Because we care about a healthy distilling industry, especially during these times, we love to celebrate the increasing presence of more women as owners, managers, and marketers.
Besides the obvious gains in equality, the results repeatedly show larger economic improvements and a larger spectrum of skill sets for all. To celebrate all women in the industry, I asked a broad selection of these leaders to present a significant concept or topic of interest to them.
Let’s start with Ashby Marshall, Co-Founder and Brand Manager of Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, California. “In crazy times like these, I try to find time to reflect on what is really important and keeps me going each day. It turns out that fostering an integrated and passionate team here at the distillery, who have been able to pivot with us recently, has been totally invaluable and equally fulfilling. I also see that maintaining our grain to glass philosophy has created a path for us to continually produce award-winning spirits, stay connected to the community and farmers, be recognized as pioneers in the industry and gives me the personal satisfaction of working with my hands and sharing that with people every day.
“Another very important issue to me these days is simply keeping this small business running successfully among all the closures we (and our industry as a whole) have been forced into by the hand of COVID and recent fires. One of the most impactful ways for consumers to support craft distillers moving forward is by purchasing directly from the distilleries themselves. Normally, distilleries cannot ship spirits directly to consumers due to antiquated tied-house laws leftover from prohibition. But in 2020, states like ours in CA, have created a dispensation that allows us to ship spirits directly to consumers. We have seen this uptick in business alleviate a small part of the strain from our unopen tasting room and nominal wholesale market. As part of the California Distiller’s Guild, we are trying to get those original laws changed and for these dispensations to remain permanent. If you want to help, please reach out to your local representatives and tell them to allow DTC sales to continue for craft distilleries in your area.
The value of a shared community was brought up by Maggie Campbell, president and Head Distiller for Privateer Rums in Ipswich, Massachusetts. “The rum community is deeply cooperative and supportive, despite being so broad. I find top pros in the industry seem to be working hard to network with each other, to share and to learn, especially powerful women and women of color are very giving of their time and encouragement. There is a sense to togetherness across the Americas. In Continental North America there are many strong women living this supportive attitude as well.
“Here in Continental North America, we need to grow and nurture this global community and get to know other’s spirits, especially in rum. We often don’t stop to learn and care about the cultures that birthed and grew this spirit as we should. I’m excited to see an increased respect across the board for those cultures, and we need to do more to help educate everyone out there.”
Rebecca Harris is the Co-Founder, president and Chief Distiller of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Purcellville, Virginia. Becky loves the interaction with current and potential customers. “I was a newcomer to sipping whisky when we started Catoctin Creek ten years ago. For that reason, I really gravitate toward talking to people who are just starting to explore the world of whisk(e)y. I believe that the secret to introducing people is previewing the sensations they can expect when sipping a neat spirit, coupled with affirming their flavor impressions. I will talk about what I taste and ask them what they taste – each person’s palate and life experiences are unique, and these all lead into perception of scent and flavor. Women, especially, have sensitive palates, and often have been led to believe that they should like certain kinds of whiskey based on ratings, or opinions of friends and family. I love to free them from feeling like they need to conform in that way, and encourage them to keep exploring, as that is really when you find the flavors that resonate with you as an individual.”
Jaime Windon, the CEO and Founder of Lyon Rum and Windon Distilling Company in Saint Michael, Maryland embraces the sense of community often shared among artisan distillers. “The thing I love most about distilling rum is having the opportunity to share it with others. While there’s no separating the function of alcohol (and its desired effects) from the product that we ultimately create, this intoxicating liquid is equally — if not more — prized for the experience of savoring a truly singular spirit.
“From the beginning I knew it was critical that we offer only the most remarkable rums — unapologetically bold flavors & recipes inspired by the places, people and memories that are meaningful to us. At Lyon, rum is liquid love — our love for our craft, and our love for the people who consume it — and we are generous with this RUM LOVE, as I call it.
“Here, we thrive on high energy, good vibes, and the satisfaction of making strong connections. I excel at getting people excited, explaining our process, and offering them a taste unlike anything they’ve had before. The ability and the desire to enlighten and entertain, to entice and empower, is key to who I am, and I am proud to have developed our company culture around a deep love and commitment to genuine hospitality. I love my rum distillery for many reasons: I am in awe of the spirit we make, starting each time with raw American sugar cane Louisiana; I am thankful for my incredibly tiny, diligent crew that does it all by hand; and I am proud of our relentless hustle and thrilled that we can spread joy and inspire RUM LOVE in everyone we encounter.”
I also reached out to an old friend, Lindsey Kops Mundy. Lindsey is National Brand Director & Partner at Hemingway Rum Company and the Founder of Free Pour Marketing. “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” said Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the spirit industry is no exception. When I hear of Master Blenders, Distillers, Sommeliers, Restauranteurs, and Business Execs being female, I do a little happy dance. Seeing these fearless, badass and incredibly intelligent women rising in the ranks and being able to not only have a seat at the table, but to be leading the conversation, it’s truly inspiring to our current generation and the ones to follow.
“When I began my career in spirits sales and marketing in the early 2000s, I recall looking out into a sea of distributor meetings and almost every single person staring back at me was male. I personally liked the challenge of educating these gentlemen that females within the spirit industry absolutely should be standing on that stage presenting brands, sharing trade practices, and unveiling national programming. But nonetheless, it was incredibly skewed, and the industry was missing something special. Now when I have the same opportunity to launch Papa’s Pilar rum at these meetings and events, they are peppered with female faces, representing various professional levels. I recall one of the more recent meetings after I presented, a young lady approached me and re-introduced herself as one of my promotional models from years ago, now doing quite well for herself in a key market. And while we still have in-roads to make, this was quite the ‘aha’ moment for me; I feel a great sense of pride and am extremely encouraged for what’s to come.
“We are all privileged to be a part of an industry that is brimming with innovation and creativity and I cannot help but think that us females absolutely could – and should – be leading that charge.”
To offer observations on where things still need to go, I relied on Karen Hoskins, MS, Owner & Founder of Montanya Rum in Crested Butte, Colorado. “I recently read that women still own only about 1% of Craft Distilleries in the US, which I admit made me concerned that the efforts I’ve been involved with for the past decade have yielded no results. However, when you are trying to steer a ship this large that has been on the wrong course for decades, it takes so much time. In this competitive industry, many of us do not have that kind of time.
“We have a lot of work to do to change the decision-making structures at venture capital companies, banks, and angel investment firms to help them to recognize women as worthy recipients of investment dollars. It strikes me that no matter how much excellent spirit we distill as women in the industry, and in spite of how many distinctions we earn, we are still facing difficulties adequately funding our companies and finding positions in distillery leadership.”
This was an important article for me to write, as I have been blessed throughout my personal and professional life with numbers of strong women to admire and be taught by them. It quickly became evident while writing that there is lots to celebrate, lots to still achieve, and so many more accomplished women’s’ voices out there to hear. If we are smart, we will listen and support.