“The first vapors that evaporate off are generally the most volatile of the alcohols,” Ryan Montgomery says. The owner of Montgomery Distillery in Missoula, Montana, he’s well-acquainted with the ins and outs of a still. “Following that blowing off is ‘the hearts.’ That’s what you keep and bottle.”

Montgomery makes high-end vodka, gin, and rye whiskey, but every distiller, even a moonshiner, throws out the stuff that comes out first. “Things like methanol and ethyl acetate—basically nail polish remover—you obviously don’t want in your finished drinkable product.” The nasty brew is sent through a condenser and turned back into a liquid. In distilling parlance, the result is called “the heads,” which are generally discarded, but not by Montgomery. “They’re highly combustible, perfect to run an engine,” he says. And just like that, an idea was born.

Yamaha XS650 at Bonneville Salt Flats
Montgomery distillery calls its ethanol-heavy brew “Sudden Wisdom Amateur Racing Fuel,” sharing a name with its rye whiskey.Brian Powers

With a little goading from racer friends and more than a little help from a motley crew around Missoula, Montgomery got the project aimed squarely at Bonneville. A 1980 Yamaha XS650 plucked from a field provided a good set of bones. "We did a rebuild, bored out the cylinders," Montgomery says. "We're bumped into the 750cc class, modified, partial streamlined, classic fuel. The record there's 97 mph." A heady goal for a machine that will run on wheat from the family farm.

wheat from montgomery distillery
Wheat from the family farm before it’s distilled into vodka—or turned into fuel.Brian Powers

"The whole industry of ethanol production is kinda the bane of motorcyclists, but scientifically it's so similar to what we're doing here," Montgomery says. "They're kinda our brethren in distillation now, even though as a motorcyclist with an older bike, I'm always looking for an ethanol-free gas station."

The distillery has been keeping the heads from their vodka distillation for months, and Montgomery recently sent the result out for testing. It’s mostly ethanol, but there’s enough methanol and acetate to make it undrinkable.

Yamaha XS650
The Yamaha XS650 was chosen for the ubiquity of its spare parts.Brian Powers

“There’s literature on running ethanol and literature on running ­methanol, but not much on running a combination. We got it running on stock carbs, then switched to new Mikunis. Right now it’s running on about double the jet size, and it’s running a little lean.”

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Montgomery's Yamaha XS650
Trim and tidy, Montgomery’s machine has a roadracer’s plan view but the legs of a Bonneville record holder.Brian Powers

But there’s enough know-how in Missoula to get it done. Everyone, from Montgomery’s head distiller, Chad Larrabee, to Colin Cornberg, a Kiwi from local custom shop Number 8 Wire, put their backs into the project. See See, Union Garage, and Mike’s XS pitched in from afar. Their combined efforts were enough. Montgomery’s Yamaha project, powered by vodka heads and wheat from the family farm, was good enough to trip the timers at 113 mph. Montgomery’s homebrew blew the old record out of the water.