‘We Want World Domination for Spirits’: Meet the Craft Distillery Founded By, Run By and Dedicated to Women
When Jill Kuehler founded Freeland Spirits, she named it for the last name of her Meemaw — a strong and independent woman who taught her the importance of doing things from scratch.
For Kuehler, that means celebrating all the Northwest has to offer, with a particular focus on women in the craft. With a career rooted in agriculture, Jill decided to start a distillery after being inspired by, well, drinking!
But more than that, Kuehler wanted a company that celebrated all women. From the gals who grow the grain to those who run the still, Freeland is creating spirits that celebrate female empowerment and community.
Kuehler said growing up in the garden with Meemaw was a huge inspiration: “I fell in love with being in the dirt, gardening and being connected to your food source. That inspired a lot of my career. Meemaw was also a very generous person, and that inspired me to join the Peace Corps in Guatemala for two years.”
You might assume Kuehler and Freeland Spirits master distiller Molly Troupe — two women from Oregon with a passion for whiskey — had known each other a long time. But funnily enough, Kuehler hadn’t heard of Troupe until a night spent with her whiskey-drinking buddy, Cory, a cattle rancher who now supplies Freeland’s Grain.
“I heard of the mythical creature, Molly, out in Bend, Oregon,” Kuehler said. “So, after I had that the fateful whiskey-drinking night with Cory, I got excited about highlighting women in all these fields, like how many female ranchers do you know? And obviously, not a lot of female distillers. So, I knew there were only a handful of them in the world. But a friend of mine knew of Molly, and so I was like, ‘Well, that’s a quick drive,’ and just went out there and pretty much drove her back to Portland.”
Today, Freeland Spirits can make its fresh gin and bourbon thanks to its master distiller, Troupe, who has a background in biochemistry and a Master’s Degree in Distillation from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. Not to mention that Molly is the youngest woman to have earned a master’s degree in distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.
“I was going to school for chemistry with an emphasis on forensics. My plan had been to go into forensic anthropology, and it was my junior year or so where I really just discovered that I did not like that part of chemistry.” Troupe said.
“So, I did some thinking and drinking, as you do in your undergrad. I had this epiphany that I could make this. I looked into how to do it. And I ended up finding a school in Scotland that was a Master’s Degree in Brewing and Distilling. I got to go to Scotland for a year and learn how to make whisky from the Scots and I fell in love with basically all spirits at that point, came back to Oregon where I was born and raised and put that to good use.”
Not Your Average Liquor Bottle
When choosing the bottle design, wanted something that would speak to consumers: “If I can’t be in the liquor store telling the story of Freeland for us, how does the bottle embody everything that we represent? How does it tell the story for us?”
Freeland worked with a New York designer to create the logo and bottle shape. The logo pays homage to Meemaw, with the image of a woman holding up a stock of grain, and the bottle’s striking raindrop shape is a nod to the Pacific Northwest.
“It is the raindrop of the Pacific Northwest,” Kuehler said. “It’s such a burden to place since we grow so much here. So, it is in honor to the Willamette Valley of the Northwest.”
The Future of Freeland
Freeland’s sights are set on success spirits world, domestically and internationally, but also in helping other women-led businesses get off the ground and get noticed, as Kuehler mentioned that was a difficult obstacle to overcome in the early days of the distillery.
Kuehler said raising capital was a challenge early.
“This is not just a distilling industry problem,” she said. “Less than 5% of small business loans go to women; less than 3% of venture capital money goes to women. When you’ve got a very capital-intensive venture, like a distillery, there’s a ton of challenges.”
Molly echoed a similar sentiment when asked about the obstacles she faced getting started in her career and with Freeland Spirits.
“There’s certain circumstances where you find yourself in and people assume you’re not serious about this. No, we’re serious.” Molly continues. “We want world domination for spirits. We’re not only really serious about what we do; we are experts in our fields. We really want to see this pull through and see what this can do for other women in our industry, as well.”
In speaking with Molly and Jill, and thinking about the huge impact that Meemaw has had not only on the spirits world but in the name of female empowerment, one particular quote came to mind that seems to embody Freeland Spirits and its mission: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” -Unknown.
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