The Women Who Run the (Whiskey) World: An Homage to our Favorite Female Powerhouses of the Spirits Industry
Women in whiskey have always been a force to be reckoned with, from famously bold distillers like Helen Cumming and Rita Taketsuru to modern-day powerhouses like Heather Nelson. This Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on some of our favorites.
Female whiskey producers have always made their mark on the industry. Today, women continue to lead the way in producing some of the world’s finest whiskeys. Here’s a toast to the women who run the (whiskey) world.
Victoria Eady Butler, master distiller at Uncle Nearest and director of nonprofit Nearest Green Foundation.
Victoria Eady Butler is the great-great-granddaughter of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the man credited with teaching Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee whiskey.
Butler is now a master blender for Uncle Nearest, the most awarded American bourbon of 2019 and 2020. Uncle Nearest was also featured on Oprah’s coveted Favorite Things List in 2020.
Butler’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery but later freed. He went on to become a master distiller, and his knowledge and expertise were passed down through the generations. Butler is the first known black woman to become a Master Blender, and she is carrying on her family’s legacy of producing high-quality spirits.
Judith Hollis Jones, CEO of Buzzard’s Roost
Judith Hollis Jones is the CEO of Buzzard’s Roost, a successful whiskey distillery in Kentucky. In addition to her business prowess, Hollis Jones is making a name for herself with her focus on flavor and hospitality; things that women are very good at. Her approach to whiskey has earned her a reputation as one of the best in the business.
Despite the fact that she works in a male-dominated industry, Hollis Jones is confident and charismatic, and she is quickly making a name for herself as a leading voice in the world of whiskey.
In honor of International Women’s Day, Hollis Jones had this to say: “It’s very important we support each other. Very important. If we are going to progress, we have to be our strongest supporters.” We couldn’t agree more.
Carin Luna-Ostaseski, founder of SIA Scotch
Simply put, Carin Luna-Ostaseski’s story is awe-inspiring. Not only is she the founder of SIA Scotch, but she is also a foster parent for two sweet kids (plus one biological child!).
When Luna-Ostaseski’s launched her SIA Scotch Whisky project on Kickstarter in 2012, she had one goal in mind: to bring younger consumers to the beautiful spirit.
With almost $50,000 raised, she was off to a good start, but she was also up against some big obstacles. Not only was she one of the few female founders in the whisky industry, but she was also one of the first Hispanic entrepreneurs to ever build a scotch whisky brand.
Shaylyn Gammon, Blue Run Spirits’ whiskey director
Shaylyn Gammon has a background and a story in the whiskey industry that speaks for itself. She created Russell’s Reserve 13-Year-Old Bourbon, which was named Best American Whiskey of 2021 by Fred Minnick. The best part of the story? She was pregnant and didn’t sample a single barrel.
Gammon comes from Campari, where she worked on Wild Turkey, in particular the Master’s Keep, Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve and Longbranch lines. She is now the first Whiskey Director for Blue Run Spirits, a highly regarded up-and-coming brand.
Amanda Victoria, co-founder of Siponey Drinks
Amanda Victoria is on a mission to save the environment, one canned whiskey cocktail at a time.
Co-founder of Siponey, a family-run operation that is shaking up the canned drinks industry with its sustainable, high-quality ready-to-drink cocktails.
Siponey is quickly making a name for itself in the industry. Its unique method of using clean ingredients and minimizing its shipping footprint has earned the company two Gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
However, The shining star of Siponey cocktails is the honey. Amanda and her partner, Joseph Mintz’s devotion to bees and how helping them is the first step in saving the environment is inspirational.
Founder Jill Kuehler and Master Distiller Molly Troupe of Freeland Spirits
When it comes to success, Freeland’s sights are set high. Not content with conquering the spirits world domestically and (one day) internationally, co-founder Sarah Kuehler also wants to help other women-led businesses get off the ground and get noticed. It’s a cause close to her heart, as she knows from personal experience how difficult it can be to overcome the early obstacles.
“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.”
Fortunately, Freeland has surmounted those challenges, by creating Freeland Free Spirits program that celebrates female-identifying, transgender, and gender-nonconforming Oregonians who are busting through the glass ceilings.
Renee Bemis, founder of Driftless Glen
Renee Bemis is the heart and soul of Driftless Glen distillery. She has an indescribable energy that is contagious, and it’s clear that she loves what she does.
Renee and her husband are co-owners and founders of the brand, and they share a passion for creating a unique and unforgettable experience for their patrons. In just fifteen minutes, I felt like I was part of the Driftless family. Renee is a driving force behind the success of the business, and I can see why people are drawn to her. She is warm, genuine, and fun, and she clearly cares about her guests.
Julia Ritz Toffoli, founder of Women Who Whiskey
Julia Ritz Toffoli is the founder of Women Who Whiskey, an experimental whiskey club for women.
Since its inception in 2011, Women Who Whiskey has become a global phenomenon, with chapters popping up all over the world. I was curious to find out more about Julia’s story and how she came to be such a respected voice in the whiskey community.
Rachel Svoboda, founder of Lynxx Spirits
Sipping on a glass of bourbon has long been seen as a man’s pastime. However, Lynxx Spirits is out to change that. The California-Based distillery has released a bourbon specifically designed for women. Founded by Rachel Svoboda, this California-based distillery has released a bourbon with female empowerment in mind.
This bourbon was made for women, by women, with women’s taste preferences in mind and the brand used exclusively female testers were also used as the primary audience for feedback.
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