Founded in 2008, Montanya Distillers was one of the early pioneers of craft spirits in the U.S. leading the way for domestically produced rum. In 2019, Constellation Brand made an investment to take the company to the next level. In this Startup Spotlight, Founder Karen Hoskin opened up to Park Street University and revealed how the investment and Montanya’s unique setting has helped grow the brand.
Tell us about Montanya Distillers.
Karen Hoskin: Montanya Distillers makes American, aged rums in Crested Butte, Colorado in the heart of the Rocky Mountains (9,000 feet above sea level). The clean water, high altitude and cooler temps all benefit our rum-making process. We’ve become known for making rums that are smooth and not sweet with no added sugar and nothing artificial, and they’re now available in more than 40 states and seven countries. Montanya Rum fans also appreciate our commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
As a certified B Corp, we put people, the environment and social responsibility on equal footing with growth and profit. Our business practices have earned us accolades as a “Best for the World” company, which means we are a top performer among fellow B Corps. We’ve also won numerous awards around the world for our rum and environmental commitments.
What sets your brand apart in the marketplace?
KH: Our distillery and tasting room are located in a vacation destination, and we see time and again that Montanya rums change people’s minds about rum. Many first-time visitors will say they don’t like rum and then fall in love with ours. We think it’s the smoothness of the rum and the lack of added sugar and artificial sweeteners/flavors that win them over.
Our commitment to being a B Corp also sets us apart. Montanya Distillers is one of only two B Corp distilleries in the U.S., a distinction we’re incredibly proud of. We also source our sugarcane from a family co-op of cane growers in Louisiana. It’s 100% family grown, non-GMO and certified American grown. Our farmers use environmental practices not commonly found among sugarcane growers, and we love that we know many of them personally.
What was the greatest challenge your brand had to overcome initially and what did you learn from it?
KH: One of the biggest challenges was securing the capital to grow our distribution. Growing distribution when you make a product that ages one to four years requires up front capital, and access to funding is a challenge for female founders (less than 3% of venture capital goes to women-owned companies in the U.S.). Thankfully Constellation Brands took note of this funding discrepancy and created its Focus on Female Founders Fund and invested in Montanya in 2019.
Does Montanya have its own distillery?
KH: Yes, we distill our own rum in Crested Butte, Colorado. You can learn more about our distilling process here.
Does your business have any causes it supports?
KH: Locally, we support organizations that work in the arts, outdoor recreation, cancer support, sexual assault prevention and food security (among others). On a broader scale, we financially support two social entrepreneurship companies that actively work to reduce carbon emissions and pollution worldwide. One is Ganesha Cookstove Project and the other is Zoetica. You can learn more here. We are also JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) advocates and support Melanin Mountain Project.
What is your best business finance tip for other brand owners?
KH: First you must believe that your company is worthy of investment, lending, or venture capital. If you aren’t sure, your pitches will fall flat.
What is your best advice for a mutually beneficial relationship with your distributor?
KH: Eliminate the word “blame” from your vocabulary. No distributor relationship is perfect but it can be a work in progress and mutually beneficial if both sides commit to generating the progress together.
What has been your most successful strategy for pitching a new retail partner?
KH: Be really clear about what you can bring to the table. Whether it be a sales rep in the market, investment in programs, or commitments to events, it is critical to have a plan to support the distributor in tangible ways. Otherwise don’t complain when all you can hear is crickets.
Is your company investing in the fast-growing digital space for beverage alcohol? If so, where?
KH: Yes, we are. Luckily we were already doing this before Covid hit, but we’re ramping up our efforts. We will soon launch BuyMontanyaRum.com through a partnership with Cask & Barrel. This will allow consumers to buy our rum online with lower shipping rates.
Do you have a go-to book on business or leadership you recommend?
KH: The No Asshole Rule has some of the best pieces of advice of any business-related book I have ever read. It helps you see that you can’t change others, but you can change how you react.
If you were starting a new venture today, what’s the first thing you would do?
KH: Research! When I jumped into distilling I didn’t realize craft spirits were part of the Three-Tiered System or what it even was! For me it was like wanting to sell your farm’s apples and not knowing there was such a thing as a grocery store. Research is your friend.