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The idea for one of the nation’s most lauded craft distilleries—Montanya Distillers—was conceived while Karen Hoskin and her husband Brice were on vacation. “I told him I wanted to make hand-crafted rum,” says Hoskin, who describes herself as “fanatical” about the sugar-cane-derived spirit.
But in 2008, the Hoskin’s were raising two young sons in Silverton and had no experience distilling (although Karen, a former web and graphic designer, had previously worked as a bartender and bar manager). And there was another challenge: Hoskin wanted a “sustainable, traceable product made entirely with North American ingredients.” Most domestic rum producers use imported sugar cane or molasses because they’re more cost-effective, but Hoskin, a longtime environmental advocate, wanted to direct-purchase domestic raw ingredients to give her more control over production methods and quality.
Hoskin eventually found a source for non-GMO sugar cane with Lula-Westfield, a 149-year-old family-owned and -operated company in Louisiana. And after teaching themselves the fundamentals and purchasing a Portuguese copper still, the Hoskin launched Montanya Distillers with two offerings: a white rum called Platino, and a dark rum dubbed Oro.
The family relocated to Crested Butte in 2011, opening a downtown tasting room and distillery as well as a dedicated bottling and aging facility in the nearby Riverland industrial park. By 2015, they had outgrown the space, so they moved to larger digs two doors down. One year later, Montanya released Exclusiva, a three-year-aged unblended rum finished in French oak Cabernet Sauvignon and Port Barrels from Cortez’s Sutcliffe Vineyards; if you don’t believe rum can be enjoyed neat, this stuff will change your mind.
Today, the downtown “headquarters” are 100-percent wind-powered and the company has 23 employees, half of whom are women. (Hoskin recently took over interim leadership of the Women’s Distillery Guild, a national organization she co-founded that supports gender diversity in craft distilling.) Montanya’s perennially popular tasting room offers flights, seasonal cocktails, and global street food-inspired bites, as well as a line of rum-based bitters (available from the tasting room as well as online). Even more impressive, Montanya rum is available in 42 states and throughout the EU. Hoskin has become a role model for sustainable craft distillers and is an in-demand panelist. And recently, she and two friends launched Zoetica, a green lifestyle brand that sells kits and totes stocked with reusable cutlery, dishware, straws, coffee mugs, napkins, and to-go food storage containers.
Reflecting on her journey from rum aficionado to award-winning distiller and industry mentor, Hoskin says, “I definitely have more gray hair now, but I have so much pride in what we’ve accomplished, and I’ve had an incredible amount of fun.”
To celebrate its 10th year, Montanya has a new, limited release rum called Aniversaria ($100; available only at the tasting room): the single-barrel spirit was aged for four years in three different Colorado wine and spirit producers’ barrels. A portion of the proceeds from this special bottle will go to the Women’s Distillery Guild and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. A series of statewide anniversary events will be held through the end of the year, as well, including a May 20th party at the Hornet here in Denver, featuring live music from Ryan Flores, door prizes, and much more.
If you go: May 20, 7 – 10 p.m., the Hornet, 76 Broadway; $20 donation required for entry, which includes one Montanya Distillers rum cocktail, appetizers, door prize opportunities, and live music.
Montanya Distillers: 212 Elk Ave., Crested Butte, 970-799-3206