Though bourbon often is portrayed as a “man’s drink” and the creation of the industry has been credited to men, women have long played a role in the distilling, marketing and consumption of America’s native spirit.

A female alchemist is credited with the fourth-century construction of an early distilling apparatus that is still used in some parts of Europe, according to Fred Minnick, a Kentucky journalist and author of “Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey.” His book details 800 years of the history of women in bourbon, including the role of women in ending Prohibition, the first female CEOs of distilleries, and the women who helped shape not only the taste of bourbon but the way it is packaged and marketed.

For example, Marjorie Samuels, wife of Maker’s Mark founder Bill Samuels, created the iconic red wax design of their bourbon bottles. She pushed back against those who thought it wouldn’t work on a larger scale and she won.

Now, more than ever before, women are stepping into leadership roles at distilleries across Kentucky and the nation, challenging the perception that bourbon is a “man’s industry.”

In partnership with Bourbon Women Association, The Bourbon Flight is highlighting some of the women who have made a name for themselves in bourbon. This first installment of our Top Women in Bourbon series looks at the impact women are having on the distilled spirit itself as well as the industry.

A quick review of Kentucky’s major distilleries in Kentucky reveals dozens of women who are excellent examples of bourbon leaders. We asked a handful of them to share their bourbon story.

Peggy Noe Stevens, Author and marketing professional, Bourbon Women Association

Peggy Noe Stevens

Peggy Noe Stevens, the founder of the Bourbon Women Association, has worked behind the scenes in the bourbon industry for more than 30 years. She worked at Brown-Forman, Woodford Reserve, and others before starting her own marketing firm in 2008. In the 1990s, alongside two other women in the industry, Stevens helped the Kentucky Distillers’ Association create the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

A native of Louisville, Stevens is a whiskey reviewer, speaker, author, spirits judge and creator of over 36 brand destinations. In 2019, she was inducted into the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Hall of Fame. Stevens is also a member of the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame.

Title/company:

President and founder of Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates (PNSA), a marketing company that focuses on spirited destination and experiential marketing to consumers.

How long at company/position:

In 2008, I departed corporate life to follow the stir of entrepreneurship and began my own company. Since then, PNSA has been developing image and experiential brand strategies for companies, including distilleries, wineries, and breweries.

Involvement in the bourbon industry:

I never set out for a bourbon career. It found me and I have followed it as a loyal ambassador. There are several pivotal moments during my career in the industry. While working at Woodford Reserve in the ‘90s, I partnered with two women [at competitor distilleries] to create the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. We wanted to cross-market to attract consumers. We took the idea to the KDA and touted that tourism would increase if all the distilleries came together. When it became a success and I started my own company, I was brought back in by the KDA to create the long-term strategy for the bourbon trail and now here we are!

In 2011, I had the pleasure of founding the Bourbon Women’s Association. Since its inception, I have seen a true interest from the distilleries in communicating with women and have seen them target more marketing in a positive way toward women.

Education/training:

I earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations from the University of Kentucky.

What do you love about bourbon? Why do you think it has become so popular?

Bourbon is a lifestyle in Kentucky. It is deeply rooted in over 200 years of history that brought our state onto the global stage. The richness of the industry continues to grow and establish itself through innovation and technology. Bourbon can be a connector, a universal welcome wherever your travels take you, and a shared moment among friends and family.

Is the interest level in bourbon changing among women?

Women have always loved bourbon; they were just not part of the marketing conversation. New drinkers are falling in love with cocktails that have bourbon and continuing female bourbon lovers are constantly defining the market with their level of education and willingness to try new products. Their voices matter.

Do women have different taste preferences than men?

Most certainly! Women’s olfactory senses are keener than men’s. Women describe bourbon as they equate it to food flavors they cook in their kitchen. Tasting vocabulary, in general, is about food memory. One area that the Bourbon Women Association has studied closely and has broken is a myth about women and bourbon proof and flavor. The industry has believed that they must do lighter and sweeter bourbon to compete in the female market, but the contrary is true. Women trend toward spicier, more robust bourbons with higher proof.

If a woman wanted to break into the industry, what would you suggest she do? What steps should she take?

Find a mentor through organizations such as the Bourbon Women Association. One of the key initiatives of Bourbon Women is to provide mentor connections for women who are interested in a career in the industry. Women must be supportive of each other, raise each other up, and network with one another.

What are your greatest accomplishments so far in your career?

Starting my own company at the age of 40. It was the single most empowering moment of my life. Being inducted into two Halls of Fame—does not get any better than that being valued in the industry. My latest book, “Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon,” co-authored with Susan Reigler, is a one-stop resource guide for hosting bourbon-centric parties at home. Along with recipes, our book offers expert tricks of the trade on how to set up a bar, arrange tables and pair recipes with specific bourbons.

Who are your mentors?

I had the privilege to learn the art of bourbon tasting from an icon, Lincoln Henderson, at Woodford Reserve. He trained me in all aspects of the process and quality control. My all-time favorite master distiller is Jimmy Russell, and although I have been to Wild Turkey more times than I could count, a private tour and tasting with Jimmy is still a treasure. I met him when I was very young in the industry and was a competitor, yet he treated me first-class and was always interested in what I was working on and how I was doing. A woman never forgets that type of kindness and respect.

