Woman-Owned Distillery Shares How To Make The Alcohol Industry Less Of A ‘Boys’ Club’

Men dominate many positions in management and leadership, often in industries that are considered “boys clubs” because they have exclusive cultures. One of these industries is the alcohol industry. Sexual harassment and abuse continue to be a problem for women in the industry. Women accounted for only 4% in C-suite wine and spirit positions in 2018.

Many women who hold leadership positions in the alcohol industry report that they have had their expertise challenged and mistaken for someone else.

Karen Hoskin, the founder of Montanya Distillers, said that it was tough early on. They wanted me to bring them lunch. I replied, “Are they serious?” I’m going to be your next presentation. “You asked me to make my annual report to your guys.

In my quest to find purpose-driven businesses, I spoke with Hoskin, the founder, and owner of Montanya Distillers. Montanya Distillers has been a Certified B Corporation since 1997 and is also a Certified Plastic Neutral Company. This was part of my research into purpose-driven businesses.

Chris Marquis: Please tell me a bit about your company. Why did you choose to start your distillery?

Karen Hoskin, Founder of a brand-building business in 1998. I spent around ten years building brands. I did web and graphic design. I also designed tradeshow booths and catalogs. Although I loved the work, at one point, I realized, “Gosh! Every project I do, I give away everything.” It’s always someone else who gets it at the end. And that made me feel like I wanted to keep some of my skills and the knowledge I had to build my brand. This was the moment that changed everything.

When I asked what I wanted to do, my answer was, “I want to open a craft distillery in Colorado’s mountains. This was 13-years ago. There were no women in the industry. I can count with three fingers the women I had contact with who were hands-on in distilling any alcohol, and none of them were their owners. I had the pleasure of meeting a few others throughout the country. They were also not owners. I was also in Colorado when nobody woke up and said, “I’m going down to drink rum in Colorado.” That was just before the craft cocktail boom.

The doors opened in November 2008, and within 800 square feet, I had a full-fledged craft bar and tasting room. Silverton, Colorado, had a unique ski area. It focused on backcountry skiing. It attracted a lot of executives from San Francisco as well as New York City. Also, in summers, I would have lots of outdoor seating.

These were my humble beginnings. All of the rum was mine. My first hire was an experienced female distiller who had never made rum before. We would exchange ideas and say, “You distill my bottle.” I will run the tasting room. I’ll make a bottle. You manage the tasting room.” This was more like a two-woman circus. I am now a multi-round venture capitalist. I own 5,800 square feet and have 38 employees. We ship rum all around the world. Last week, seven pallets were shipped over to London.

Marquis: Tell me more about gender equality in the alcohol industry. Why is it essential that you, one of the few women working in the industry on this issue, do so?

I am an enneagram 8, which means that I’m a challenger. I am not the one who will do things and expect people to notice or change paradigms. I’m vocal, outspoken, and focused on storytelling regarding what we do as a company and what I’m involved in as an individual. It’s also what I care about. Since there were few women initially, I was sometimes put in that position, regardless of whether or not I wanted it. It would be something like, “Let’s try to get someone female on this panel. Let’s talk about gender diversity within the distilling industry. Let’s bring her on stage.” I’ve always been open to talking about it. It’s essential to have people willing and able to point out what’s wrong.

Recently, a woman brewer wrote an Instagram post and said, “Hey, does anyone else experience these tough environments in their industry?” This was the moment that thousands upon thousands of women in brewing started telling stories. It’s almost like a hashtag moment. Due to the storytelling, quite a few male brewers were forced to step down.

I’m going to confront these issues now. There is no reason we shouldn’t speak out and let it be known that we’re working together to fix this problem. Let’s make some changes. Let’s make sure our colleagues understand our experiences and then help them train with JEDI (justice. Equity. Diversity. And Inclusion). Let’s have a conversation about it and say it out. Let’s not get too far where companies have to make a lot of excuses.

I was the first woman to give the keynote speech at the American Distilling Institute. Now I don’t have to worry about it as much. They also create committees to tackle these issues. It has been a great decade.

