‘Bring your eatin’ pants and your dancin’ shoes’
Willie’s Distillery 6th Annual Pig Pickin’ draws crowd of nearly 1,000
ENNIS - Ennis kicked off the month of June with a community-wide celebration of some of Montana’s favorite things: good food, good booze, good company and a good time.
Willie’s Distillery’s sixth annual Pig Pickin’ drew an enormous crowd from in and out of town that shut down much of Main Street on Saturday, June 2. The day began with the Water to Whiskey 5K, sponsored by the Yellowstone Adventure Race series, for those who wanted to burn some of their barbecue calories early.
The race’s title referred to its start and end points: The starting line was exactly on top of the water of the Madison River (in the center of the bridge, of course; no swimming required) and the finish line was the backyard of the distillery itself, where a big pig feast was just gearing up. The 5K drew more than 150 runners, the biggest field in its 23-year history.
The Pig Pickin’ has been an annual early summer event since Willie’s opened in December 2012. It began as a way to highlight the symbiotic relationship between the distillery and local pig farmers and offered a chance for community members to get a taste of the power of locals helping locals.
It works like this: After Willie’s distills the alcohol from various grains, there is waste grain —everything from corn and barley, to rye, oats and different combinations of all four of these grains, depending on what beverage was being crafted
“We end up with spent grains throughout this entire process, and we had the option of dumping them or giving them back,” says Denie Amberson, the events coordinator for the distillery. “So we give them back to local pig farms. The pigs love it, the farmers save money, and it helps us out.”
Often, Amberson says, distilleries have to pay to get their spent grains picked up and dumped, so this offered an easier and more beneficial opportunity.
In return for the help they get from Willie’s, the farmers wanted to give back to the community, and decided to do that in the form of a city-wide barbecue.
The rest is history.
Since the first Pig Pickin’ in spring of 2013, they’ve only gotten larger, adding new elements every year.
This year’s involved cornhole tournaments, live music from local bands Madison Range and Little Jane and the Pistol Whips, plus games and prizes in the form of four commemorative bottles of the distillery’s reserve bourbon and a ten-gallon Willie’s barrel.
Willie’s hyped the event on their Instagram page last week, advising guests to be “yeti to party,” in reference to their yeti mascot. “Bring your eating pants and your dancing shoes,” they wrote. And guests did both.
This year was one of the largest events yet. Perfect early-summer weather drew guests starting early in the day, and they enjoyed barbecued pork sandwiches, coleslaw, potato chips and beverages provided by Longbranch Saloon and of course, Willie’s itself.
Willie’s mascot the yeti made an appearance to join the festivities and take photos with guests, and a dance floor provided a space for revelers to dance into the evening.
“Everybody loves it,” says Amberson, who has been a part of eight pig roasts, including some of the later-added autumn events. “I think they look forward to it every single year.”