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.
Though countless women contribute to the vibrant local, national and international distilling industry, for International Women’s Day each year we give a nod to some of the trailblazers in top production, management and ownership positions at distilleries.
For a fresh perspective on the hidden history of women in spirits and cocktail, we highly recommend the recently released book Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara.
In Kentucky, after 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 assistant master distiller, at Old Forester Jackie Zykan is master taster, at Maker’s Mark Jane Bowie is master of maturation, and at Bulleit, Eboni Major is the master blender.
Allisa Henley is distiller and general manager at Sazerac, which makes Sazerac Rye, Buffalo Trace and many other bourbons, including the infamous Van Winkle. Willett Distillery, family-owned for nearly a century, now has the founder’s great-granddaughter Britt Kulsveen as president and “Chief Whiskey Officer.” And Brittany Merrill-Yeng founded Skrewball, a peanut-butter whiskey.
In Tennessee, master distiller Nicole Austin is shaking up the nearly 150-year-old George Dickel whiskey brand and Lexie Phillips is the first woman assistant distiller at Jack Daniel’s. Fawn Weaver is the CEO of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey (named for the first known African American master distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Greene, who reportedly taught Jack Daniels), where Greene descendent Victoria Eady Butler is master blender.
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. Alex Thomas, who recently succeeded Mulholland at Bushmills, also created The Sexton Irish Single Malt there. 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 Phillips.
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. Polly Logan is The Macallan‘s whisky maker, working under master whisky maker Kirsteen Campbell. At Diageo, which owns Johnnie Walker and more, Emma Walker is the master blender and Maureen Robinson is the master blender for its single malts (including Lagavulin and Talisker) and blends (like J&B) as well as special releases.
Entrepreneur Heather Nelson is working towards opening Toulvaddie, the first Scotch distillery founded by a woman in almost 200 years, on the Fearn and Tarbart peninsula.
At Bombay Sapphire, master distiller Anne Brock ensures that what’s insider every blue-tinted bottle tastes the same. Leslie Gracie is the master distiller at Hendrick’s, where Peggy Hendricks is a co-owner, as part of the brand’s founding family. The queen of UK gin might just be Joanne Moore, who has created Bloom, Greenall’s, Opihr and more. Glenrinnes Distillery in Scotland’s Speyside is now the home of Eight Lands Gin, where Canadian Meeghan Murdoch is head of distilling and operations). Kirsty Black is master distiller at Scottish distillery Arbikie, makers of the word’s first climate-positive gin.
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. Delphine Gardère, a fifth-generation member of the family that founded Rhum Barbancourt rum in Haiti, is now the owner and CEO. And Karen Hoskin is the founder of Montanya Rum, made in Colorado.
Maestra tequilera (Master of Tequila) Ana Maria Romero Mena created the new Volcan brand and Mara Smith is the founder of Inspiro tequila. At La Gritona, Melly Barajas is the master distiller and head of an all-female production team.
And at Herradura, where Maria Teresa Lara was the first female tequila master distiller, Karinna Enriquez Hurtado is the master taster at the historic distillery. Prospero, the Rita Ora-owned tequila brand, was created by master distiller Stella Anguiano.
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.
Melanie and Lizzie Asher founded Macchu Pisco more than a decade ago, helping put the Peruvian grape brandy on the map.
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. Truth North in Qualicum Beach calls itself B.C.’s first female owned and operated craft distillery and Jessica Schacht has been key to the development of award-winning products at Ampersand Distilling. Distillers like Jill Rutherford at Fernie Distillers and Shelly Heppner at Parksville’s Bespoke Spirit House, Sherry Jiang at Dragon Mist, Erica Macasso at Wiseacre Farm Distillery, Rebecca Crowley at Roots and Wings and Laura Carbonell at Wayward are just a few more of the women making B.C. spirits taste great.
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.
In Alberta, Eau Claire, The Fort and Rig Hand Distilleries all have women distillers, as does Outlaw Trail Spirits in Saskatchewan, plus Mill Street, Beattie’s, Laneway, Black’s, King’s Lock, Kavi Reserve, Rheault, Silver Fox and Kinsip in Ontario. In Nova Scotia, Ironworks, Compass, Halifax Distilling Co. and Raging Crow also have women distillers, as does Montreal’s Cirka.
—by Charlene Rooke