story by The Bourbon Guys contributor Maggie Kimberl
The bourbon industry has long been thought to be a boys’ club. For years it was run seemingly by men and only men, and men were thought to be the primary consumers of the spirit. But the more I’ve learned about the bourbon industry, the more I’ve come to realize that women have played a critical part not only as consumers, but also as distillers, tasters, and marketers.
I met Fred Minnick , author of Whiskey Women , a few months ago. He began telling me stories of women who had been distilling spirits since the beginning of recorded history, including women who worked in the bourbon industry without recognition. I’m reading his book right now, and I’m learning volumes about women’s contributions to America’s Native Spirit. I especially love the story of Maggie Bailey of Harlan County, Kentucky, perhaps the largest bootlegger of her time: “Federal agents even admitted it was nearly impossible to bring a case against Maggie, mostly because everybody loved her. She cooked green beans and cornbread for any stranger and gave money to the poor. Maggie genuinely cared about everybody’s well-being.” This book is a must-read for anyone who thinks women are new to bourbon and whiskey.
Maker’s Mark , perhaps one of the most recognizable names in bourbon, is well-known for its trademark red wax seal on each bottle. The story of how this came to be is the stuff of bourbon legend. The branding and marketing for Maker’s Mark were the brainchild of Margie Samuels, who was every bit as responsible for the success of the brand as was her husband Bill.
Many bourbon drinkers stigmatize the mixing of bourbon into cocktails, instead preferring their bourbon straight up or on the rocks. Fred Noe, Master Distiller of Jim Beam and one of the best storytellers in the industry, recently told The Bourbon Classic Media Camp the story of how his mother likes to mix her bourbon with ginger ale. He said, “Mama mixed her bourbon with ginger ale and I never saw my dad give her shit about it.” Apparently Booker Noe was not in the stigmatizing camp, telling people instead, “Drink it any damn way you want to.” While I personally prefer my bourbon on the rocks, many of the women I know prefer it in a cocktail, and I do enjoy the occasional bourbon and ginger in the summertime.
Thankfully women are starting to band together over bourbon. The Bourbon Women host events all over the country now after getting their start at an event at the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion in 2011. They will host a flapper-themed speakeasy at The Evan Williams Experience in March, as well as several other events throughout the year.
This is just a small sampling of women’s contributions to the rising popularity of bourbon. If you know of bourbon events, tweet The Bourbon Guys @thebourbonguys and let them know.
Photos courtesty of Maggie Kimberl and www.fredminnick.com