Crested Butte’s High Altitude Helps This Rum Shed Its Tropical Rep

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Mountain rum
Montanya Rum CEO Karen Hoskin is making waves in the craft distilling world.

Rum is not something usually associated with Colorado's mountains, except maybe in the "hot-buttered" category. But Karen Hoskin and her husband Brice have changed all that.

The Hoskins started making rum in Silverton in the San Juan Mountains nine years ago and in 2011 moved their distilling operation to the West Elk Mountains and Crested Butte where they had room to grow the business. Since then, Montanya Rum has been racking up awards, helped put a spotlight on female distillers, and honored as a notable Colorado exporter.

Rum is associated with beach drinks and the Caribbean, but rum actually has a mountain history. Some of the top rums in the world are aged at altitude, a fact that Karen Hoskin discovered during a Central American vacation a decade ago. She had an 'a-ha' moment when she found the best rums in Guatemala are carried into the mountains in oak barrels to age — giving way to the idea for a Colorado rum distillery. The change in altitude and the fluctuations in temperature force the rum into and out of the barrel’s oak pores. That gives the rum more flavor and smoothness.

Montanya Rum still
From this still in Crested Butte, rum now goes to seven European countries.

Hoskin also knew that the enjoyment of rum has been a part in Colorado's history. Crested Butte's miners knew rum belonged in the mountains 120 years ago. Rum was a popular drink in Crested Butte and other mining towns during the Gold Rush heyday.

Karen Hoskin is the CEO of the company, and she and Brice team up on the cultivating and bottling of the spirits. Earlier this month, Karen Hoskin became the first female distiller chosen as the keynote speaker for the annual American Distilling Institute Craft Spirits Conference in Baltimore. She focused on diversity in an industry that traditionally has been dominated by men, and on sustainability and workplace best practices in a spirits category that is rooted in the slave trade.

She also jumped into a burgeoning Colorado craft distilling industry with a completely new spirit. Whiskey had forged the way for craft distilleries in the state when Aspenite George Stranahan began making whiskey 13 years ago. Currently, there are more than 80 craft distilleries turning out whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy, fruit liqeurs and rum. Since Montanya opened the door to rum, a second rum distillery has started up in Gypsum.

On Trade And Drink

The Hoskins have been working for the past five years to find ways to market their mountain rum in greater quantities in the European market. Montanya rum is popular there because it is a much drier rum than many that come from the Caribbean or than mass-market rums. Montanya is distilled from just four carefully sourced ingredients: American cane sugar, Colorado mountain water, yeast, and a touch of Colorado honey. The non-GMO and minimally processed sugar cane is shipped directly from Belle Rose, Louisiana, to Crested Butte. The water, from an aquifer beneath the mountain town has never been treated with chlorine or fluoride. The honey comes from hives near the distillery.

The three styles of rum made at Montanya are aged in oak barrels after being distilled in 100-gallon, all-copper pot stills from Portugal.

The Hoskins are devoted to maintaining current mining-turned-ski-town environmental sensibilities. The Montanya distillery and tasting room in Crested Butte are 100 percent wind-powered, and the Hoskins try, with everything from recyclable event cups to power to using biomass in the still boiler, to eliminate waste and have a sustainable operation.

Karen Hoskin has become a sought-after mixologist around the country. She has been concocting creative new rum cocktails and remaking classics with rum rather than other spirits. This is one of Karen's recipes for a steady favorite at the Montanya Rum Bar:


Glass: Collins ice/turbinado sugar rim. Prepare directly into glass:

  • ½ squeezed lime
  • 3-4 basil leaves, muddled
  • 2 t blueberries and some of the blueberry juice
  • 2 oz Montanya Platino rum

Fill with combo of ginger ale and seltzer (to taste). Stir. Top with 2 drops Angostura bitters.