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The Spirit Moved Her – Colorado’s Great Rum Distillery

What better place to dream up a future of making rum, than on a beach in Belize? That’s where Karen Hoskin, founder and CEO of Montanya Rums, found herself in 2007, telling her husband she was tired of designing other people’s businesses, and it was time to start her own. Moved by the “spirit,” and a hunch that the craft brewing trend was about to expand into distilling, she took her dream all the way back to their home in the heart of the Colorado Rockies to create a new American rum tradition rooted in mountain culture. Far away in Goa India, on a different beach many years earlier,  21-year-old Hoskin tasted rum for the first time. As an undiagnosed celiac, she was careful about her choices in spirits even at that young age. Little did she know, her newfound passion for rum would evolve into an award-winning international distillery 30 years later. 

It didn’t quite happen overnight, but Hoskin and her husband, Brice, got down to business learning the art of distilling, and just one year after that beachside epiphany, they opened Montanya Distillers. Rumor has it they made their first batch in a lobster pot, but in no time they were producing world-class rum with just four natural ingredients. Early on, Montanya set it apart from other brands by distilling in a transparent way and without adding sugar to the rum. Almost unheard of at the time, this positioned Montanya as a thought leader in the spirits industry. Today, the company sells every drop of the 200 bottles they produce each day. And, they’ve won almost every major award in the spirits world, including gold and double medals, USA Rum of the Year, Craft Distillery of the Year, and the holy grail, Best in Class. 

While many rums are made from molasses, Montanya uses only raw, unrefined sugarcane, sourced from a small farm in Louisiana. The sugarcane is non-GMO which is increasingly difficult to source. The distillery takes juice from the first-pressing only, “which is similar to extra virgin olive oil,” Hoskin says. “It’s the most flavorful part of the sugarcane. It’s really hard to get that.” What she calls the “best water in the world” is drawn from a well 350 feet below Crested Butte, where it flows through layers of stone and mineralized rock. “Our water doesn’t have any chlorine or any other chemicals in it.” Montanya Distillers is a Certified Green Business — they are values-driven, socially-equitable, accountable with radical transparency, and environmentally responsible in sourcing, manufacturing, marketing, and daily operations. 

Hoskin’s philosophy of stewardship guides every decision in the business, from distillation, bottling, branding, transportation, tasting rooms and mercantile operations, to the people behind it all. Building a company was never just about rum for Hoskin, she calls it “rum on a mission.” As a certified B-corps, Montanya’s purpose is to be a force for good in the community, in the beverage and alcohol industry, and in the lives of their employees. Shipping rum to 44 states and seven countries, Hoskin remains focused on moving the conversation forward for women in the industry. In 2019, Montanya became the first distillery to receive an investment from the Focus on Female Founders Venture Fund at Constellation Brands. The funding will allow Montanya to expand both its distribution and social impact. 

The next time you find yourself in Crested Butte, saddle up to the Montanya bar and order a Maharaja. This rare concoction of fresh ginger, lime and chai spice has been their most popular cocktail for a decade, and like the Montanya spirit, it’s strong and refreshing. 

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