Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

With apologies to Humphrey Bogart, of course, I have to say that of all the rum joints in all the towns in all the world … the Montanya Distillery in Silverton, Colo., has to be the most engaging.

It may be the scene: a dilapidated but renovated 1870s brothel on a back street of an old mining town-turned-tourist trap at the base of 13,000-foot Kendall Mountain. It could be the crowd: a mix of locals and, in the summer, the aforementioned tourists who arrive daily on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. And in the winter, urban adventurists who come to ski the steeps at Silverton Mountain Resort.

But personally, I think it is the cocktails. They’re made with rum, love and the purest, freshest ingredients found at the top of the Rockies, by a cadre of mixologists with a passion for both classic cocktails and newly created concoctions.

All of the above is just lagniappe (as they say in New Orleans), a little something extra that is a part of, and an enhancement for, Montanya’s real purpose, which is the crafting of world-class rum. Walk into Montanya and the first thing you see is “Bella,” a Portuguese Alembic Copper Pot Still that is the heart and soul of the rum distillery. For visitors, Montanya may be the worlds highest “Tasting Room”, but it is really a working distillery, the place where up to 12,000 bottles of rum will be bottled this year.

Montanya Distillers is the product of a day at the beach.

Silverton residents Karen and Bryce Hoskins were in Belize three or so years ago, pretty far into a tropical cocktail, when the gift of inspiration struck them like a bolt from the sky. “Let’s make rum!” they cried in unison, or so the legend goes.

To be fair, the pair have been rum aficionados for 20 years or so, and have traveled the tropics in search of fine, sweet rum. On this trip they learned that Ron Zacapa, a rum from Guatemala that is known for its smooth, round finish, actually stores its barrels in the mountains of Guatemala, At 2,500 feet, the barrels, they believe, are affected by changes in pressure and temperature that alter the nature of the wood and, hence, the taste of the rum.

“We have mountains,” they thought, and an “aha” moment ensued. They returned to Silverton and began to research what they needed to accomplish for what may seem to be a pretty strange idea. After all, rum comes from the tropics, where it has been made for centuries from sugar cane, a product not readily found in one of the snowiest towns in the Colorado Rockies.

But with a little perseverance, something that evidently comes naturally to the pair (both are graduates of little Ivy, Williams College; they also run Mountain Boy Sledworks, another Silverton startup), they decided to source sugar from Hawaii, combine it in the still with the purest water from the Rockies and age it in Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey barrels to make Montanya Rum.

The efforts paid off and today Montanya is on the cusp of becoming a hot brand amongst the cocktail cognoscenti. In May the Platino, their silver Rum (they also make a golden-tinged rum they call, what else? Oro.) won a prestigious honor at the Miami Rum Renaissance. There they beat out a number of rums from more, how shall we say it, rum-centric places, to win the Best in Class for light rums. They are now selling the Platino and the Oro throughout New England, and in Illinois, Colorado and California.

The goal is slow, controlled growth with an emphasis on quality control. The pair admires New Belgium Brewing and look to their tempered and sustainable model as an example of how to do things properly.

In the meantime, I highly recommend a drive past Ouray down the Million Dollar Highway over Red Mountain Pass, for a rum cocktail or two at the Tasting Room. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the cocktails are fresh and fabulous at this time of year. Recently we enjoyed Peach Mojitos with Palisade peaches, mint from a neighbor’s high-mountain garden (she actually delivered the mint in a big bag as we sat at a table), Silverton Seltzer and Platino Silver. They were sublime. It was just one of a dozen or so rum drinks on the ever-changing list.

And at $6 a cocktail it is the best fine-drink deal in America. At any altitude.