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Orphan Girl

Orphan Girl is a bourbon cream liqueur from Headframe Spirits in Butte.

HELENA — Butte's Orphan Girl liqueur won't be getting kicked to the curb after all.

In the flurry over changes this week that Montana's breweries said would have forced them to stop production of some of the state's most famous and popular beers, KettleHouse Brewing Co.'s Cold Smoke for one, an alteration that could have killed off one of the most popular liquors in the state was overlooked.

Distilleries came into this legislative session asking for something that sounded simple — an extra hour for people to drink cocktails ordered in their tasting rooms before 8 p.m. Both breweries and distilleries can serve alcohol until that time, but breweries are allowed what's called a consumptive hour, an extra 60 minutes for people to finish their drinks. Distilleries can't do that.

But a bill to give distilleries that consumptive hour was changed Tuesday in a way that would have not allowed one of the state's most popular liquors to be sold in its distillery's tasting room. House Bill 474, carried by Rep. Ray Shaw, R-Sheridan, was amended to require 90 percent of a liquor sold out of a tasting room, whether for on-site consumption or a bottle to go, to be distilled on the premises.

That presented a problem for Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur, sold by Headframe Spirits in Butte. The liqueur is incredibly popular, outselling Baileys Irish Cream by double in Montana. It's the eighth-most popular product sold in a 750 milliliter bottle in the state.

But Headframe has to import the cream it uses to make Orphan Girl from Wisconsin because there's not a dairy in Montana that can provide the product, said Cassandra Sunell, chief marketing and sales officer.

“It’s a very common practice for cream liqueurs,” she said.

About 80 percent of distilleries in Montana would have no longer been able to sell at least one of their products in their tasting rooms if the bill had passed, said Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, who brought an amendment to get rid of the 90 percent requirement. That amendment failed to pass, but the Senate voted to kill the bill, with 36 senators voting against it and 14 for it.

Sunell said Headframe has approached dairy farmers in Montana about buying cream, but it hasn’t worked out.

“There is no one who has the facilities to provide as much cream as we need in that form of having it stabilized," she said. 

Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, who said he owns a liquor license, spoke against the amendment and said distilleries need to be selling products that are made in Montana.

"We bought a license to be able to carry products we are not making ourselves," Buttrey said. "How much percent of the liquor do you think should actually be distilled on the premise for someone to operate a tasting room without a license? Would you support them selling spirits in their tasting room that were just 1 or 2 or 3 percent distilled and everything else was just bought off the shelf? Would that be considered Montana-made?" 

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John Iverson, who is a lobbyist for the Montana Tavern Association, echoed the senator.

"The association is full support of craft distilleries, but consumers want to know: 'Is the product you buy in your craft distiller's tasting room even made in Montana?'"

Sunell praised the Senate for killing the bill.

"The good news is that we'll still have the ability to sell Orphan Girl and make it the way we do now. The only thing we won't be able to have is the extended hour," she said. 

Distilleries will continue to do last-call around 7:30 p.m., she said, and might have some anxiety about bringing a bill in 2019 to get a consumptive hour.

"There's going to be a lot of anxiety," she said. "We may be a sitting duck."

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Reporter covering statewide issues for The Billings Gazette.