Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Karen Hoskin, Founder of Montanya Distillers, located in Crested Butte, CO, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Montanya Rums are made in small batches using some of the oldest distilling traditions in the world. Our distillers oversee every step of the process, from the fermentation of yeast and sugarcane to distilling and aging. It's more than a science or an art—it's a craft.
Our rum is distilled in Crested Butte, Colorado, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Our sugarcane comes from a coop of family farmers in Louisiana, we proof our rums with pure mountain snowmelt water, and our rums benefit daily from our location 8,888 feet above sea level. Altitude benefits nearly every aspect of distilling and aging rum, contributing to the smooth yet surprisingly complex flavor profiles our rums are known for.
Our customers are people looking for high-quality, small-batch, sustainably crafted rum. We have a strong customer base across the USA and Europe.
Tell us about yourself
I am known as a vanguard of the rebirth of American Rum. When I started Colorado's craft distillery Montanya Distillers, in 2008, few people knew there was a strong American rum tradition or mountain rum tradition. Craft cocktails were not yet a major US trend, and rum was considered the wild west of spirits. I helped change those perceptions while steering the distillery to double-digit growth yearly. In 2019, that success secured a minority investment from Constellation Brands, which I am leveraging to build the distribution footprint worldwide. I continue to have a strong hand in inspiring the US market to respect and love American Rum, embrace craft cocktails, put rum into the best cocktails, and understand the mountain rum tradition. I am a respected speaker and industry leader in all aspects of distilling science, distilling business, mixology, bar and restaurant business, and sustainability.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Designing and building three distillery expansions as the company has grown. It is easy to overshoot production capacity and put yourself out of business. It is also easy to undershoot and cripple your growth. I am proud of managing to hit the mark each time. I have been the general contractor on every expansion myself, and it's not an easy task. This new expansion (2022) is the most exciting yet, with more sustainability measures and a 500-gallon pot still that I custom-designed.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The responsibility for people's livelihood. I often wake up in the middle of the night and feel a huge weight knowing that my employee's livelihoods rest on every decision I make and the success I create. As a female founder in an industry that has been so male-dominated, especially in 2008, and as the first female owner of a license to distill in America, I have found myself under-resourced and disregarded so often in this business that I have constantly worried if we would survive. And yet somehow, we persevere and inspire others.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- It will take longer and be harder than you expect, so be in it for the long haul, not the fast buck.
- Be gentle with yourself because sustained stress and worry take a toll on your health, family, and self-esteem.
- You can't possibly be good at everything, so surround yourself - as best you can afford- with amazing colleagues who fill the gaps in your capabilities.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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