All of our current recipes are sugar based liquors, crafted after what was called ‘good’ whiskey. This was made by American moonshiners and reserved for weddings and themselves.
Carl, tell our readers a bit about yourself.
CB: I was born in Wisconsin, went to college in Montana and fell in love. I worked for my father in the family water heater business. I stopped that after a few years and moved back out to Montana where I opened a wildlife sanctuary. I ran that for around 15 years and then started the distillery a few years later.
That’s a quite interesting change in careers. What was your vision for Steel Toe Distillery. Did you have any experience before you jumped into this venture?
CB: Yes, I had experience before opening the distillery. I already had been experimenting with liquor for years and had figured out solid recipes and what worked and didn’t. When we opened the distillery I had a strong background knowledge of engineering (from working with water heaters) as well as distilling.
What led you to start your own business?
CB: My wife and I made the decision together. I thought it would be a fun business to get into and already had a working knowledge of it so it seemed like a natural choice.
Give us the history of the Steel Toe Distillery.
CB: My wife Christina and I started the distillery together in 2013. We started it from basically nothing. We have a small what could best be described as ‘shed’ on our property where we put the original distillery. We had a 50 gallon pot still that I made and used for the first few years. Last year we moved into a bigger building on the same property. Already we are thinking we need to put on an addition!
What type of Whiskey do you currently produce? Do you source the ingredients locally?
CB: The whiskey we make is American Moonshine Whiskey. It is a sugar wash after traditional moonshiner fashion. No we don’t source the ingredients locally, mostly because sugar isn’t grown in Montana. Else we probably would.
Can you walk us through the process from grain to glass.
CB: Its pretty simple. I make a wort of water, sugar, and yeast. Let that ferment for a few days until I’m at the ABV I want. Pour it in the still and run that out over a day. I put the distillate into 5 gallon charred oak casks and age for 3 months to a year. The smaller casks increase the surface area so we don’t need to age longer that that. I then filter the whiskey, bottle, and put it on the shelf. Our whiskey is sold cask strength (120 proof).
Wow that’s strong Whiskey! How do you stand out from the competitors?
CB: Well, pretty sure we are the only makers of Moonshine Whiskey. Also we are very stringent about what alcohol we use that comes out of the still. A lot of nasty stuff comes out of the still, both at the head and tail of a run, and we throw all of that away. Some other folks might be a little more lax in letting that stuff in if only to improve their bottom line. We don’t, we are strong believers in quality.
That’s great Carl, we love quality. Is there a certain flavor profile you are going for?
CB: Smooth. Sadly, I myself am not real tough with straight liquor so when I was figuring out how to make whiskey I came across a reference to ‘good whiskey’ made by moonshiners for special occasions or for themselves. So I asked what is this ‘good whiskey’ and found that they used a sugar wash. So I tried it and loved it.
Does the location and weather affect the maturation process? and if so, how?
CB: When wood gets warm it expands and when it cools it contracts and pushes moisture out. So the massive temperature swings we get out here in Montana (sometimes 50 degrees in one day) speeds the maturation process. Plus the smaller casks we use are more sensitive to temperature change (not as much thermal mass as a larger keg) so that also contributes to quicker maturation.
Are you looking to do a Rye Whiskey one day?
What was your first dram? Do you drink it neat or on the rocks?
CB: Bushmills. I drink my whiskey neat.
Where do you see your distillery 5 years from now?
CB: Our distillery is still very new and we haven’t figured out where we want it to go. I think there’s always the dream of bigger and more, more, more. But there’s more overhead and headache. Right now we are a legit Mom and Pop business. We have no employees so have less to deal with. Plus, there’s more intimacy as I am the one who makes the wort, distills, bottles, labels. I think we get a lot of customer appreciation for that.
Describe your whiskey in 3 words.
CB: American Moonshine Whiskey
Anything else you’d like to share with the Tastethedram readers?
CB: Drink Local!