The Montanya Files: Wonking Out with Karen Hoskin

The American craft rum scene is blessed with several high profile women at the helm of the company. Having started Montanya Distillers eleven years ago, Karen Hoskin is legitimately a pioneer among them. I recently sat down with her in San Francisco, on the day before the 2019 California Rum Festival. Over the course of an hour, we had a fantastic and enlightening discussion.

We went deep on a number of topics, including the emerging identify of American Rum and what’s holding it back, why she makes a “low ester” rum, the challenges and benefits of making rum at high altitude as compared to the Caribbean, a deep dive into how Montanya’s source materials are made, the debates in the rum community about authenticity, how improved labelling may be better than categorization, and what Constellation Brand’s investment in Montanya means for her. Plus, a whole lot more!

With no word count dangling over our heads, Karen could really explain her thoughts in detail, rather than compressing everything into a one paragraph answer. While this interview may be a little longer than you’re used to, you’ll come away with a much deeper understanding of what Karen and Montanya are about.

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WIRSPA Chairman Komal Samaroo: On the Record

NOTE: This interview originally appeared on the ACR-Rum web site. However, it’s of relevance to rum enthusiasts here on Cocktail Wonk, so it’s also shared here, with permission from WIRSPA.

As Chairman of the Executive Board of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA), Komal Samaroo has a very deep knowledge of the rum industry. Having worked in the rum industry since the late 1960s, he’s now put in over fifty years of service to the cause of Caribbean rum.

In addition to his WIRSPA duties, Mr. Samaroo is now Executive Chairman of Demerara Distillers Limited, an indigenous Guyanese firm with thousands of local shareholders that makes, among other things, El Dorado Demerara rum. He also sits on the Board of Directors of National Rums of Jamaica, the consortium that owns the Clarendon and Long Pond distilleries and the Monymusk brand.

During a recent trip to Guyana, I interviewed him in his office at Demerara Distillers Limited. What follows are his thoughts on the WIRSPA, including its role in the rum world, its past and its future.

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Still Life: Saint Lucia Distillers

Every few months, a tanker ship pulls into Saint Lucia’s Roseau Bay, and anchors. A diver drops into the water and attaches an 8-inch flexible hose to the ship. The hose is connected to a 12-inch pipeline that runs for 194 meters underwater before hitting land and popping up in the middle of a beach and continuing overland for just over a kilometer. Eventually the pipe connects to one of several gigantic tanks.

For the next several hours, thick black liquid flows from the ship to the tank—liquid that is vital to the site’s operation. Not oil, but rather molasses: Since Saint Lucia no longer grows enough sugar to make any appreciable amount of molasses on the island, this undersea dance is how the island’s one distillery– St. Lucia Distillers – receives its vital feedstock.

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Spiribam’s Benjamain Jones – Director’s Cut Interview

In February 2019, I sat down with Spribam’s Benjamin Jones at the Miami Rum Congress to talk about all manner of wonky rum topics. Jones has been essential to bringing rhum agricole to the North American market over the past fifteen years – specifically the Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M brands. More recently, he’s spent a lot of time integrating St. Lucia distillers into Spiribam’s portfolio. Although not as omnipresent on social media as some rum industry luminaries, he’s deeply knowledgeable about today’s rum industry.

My recent Bevvy “Ruminations” column shares his thoughts about the revamped St. Lucia Distillers product lineup, including the new (outside of St. Lucia) Bounty offerings.  However, we talked about many more topics that didn’t fit within the Bevvy interview: behind-the-scenes takes on the St. Lucia Distillers distillery upgrades; innovating within and outside the Martinique AOC regulations; the structure of Spiribam and parent company GBH; the influence of Richard Seale; sugar cane availability; how the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai competition came about; his own family connection to the Rhum Clement family.   Lots of interesting information to be found in Ben’s answers, so rather than leaving his insights on the cutting room floor, I present it here.

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Geographic Indication Fast Facts

In the spirits world, Geographical Indications, or GI for those who are conserving syllables, have recently been in the forefront of many nerdy conversations. This is especially true in the rum community. I’ve written extensively about certain rum-related GIs and have noticed that there’s a lot of confusion about what a GI is—and what it is not—as well as what it accomplishes.

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Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell on Barrel Aging Science – Tropical or Otherwise

The “Wonk” in Cocktail Wonk refers to digging deep to understand as much as possible about spirits and cocktails. Many of the stories here involve the chemistry of aging, as well as the different elements in a spirit – water, ethanol, and other compounds such as esters, aldehydes and higher (heavier) alcohols. It’s these compounds that give spirits their aroma flavor. Each spirit has its own ratios of these compounds, thus making that spirit taste different than any other spirit. The set of aromatic compounds in a spirit are impacted by many processes, including fermentation, distillation, and barrel aging.

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