Owning and operating a distillery may appear to be all glamour, with cocktail parties, traveling the world pouring drinks and having a constant buzz from the attention and the alcohol, but the reality is that small craft distilleries run much like any other small business — with lots of hard work and dedication.
“I do think that like any small business, a lot of people have a deluded concept of how fabulous it is, that it’s just a lot of excitement,” said Karen Hoskin, co-owner, president and rumrunner for Montanya Distillers in Crested Butte. “Like any small business, it’s seven days a week and often 12 hours a day and it becomes your life and your world in a whole different way than punching the clock.”
Hoskin has owned her own businesses for about 16 years, but she said the fun part of owning Montanya is the festival atmosphere that surrounds the world of spirits.
“It’s very hard to take yourself too seriously when you’re owning and running a distillery,” she said. “No one needs to have rum, so it’s easy to take a hands-off approach. It’s not a life or death kind of business, and your average activities are going to fun cocktail parties and connecting with other small-business owners, including bars, restaurants and liquor stores.”
Rum makes people happy, Hoskin said, which keeps the work lighthearted.
“I can’t say that of every alcoholic beverage out in the word,” she said. “It has a really interesting interaction with the human biology. I run a bar in Crested Butte that’s very busy. … You get to see it and compare it to other bar situations, and we only serve the rum that we make, and people are really happy and it creates this fun environment.”
Focus on rum
Montanya started off making mountain rum in Silverton about five years ago before moving to Crested Butte.
“We’ve always been a rum-focused distillery, that’s really our obsession,” Hoskin said. “We don’t have plans to bring any other types of spirits online. Both my husband and I are rum fanatics; he had another business, so it was my rum fanatacism that was driving Montanya.”
The distillery has been growing at a rate of about 50 percent per year, which meant it reached a point where it needed bigger facilities. Hoskin said they took a hard look at Silverton and realized it wasn’t a big enough area to support the expansion, so the distillery moved to Crested Butte in May 2011.
“The company has continued to grow,” she said. “We’ve doubled our size, and now we’re in 34 states around the country and growing every year. We stay focused on making really good rum. We want to be known as the American rum; ideally, someday we might get there.”
Montanya’s rum is distilled through an all-natural process with four natural ingredients — sugar cane, water, yeast and a touch of caramelized Rocky Mountain honey. For hundreds of bottles of rum, the amount of honey used is very, very small.
“It fits in the palm of my hand, but it brings out the oak and the whiskey that was in the barrel previously,” Hoskin said. “It’s also what makes the flavor profile of our rum very unique.”
Festival and award circuit
When Montanya Distillers arrives at the Still on the Hill craft distillery festival in Breckenridge, Friday, Oct. 4, through Sunday, Oct. 6, it will be toting a string of awards and medals.
“This last year, we won distillery of the year at the American Distilling Institute, which trains a lot of distillers,” Hoskins said. “They had a conference of about 900 people in attendance; it was really a huge surprise for us and really exciting and recognized that we are very true to the craft approach of distilling.”
The Huffington Post has also listed Montanya in its Top 5 Favorite Mountain Town Distilleries and Breweries in 2012, and it was named in the Top 5 Best Rums in North America at the Golden Rum Barrel Awards in the U.K. in 2010. It also received a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2010.
The distillery will be pouring two different rums that it sells commercially: Platino, a light rum that is aged, then filtered to remove the color, making it clear; and Oro, a dark rum that is aged in fresh Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey barrels.
“It gets a little bit more of the character of the barrel and the whiskey that was in the barrel previously and a little bit of the char and oak than the Platino does,” Hoskin said. “We really consider ourselves to be a mountain rum instead of an island rum.”
Hoskin has been traveling to Breckenridge for Still on the Hill every year since the event began.
“It’s a really fun one for us because we get to meet a lot of the other craft distillers in Colorado,” she said. “It’s one of the events that I’ve cultivated relationships with folks in our field. I love coming to Breckenridge in October.”
Still on the Hill is a chance for Hoskin and her crew to do something they love.
“We love to share the cocktails that we make with people,” she said. “We make pretty exceptional rum cocktails because we use only the freshest ingredients and everything is fresh made. ... It changes the way people think.”
“Many cocktail bars might have one rum cocktail on their menu and it just doesn’t give them much of a feel of what can be done with rum. There are hundreds of people in attendance, and every time people say, ‘I just didn’t know that a rum cocktail could be that good.’ We really enjoy kind of busting them out of what they’re familiar with.”