Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Pink Bench Distilling is a business on a mission. Started by wildlife biologist Kristina Boyd and rural development specialist Shawna Kelsey, this social enterprise is innovating to address three of rural Montana’s most persistent concerns: conflict with bears over backyard fruit trees; creation of jobs on local farms and forests; and inclusive community development around innovative growth.
Pink Bench Distilling is currently raising via investment crowdfunding, with the goal to open in spring 2023. (Learn more about how you can invest here!)
This purpose-driven distillery crafts small-batch spirits with ingredients sourced from the farms and forests surrounding Troy, Montana. Pink Bench Distilling’s brandies will use the overabundance of local fruit that attracts bears to people’s backyards, and its gins and liqueurs will use specialty crops and local forest botanicals, creating growth opportunities for small local farms, flexible jobs working in the woods, and economic incentive to conserve the many habitats where wild things grow.
In this conversation, The Kassan Group founder Jenny Kassan chats with Kristina about how Pink Bench Distilling is doing work to drive the development of an inclusive, regenerative economy.
Jenny Kassan: Collaboration, knowledge-sharing, innovation, and cross-fertilization are essential components of the regenerative economy. How has Pink Bench Distilling built its network and enlisted the support of mentors and investors to succeed?
Kris Boyd: We have used literally every entrepreneurial resource in Montana to start this business, so we truly understand and value the business mentorship ecosystem in Montana. From the beginning of our journey, we reached out to other distillers for advice. Many took the time to have great conversations with us, and a couple have even brought us in to learn the ropes behind the scenes — in particular, Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits and Headframe Spirits. Other organizations in our business network include The Small Business Administration, Small Business Development Center, Accelerate Montana, University of Montana, Prospera Business Network, Center for Community Ownership, Crowdfund Montana, and The Kassan Group.
We’re also focused on sustainable wildcrafting, local agriculture, and wildlife management. So our network of mentors broadens to encompass people from organizations like AERO Montana, USDA Rural Development, USDA Forest Service, local Tribes, the Native Plant Society, Montana Wildlife Society, and Montana Wildlife Federation.
These partners have given us constructive feedback, worked with us on business development, and connected us with others who value our business for its character. And, of course, we have many other people who are enthusiastic about investing in our business because they know our character, are inspired by our vision and are vocal cheerleaders for us. We see the act of investing as a huge show of support in itself – people don’t put their hard-earned money to work just anywhere. And our investors are going to help us bring more people onto our team to keep all the lines connected as our network grows.
JK: How do you encourage and empower your constituents — investors, policymakers, customers — to move our world toward a regenerative economy by taking action that contributes to the greater good?
KB: Prior to launching Pink Bench Distilling, Shawna and I both worked for many years in the public and non-profit sectors on solutions to the issues our business focuses on. We have a good sense of where the strengths and weaknesses of those sectors lie, and how our business can bridge those weaknesses and bolster those strengths.
This business is just starting out – but we aren’t. Entering the arena with a mind and mission toward doing the best we can for our ecosystem, our communities, and our business helps us from day one. We can plan and build our business systems on our extensive knowledge and values, rather than retrofit them in hindsight. For investors who are in the market for social change, we are there (along with so many others) to show them there are businesses custom-built for a regenerative economy by master crafters of mission-based work, and we need their support to more deeply integrate.
We have seen how our business can also motivate policymakers. Most people in the policy sphere gravitate there specifically because they want to create change for the better. The people we have worked with have been genuinely delighted to learn about our business and listen to how we are building it, what roadblocks we are encountering, and work with us to break through to them. People have voiced to us their inspiration and satisfaction when they have helped facilitate change within their policy role.
Customers are similar – people try the best they can to do good under the constraints of their lives. And it feels good to be able to make a choice that fulfills a purchasing need and also contributes to solving larger economic, social, and environmental issues. As consumers ourselves, it is inspiring to have a growing world of choices we can make that support a regenerative economy. And as business owners, it’s exciting to think that we will be one of those choices available to others.
JK: How do you see the practices and core values of Pink Bench Distilling as distinct from the “business as usual” status quo? What do you do to resist the pressure to “fit in” to the old economy paradigms?
KB: The business of distilling was born as a local enterprise. It truly is an art form to turn grains and fruits that would otherwise rot into a calorie-dense, storable form of food that is a pleasure to experience. The distilling industry lost this local artisanry in the U.S. with prohibition and its aftermath, when large industrial distilling became the business model. The paradigm in this industry was, and still is, the production of low-to-moderate-quality alcohol for mass consumption. The legalization of craft distilling has done a lot to bring the artisanry of distilling back. This has also allowed small businesses like ours to use the craft to solve local problems – in our case, those are fruit trees attracting bears into people’s backyards, a growing disconnect with the diversity of life in our forests, and a lack of economic diversity in our region. In order to tell the story of why we’re building our business and why it will be so successful, we have to talk about our values. This, too, was a big no-no in the old economic paradigm and still is among many in our rural area of Montana.
In our business partnership, we have a lot of long conversations that may start out with a simple business problem but end up revolving around our experiences, our values, and how we stay true to them and express them. To be clear, we do arrive at a solution – and it’s the right solution for us. It really is this supportive partnership that helps us to keep moving the boundaries of the status quo and pushing for change that will benefit our human and wild communities, and our business.
JK: What are three habits you use to stay focused, healthy, and ready to take on the world?
KB: While Shawna and I obviously have a love for good alcohol, we don’t drink on a daily basis. We’re both very focused on giving our bodies good food, plenty of water, and enough rest. And we are both extremely attached to our checklists, for both personal and business organization. It not only keeps us on task, but it’s a great endorphin rush every time you get to check something off! All that said, we’re actually quite different people. Practicing an appreciation of the beauty and potential in every person’s individuality benefits the business and our own lives.
About Kristina Boyd
Kristina Boyd provides Pink Bench Distilling financial planning, scientific, technological, and logistical expertise. She conducts market and product development, maintains written communications, and interacts with local natural resource agents and wildcrafters. Kristina was born and raised in Los Angeles. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Humboldt State University with an M.S. in Natural Resource Management. She has 23 years of experience working in all aspects of natural resource research and management, from repairing broken-down field trucks to building complex databases.
About Shawna Kelsey
Shawna Kelsey provides Pink Bench Distilling with business planning, networking, and marketing expertise. She conducts market and regulatory research, fulfills operations estimates and purchasing, and maintains the face of the organization with local government officials and business owners. Shawna was born and raised in Troy. She worked as a carpenter through high school and during summers in college. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Montana with a B.A. in Anthropology, minoring in International Development. She has 15 years of experience working with local and regional businesses, governments, and schools on community development projects.
About Pink Bench Distilling
Pink Bench Distilling crafts small-batch spirits with ingredients from the farms and forests of far northwest Montana. Like those who have relied on these lands for generations, Pink Bench Distilling relies on the health of our ecosystem, and its mission is to offer products that embody, honor, and champion far northwest Montana’s lush natural heritage and intrepid people. Brandies will use the overabundance of local fruit that attracts bears to people’s backyards. Gins and liqueurs will use many specialty crops and local forest botanicals. And Pink Bench Distilling will create growth opportunities for small farms, flexible jobs working in the woods, and economic incentive to conserve the many habitats where wild things grow.