An Interview with Karen Hoskin – Montanya Distillers

An Interview with Karen Hoskin - Montanya Distillers by the fat rum pirateAn Interview with Karen Hoskin – Montanya Distilers. The World Wide Web throws up all kinds of opportunities for a blogger. So here I am compiling an interview with none other than Karen Hoskin of Montanya Distillers, Colorado in the US of A.

I have actually met Karen (at last years London Rumfest) and Karen was also present at the first European Online Rum Festival earlier this year. I decided to revive the interviews during lockdown to try and help out less “established” brands and those who are just getting their feet here in the UK.

Montanya Distillers rum has been on the radar for some time but unfortunately has been unavailable here in the UK. That has now been taken care of with Skylark Spirits who recently began distributing the brands full portfolio here in the UK.

So let’s hand over to Karen and here her and Montanya Distillers story……

1. Firstly please give a brief introduction on yourself and your role in the rum world. 

When I first started Montanya Distillers in 2008, there wasn’t an American Rum tradition, craft cocktails were barely getting a foothold in bars, and I was one of few women in a very male-dominated industry. I have spent a decade championing rum as a premium spirit and educating consumers about the distinguished tradition of rum in the mountains. Finally after many years, rum is having its day. More and more people understand that rum is better when it is not overly sweet and it need not come from or be consumed at the beach. Montanya has played a vibrant role in this transformation.

I am the proud founder of The Women’s Distillery Guild, which is now part of the Women of the Vine and Spirits (WOTVS).I’ve also been operating an environmentally sustainable business from the start and stewardship is a lifelong passion–we are the most sustainable rum distillery in the world, and I’m determined to set an example in this critical arena. I have mentored many female founders and distillers over the years, to improve gender diversity and help other industry women feel less isolated than I did when I started my company. 

2. Obviously COVID-19 has been devastating to the hospitality industry, we cannot avoid this fact it has had a huge impact on us all. How damaging has it been to your business/role and what have you done to try and minimise this?

Our mountain community was an early hot spot for the virus so the public facing parts of our business, like our Tasting Room, closed in mid-March. We’ve continued to distill and bottle rum, even adding a new labelling machine ordered before the pandemic, and we were as creative as possible to maintain our revenues during lockdown, adding takeout food and cocktail options, cocktail kits, online bartending resources, and online retail options.

We hope to reopen all parts of our business in June, though what that looks like remains to be seen based on local COVID regulations and our customers’ comfort levels as they resume normal activities. 

There is no doubt that the closure of our Tasting Room and the shutdown of bars and restaurants affected our bottom line and may still in the coming months, but there is still a high demand for Montanya rum from liquor stores and online retailers. We never shut down distilling or bottling, and we recently expanded distribution in the United Kingdom and Europe through Skylark Spirits and in Texas through Republic National.

It keeps us optimistic and hopeful for the future, and helps me meet my number one priority: keeping staff on payroll and weathering the storm so that we come out stronger on the other side. It has not been an easy journey, but we’ve been inspired by our local community, which has rallied together and shown tremendous resilience.

To do our part, we’ve made surface sanitizer for those on the front lines responding to coronavirus. We’re able to make it using alcohol we already produce but can’t use in our rum, so it was an easy pivot to make and a no brainer in order to support the true heroes of this pandemic. We recently expanded distribution of this to preschools, daycare, churches and therapist offices.

I have also been collaborating with our county government to assist and mentor local companies through the storm, including helping them to apply for federal stimulus funding. Montanya was fortunate enough to receive Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and EIDL funds, which has helped tremendously in keeping our reserves from becoming too depleted –this means we’ll have the capital to return to full operation as restrictions end.

It’s also been a huge boost to everyone’s morale to offer a takeout menu of cocktails, cocktail kits and food. It’s no substitute for having drinks and food in our Tasting Room, but we’ve enjoyed coming up with new offerings for our local customers, and it has become so wonderful to see neighbors and friends again.

3. Have you set up any Initatives during COVID-19 Lockdown?

Sure we have been producing a santizer

To learn more about our surface sanitizer, check out this blog post:

4. What first attracted you to the Rum World? What were your first experiences with rum?

I had my first sip of rum while traveling in India in 1988, and instantly loved both the spirit and the way I felt the next day. Because I have celiac disease, I’m not able to drink many spirits. (Check out our blog post to learn more: Setting the Record Straight on Gluten in Spirits.)  In rum I found something I loved that didn’t make me feel sick, and it was the beginning of my 30+ year love affair with the spirit. When I decided to switch careers in 2008 and start my own brand, distilling rum became a way to merge what I loved with my goal to use business as a true force for good.An Interview with Karen Hoskin - Montanya Distillers by the fat rum pirate

5. How do you think the Rum World has changed over the past 5 years? Where do you see the Rum World in another 5 years? Where would you like to be in 5 years?

