CRAFT by Under My Host® Issue No. 18 Made in America: Part III - Page 120

W W W. C R A F T BY U M H . C O M Karen Hoskin’s love affair with rum began on a beach in India when she was 20 years old. Haskin wanted a stiff drink and discovered Old Monk Rum. In 2008, Haskin was on another beach, this time in Belize with her husband, rum in hand. Looking to make a career change, the mother of two told her husband she wanted to make hand-crafted rum…a few months later she had a permit to open Montanya Distillers. Today, she handles everything from choosing distilling cuts and bottling rum to tending the rum bar and restaurant at the distillery in Crested Butte, CO. We chatted with Karen about how she brings her passion for the spirit, and process of making, it to life – as well as how she’s paving the way for other women breaking into this industry. We weren’t on a beach, but we did have the Montanya Oro within reach. What planted the seed to make rum your career? I have been a rum fanatic for more than 30 years – since I had my first taste of “real” rum in India. That rum appealed to my palette and my chemistry – it tasted beautiful, and I never felt hungover after drinking it. I feel the same way about rum that others feel about bourbon or cabernet sauvi- gnon. There are not quite as many people obsessed with rum, but I’ve discovered them and have greatly enjoyed traveling to distilleries and becoming acquainted with the people, art, and science behind rum. Ten years ago, I was a brand builder with my own company, designing logos, websites, marketing campaigns, and trade show booths for my clients. I worked really hard and felt like I was giving every ounce of my creativity away. I decided that I wanted to do something for myself and person- ally reap the benefits of my skills and those around me. When my husband asked what I wanted to do next – the answer was make rum! What is the significance of the name Montanya? Montanya and most of our rum’s names are feminine Spanish translations – after all, a woman runs the company and women (along with their male co-workers) distill the rum. We’ve actually trained four female distillers from the ground up. Montanya is Spanish for mountains and signifies the parts of Central and South America that influenced the style of rum we distill. And, we’re nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, which makes great sense for making rum as the altitude positively affects almost every aspect of fermenting, distilling, and aging. What is the most common misconception of rum? There is a misconception that rum is not as good as whiskey, bourbon, scotch, or rye. Some view rum as a “low class” spirit, not as sophisticated as others. People have long believed that rum didn’t stack up against others, but in many cases it’s aged longer than whiskeys and the aging process is as much if not more of a craft than with other spirits. The water, raw materials, distill- ing, and barrel aging are all consistent with any high-end whiskey, bourbon, rye, or scotch. When I explain this to people and open their eyes to the truth, they say, “Alright, I’ll try it.” Then, they let go of their massive misconceptions. The truth is most people haven’t been exposed to the amazingly good rums that are out there. Compared to 10 years ago, there are now more outstanding rums available in liquor stores thanks to the visibility of talented people in the rum world and their tireless effort to help others under- stand the quality that is rum. Rum bars are being recognized as “best cocktail bars” and rums are winning the most prestigious awards. This has caught the attention of distributors and stores who follow industry trends. The rums that most people are familiar with are sweet. Yours aren’t. What is the differ- ence? What you add between distilling and bottling makes rum sweet. Our process preserves the flavors of the distillate. Many rums add sugar and caramel to sweeten the taste. I feel strongly about providing rum that does not have any sugar added after distillation. We don’t add a single drop of sugar, which makes our rums more bitter and dry than most are accustomed to drinking. We make so many cocktails that are more on the tart or traditional bitter side. Also, we’re a “mountain rum,” which I originally learned about from Ron Zacapa in Guatemala. They age rum at 7,000 feet and believe that the temperature changes in the barrel benefit the aging process. I agree. They also think that mountain spring water, which is 60 percent of what is in any bottle of spirits, makes a better rum. Island distilleries don’t have much altitude or mountain water, but Colorado (and Montanya) does.  Your Exclusiva and Aniversaria rums are aged in French Oak that previously aged caber- net sauvignon and port. What inspired that? Jake “Whiskey” Norris mentored me, and he distills this whiskey called Snowflake that he finish- es in a cab franc barrel. You can’t buy on the shelf, and people line up around the block to buy it direct from Stranahan’s distillery when it’s available once a year – some people even camp out. I’m not a huge whiskey drinker or fan, because many taste sweet to me, but Snowflake blew my mind! I was inspired to try something similar with my rums. The French Oak and Port add a tannic taste and a dryness. It’s a relatively rare flavor profile. We transfer the Aniversaria to a finishing barrel that previously held Peach Street Bourbon in American white oak after it’s aged in the French oak to give it an even more complex flavor profile. What is your favorite part of being a distiller? Distilling keeps me young. I’m turning 50 this year, and I interact a lot with young distillers, bar- tenders, and sales reps, many just entering this business. I feel strongly that my interactions with them have kept me trying to stay a little more hip and young than if I worked in another industry. In this industry especially, you have to stay relevant to appeal to the broader audience of consumers. What’s your biggest challenge? Our biggest challenge is growth. We age our rums from one to four years, so the growth that I have to be prepared for doesn’t pay immediately. If I have to prepare for 40-percent growth, every single dollar gets turned back into handling growth. It’s a different economic framework than, say, growing and harvesting on a farm. Farmers have to be six months ahead of demand. I don’t have that luxury of making something today and selling tomorrow. Even 10 years in, we still turn most of what we make back into making rum and building the brand internationally. Were you intimidated by joining a predominantly male-dominated “craft?” I should have been intimidated by a male-dominated craft, but I was so naïve getting started. I didn’t think about joining a predominately male industry or how little I knew. It was lonely for the first five or six years. I’d go to conferences or events and hang out with my peers. It was always me and a bunch of guys. Believe me, it had its fun moments – some of my greatest influences came from that crowd – but it could be uncomfortable. We were drinking for several hours, and the later it got, I would have to leave to avoid uncomfortable situations. The guys could stay out late and © Hundred-to-One LLC 2018. All rights reserved.