Even within my circles, it was hard at the beginning. I walked into the room with people who had invested $250,000 in my company until that point and thought they were the caterer. They asked me if they wanted lunch. I replied, “Are we serious?” I’m going to your next presentation. You asked me to bring my annual report to you.

Some stories will make your toes curl. My main point is that when I go out to work on a market (let’s say to L.A.), as an owner, I work closely with a distributor to establish a new distributor relationship. A woman traveling alone can’t go to the bar after ten p.m10 p.m. I don’t feel secure, and if I am, it’s not because I enjoy myself. I joke with my friends that “I can only get twice as much done in half of the time because I can’t be out until two a.m.2 a.m. with the bartenders and establish myself as an owner.” It’s incredible how many people and people I love and respect help maintain this supportive environment for women in the industry. So, I have had to tell some difficult things to people I love.

Also, I mentor many women. I mentor three to four women at any given time, all of whom are either starting their distillery, looking for jobs, or coming up in the world of distilling. It’s a great job.

I’m growing. I just completed a significant expansion of my distillery. After 13 years of this, I still haven’t been able to convince any engineer, architect, or inspector that I know what I am talking about and that I have done my homework, and that this is all to code.

Marquis: You recently admitted that you had not achieved your goal to become a zero-waste business by 2020. However, you did make significant progress toward this goal. You made great progress towards the plan, but it was essential to be open and transparent.

Hoskin – My commitment to operating a sustainable company is something I have held since day one. But, about four years ago, my goal was to make the company zero waste by 2020. It wasn’t something I expected to find difficult. It was something I suspected, but I was constantly seeing zero waste businesses. Zero waste restaurants are everywhere I go in San Francisco. I thought it was possible.

The first hurdle I could not get over believed my recycling was going where it claimed. After I had recycled the material, I followed it to see where it was going. I also held our local transfer center accountable for its transparency requirements. I then followed the trail to the next stage, where it reached Grand Junction and loaded onto trucks. I was able to tell you what things were going where and what things weren’t. The unpredictable nature of cardboard was a problem, especially since I manage a bar and restaurant that produces many of it. Plastic was another challenge. Plastic and cardboard were the most difficult to determine if they were going in the same direction as I expected. Aluminum and glass cans worked fine. It didn’t matter if it is taken out of the recycling bin.

It was something I felt like I had to face four years ago. But, I was hoping to find out that I was extra skeptical and that it was more than we imagined. It was not worse than we thought. Because COVID has facilitated some supply chain shifts, I think it’s more beneficial for recycling. It’s becoming more common to recycle things.

The second was that we were using all our compost from both the production and the restaurant sides. We were commercial composting. A local company was our partner. We were thrilled about our relationship. We would get compost to plant all our company gardens in the spring, which was awesome. After that, she closed her door one day. She went on her way and left her infrastructure behind. It’s like holding a basket with tiny octopuses. It’s like having a basket of small octopuses. Then, something jumps out. So, compost jumped out. Recycling jumped out. Then you reach out to try and bring compost back. These backings were not recyclable. After I worked very hard, the label makers stopped using them. So it’s not possible to manage everything.

I was devastated when the composter shut down. We bought a biodigester and are working toward zero-waste solid food and production biowaste. It was a significant hurdle to overcome. It’s amazing. It is like a magician’s box. It turns the waste into fertilizing gray water, which I can legally drain. It’s not considered waste, but I can still use it to fertilize plants and sell them to other people.

The plastic-neutral certificate was our alternative to feeling good regarding plastic recycling. So, we recycle our plastics but don’t trust that there’s no waste. We partnered up with repurpose global. This partnership allows us to support a specific waste management program in India. We focused our attention on the program to reclaim plastic from the natural environment in a place where indiscriminate plastic dumping, a global problem, causes health and environmental problems.

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Samatha Vale
Samatha a senior writer for HC's entertainment team. She is an entreprenuer, mother and an excellent writer. She's also an avid reader, music enthusiast and all around inquisitive person - which is just a nice way of saying she's nosy.

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