The biggest change is that consumers now understand that rum can be as high quality as any bourbon, whisky, rye or scotch. They have begun to understand the complexity and history of the spirit, the geographic indications, and are using terms like esters and congeners with much greater authority. Online forums have sprung up which can really help educate, although they can also cause alienation when newcomers feel judged for not yet knowing enough. I am a fan of cultivating the knowledge base of newcomers rather than making them feel uninformed.  

6. What is your stance on additives in rum? Would you like to see more Universal Regulation?

I’m less concerned with one particular approach – I like interesting variety – and more concerned with transparency. A consumer should be able to be very clear on what they’re drinking, how it was made, and what is added. Labels rarely tell this story and some companies rely on smoke and mirrors.

There are never any artificial ingredients in Montanya rums and we’ve never once in our twelve year history added sugar. We tell our customers exactly what we do and what ingredients we use.

We share as much information as we can, including certifications, accurate age statements, information about the aging process, barrel numbers for our single barrel process, and more. We are really aware of the variety of distilling methods, sugar cane derivatives, still types, cane growing locations and historic practices that influence the final liquid. I don’t believe there is only one perfect way to make rum. Truth is my ethos, first and foremost. 

7. Speaking of rules and regulations what is your opinion on the current issues over the Barbados/Jamaica rum GI proposals?

I respect and believe in tradition, and I really understand the motives behind these important conversations, especially when there is a term on the line 

An Interview with Karen Hoskin - Montanya Distillers by the fat rum pirate

like “Barbados Rum” or “Jamaican Rum”. You want people to know what they can expect from those terms, as we do with Scotch, Tequila, and Champagne.

It wasn’t long ago that a Colorado company was promoting the term “Colorado Rum” made with Colorado grown beets. I almost lost my mind for all the reasons one can imagine. I have avoided speaking up too much about these Jamaica and Barbados discussions mainly because there is so much I may not understand. The vitriol can make me sad, but I love that it elevates the conversation about transparency and sweetening.  

8. How do you view your role within the Rum World? What do you hope to “bring” to the rum community? Do you reach out beyond your day job in rum?

I see my role as a premium rum advocate. I’m passionate about educating others about the category and I use Montanya’s blog, my speaking engagements (now online), magazine columns that I write, books I publish, and social networks to do this. I also want those who haven’t always had a place at the table in the rum world to find their voice and feel at home.

At Montanya, you’ll find women in 65% of all positions of the company, including management and leadership, and 35% of the staff are people of color (in a community that is 96% white). I recently became aware that so much of what I love about rum traces back to the black community around the world. I am in love with the diversity of my work life.   

An Interview with Karen Hoskin - Montanya Distillers by the fat rum pirateAs a certified B Corporation, I am also an advocate for the environment and social responsibility. This ethos is considered with every decision we make. This has meant saying no to some large scale events because of the waste and carbon footprint left behind. I strongly believe it’s our responsibility and privilege to be good stewards of the planet and our people, and to show not only the rum world, but other businesses, that you can be a force for good. 

9. Do you actively use Social Media to reach out with other Rum Drinkers and Enthusiasts? If so where might we find you?

Yes, we love interacting with rum fans through social media. We’re active on Instagram and Facebook, have two newsletters (Life Distilled and our monthly newsletter), a blog, and we’re also on Twitter. 

10. Which rum producers are your current favourites?

I personally love rums made from the entire cane plant, whether fresh juice or cane syrup or the way we make it, with crystalized unrefined cane and molasses in the same proportions that exist in the original plant. Every rum fan has their favorite profile. I feel strongly that there is no absolute right or wrong as long as the liquid is made with care and transparency. I even like some spiced rums, which can get me dirty looks but I don’t mind. 

I am a fan of Worthy Park rums. I love the deep history and humility of the brand. I also recently discovered William George rum, which I really like. La Hechicera from Colombia, which translates as “The Enchantress”, is another favorite.

11. Which rum producers/brands do you think are currently flying under the radar? Name 3 rums people may not have tried but really should give a go

William George, Damoiseau and Ninefold

An Interview with Karen Hoskin - Montanya Distillers by the fat rum pirate12. Finally, what is your idea of the perfect rum and/or rum drink/cocktail?

It’s hard to pick just one cocktail, so I’ll go with a couple. I really enjoy one of our signature cocktails—the Basil Paradisi. It’s been my go-to for years. We infuse our Platino with basil and mix that with freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juice and a touch of simple syrup. We serve it shaken and straight up in a martini glass. I also adore our Ti’ Exclusiva (a variant on a Ti’ Punch). It’s an easy one to make, a delicately balanced “martini”, with just fresh lime, simple syrup and our dark Exclusiva rum.

So there you have it some really interesting and very comprehensive from someone who is clearly very passionate about the rum category but also about doing things in an environmentally and sustainable manner which will only help this planet in the long run.

Thanks very much for your time on this Karen and I wish you every success with the launch of Montanya Rum here in the UK.




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