If the spirit moves you

Celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 by buying or drinking a woman-made spirit, such as these global brands that have women master blenders, distillers and more.

At Ron Zapaca in Guatemala, master blender Lorena Vasquez is credited for pioneering the a “solera” aging method in rum. Photo courtesy of Ron Zacapa

American whisky

Down in Tullahoma, Tennessee, master distiller Nicole Austin is shaking up the nearly 150-year-old George Dickel whiskey brand. One state north in Kentucky, although legendary Michter’s master distiller Pamela Heilmann retired in 2019, she passed the torch to master of maturation Andrea Wilson. At Woodford Reserve, Elizabeth McCall is the assistant master distiller, at Old Forester Jackie Zykan is master taster and Eboni Major is the master blender at Bulleit.

Irish and Welsh whiskey

At Bushmills, master blender Helen Mulholland was the first woman ever inducted into Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2018. At Midleton Distillery, where many beloved Irish whiskies are made (including Jameson and Powers), Katherine Condon was appointed distiller last year. Over in Wales, it’s an all-women distilling team at Penderyn, including distillery manager Laura Davies and blender Aista Jukneviciute.

First-year coopering apprentices Angela Cochrane and Kirsty Olychick – recruited by leading Scotch distiller Diageo at its Cambus Cooperage in Clackmannanshire – are breaking down the gender barriers and blazing a pioneering trail in the once male dominated trade. Photo courtesy of Diageo

Scotch

Dewar’s master blender Stephanie Macleod made history as the first woman to win Master Blender of the Year in 2019. Gillian Macdonald has a dream job at Glenmorangie, as head of whisky creation for both that brand and Ardbeg. Legendary 30-year master blender Rachel Barrie is the palate behind GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh releases. And Cutty Sark and The Famous Grouse blending recipes are known only to a handful of people, including master blender Kirstine Campbell. And a hard-earned shout out to Angela Cochrane and Canadian Kirsty Olychick, who became the first female apprentice coopers (barrel makers) ever at the Cambus Cooperage, owned by spirits giant Diageo. Diageo owns Talisker, Lagavulin and Johnnie Walker, where Emma Walker is the master blender; Maureen Robinson is the master blender for Diageo’s single malt and blended whiskies.

 

Gin

At Bombay Sapphire, master distiller Anne Brock ensures that what’s insider every blue-tinted bottle tastes the same. Hendrick’s master distiller Leslie Gracie created not only the original Scottish rose-and-cucumber gin, but recent editions like Midsummer Solstice, Lunar and Orbium. The queen of UK gin might just be Joanne Moore, who has created Bloom, Greenall’s, Opihr and more.

 

Rum

Mount Gay in Barbados, the world’s oldest rum distillery, has a woman master blender at the helm: Trudiann Blanker. But the best-known woman in rum is Jamaica’s Joy Spence; the visitor centre at Appleton, plus a Joy Anniversary Blend bottling, are named for the master blender legend. In Guatemala at Ron Zacapa, master blender Lorena Vasquez is credited for pioneering the a “solera” aging method in rum. In the Dominican Republic, Jassil Villanueva Quintana is a fifth-generation Brugal family member and the youngest woman maestra ronera (Master of Rum) in the industry.

 

Tequila

Maestra tequilera (Master of Tequila) Ana Maria Romero Mena created the new Volcan brand.

And at Herradura, Karinna Enriquez Hurtado is the master taster at the historic distillery. Prospero, the Rita Ora-owned tequila brand not yet available in B.C., was created by master distiller Stella Anguiano.

 

Brandy

Rémy-Martin’s first and only female cellar master, Pierette Trichet, retired in 2013; however the current master blender of the Saint Remy brand is Cécile Roudaut. Also at Rémy-Cointreau, Carole Quinton is the master distiller of the orange elixir Cointreau.

 

Shelly Heppner, founder and distiller of Bespoke Spirit House in Parksville. Photo by Dayman-Langen Photography

B.C. Craft Spirits

At almost any B.C. craft distillery you can think of, there are women behind the scenes or at the front of house. A few of them are distillers: last year we wrote about Jill Rutherford at Fernie Distillers and Shelly Heppner at Parksville’s Bespoke Spirit House, who in addition to Sherry Jiang at Dragon Mist, Sonia Young at 101 Brewhouse & Distillery, Erica Macasso at Wiseacre Farm Distillery and Laura Carbonell at Wayward are just a few of the women making B.C. spirits taste great.

 

Canadian Spirits

At the largest-capacity distillery in North America, Hiram Walker & Sons in Windsor (which makes Wiser’s, Lot 40, Pike Creek and other Canadian whiskies), the distiller is Amy Levesque.

If you happen to be in southern Alberta, find a bottle of Alberta’s first single malt, made at Eau Claire Distillery by Caitlin Quinn. In Ontario, Mill Street, Beattie’s, Page 21Laneway, Black’s, King’s Lock and Kinsip are a few distilleries with women helping run the stills; in Nova Scotia, Ironworks, Compass and Raging Crow also have women distillers, as does Montreal’s Cirka.

—by Charlene Rooke

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