Andrea Wilson, Chief operating officer, master of maturation Michter’s

Andrea Wilson

Andrea Wilson, a chemical engineer, is the chief operating officer and master of maturation at Michter’s. She manages barrel specifications, barrel procurement, heat cycling and temperature monitoring during aging, tracking maturation of barrels, whiskey filtration in preparation for bottling, and innovation to continue to improve the aging process.

Wilson was the first woman to chair the Kentucky Distillers’ Association board of directors, of which she has continuously served as a board member and alternate board member since 2005. She has worked in the bourbon industry for nearly 20 years.

How long at company/position:

I have been with Michter’s for eight years, assisting with the growth and development of operations and working with an incredibly talented production team.

Involvement in the bourbon industry:

Before joining Michter’s, I spent over ten years with Diageo in various whiskey-related positions, including director of distillation and maturation, overseeing both the U.S. and Canadian distillation and maturation programs, and director of the whiskey strategy for North American operations.

How did you get interested in bourbon and/or the industry?

I grew up listening to stories from my great uncle, who worked for Seagram’s, and my grandfather, who was a moonshiner before he met my grandmother. My grandfather would take us outside the house to tell us stories of his old bootlegging days because my grandmother forbade telling these stories around us children. In his own endearing way, my grandfather wanted us to know about his life journey. He grew up in Loretto, Ky., and had many friends in the whiskey business, many of whom we were able to meet on our fishing trips, which usually ended with a trip to a distillery and tasting some mash. This served as the foundation for my interests in the industry.

As I got older, I knew I wanted a career in the whiskey business, but there was no school for me to learn the trade. I learned that I might consider a degree in chemical engineering, which seemed to provide much of the curriculum I would need to be successful in making spirits. I graduated with a master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1996, but it was hard to find a job because Kentucky bourbon has historically been a career industry and the business was not growing at that time. I decided to become a consulting engineer.

In 2003, I began work for Diageo as a contractor, and in 2005 was hired as a warehouse manager. I worked for many years to hone my skills and learn as much as possible from many industry veterans. In 2014, I joined the Michter’s Distillery team and have enjoyed every minute of this growing company.

Why do you think bourbon has become so popular?

Kentucky bourbon wasn’t always booming. Though Congress declared bourbon America’s native spirit in 1964, it has taken time to penetrate the market beyond Kentucky’s boundaries and abroad.

It has been amazing to observe the growth of bourbon. Exceptional bartenders have revived the classics and created a sophisticated cocktail culture. The internet and social media have expanded bourbon’s reach across the globe. Television shows and movies have also glamorized the heritage and history of America’s native spirit.

Now, bourbon is finding its way into consumer-packaged goods, and you can even make furniture from bourbon barrels, which suggests to me that we are finally able to recognize bourbon as part of the fabric of America.

What is your favorite way to drink bourbon?

I enjoy a straight, neat pour of Michter’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but I also enjoy a cocktail from time to time. My all-time favorite cocktail is probably the Black Manhattan, where I substitute the traditional vermouth in a Manhattan for Foro Amaro. However, I really enjoy a Bourbon Smash because you can use any kind of fruit and herb you have at home.

If a woman wanted to break into the industry, what would you suggest she do? What steps should she take?

It is an amazing time to be in Kentucky bourbon. With the explosive growth of the industry, there are many opportunities for women to explore their full potential in a variety of careers, everything from accounting, science, engineering, supply chain, logistics, graphics, marketing, and research and development, to name a few. You don’t have to be a science wizard to get into the industry.

However, it is incredibly important to continue to attract young women to STEM careers by making them approachable and helping them make the connection to what they can uniquely contribute. For the industry to continue to grow, we need to increase its diverse backgrounds. For women seeking to break into this industry, I would suggest getting involved in any bourbon groups that unlock opportunities for networking and mentorship opportunities. Ladies are coming together for the purpose of a shared interest in bourbon, but what happens next through conversations and the people you meet is incredible. It’s an amazing time and I’m very proud to be a part of an industry that really celebrates that.

Samantha Brady, Executive director Bardstown-Nelson County

Tourist & Convention Commission Samantha Brady is a native of Bardstown. As executive director of tourism efforts in Bardstown and Nelson County, she works alongside distilleries, hotels, attractions, restaurants, and businesses to help visitors “create memories in the ‘Bourbon Capital of the World,’” she said.

Title/company:

Executive director of Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission. I manage an amazing team that markets, through targeted campaigns, to both domestic and international markets. We collect and study data in partnership with the hospitality industry to educate the industry as well as design and implement amazing experiences.

Involvement in the bourbon industry:

I have spent my career in leadership roles in Bardstown, starting with my position as the director of downtown development for Bardstown. As the Bardstown Nelson County Chamber of Commerce director, I worked with the industry on a business level, supporting their workforce, community and special interests. Two years ago, I landed my dream job as the executive director of tourism, where we work with distilleries to promote our authentic bourbon destination.

How did you get interested in bourbon and/or the industry?

Growing up in the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” bourbon is truly a part of who I am. It is my culture and heritage. Both of my parents were involved in the bourbon industry.

Visitors were traveling to Bardstown for bourbon long before the bourbon boom. In my current role, I promote the “Bourbon Capital of the World” to both domestic and international markets. Bardstown is the most authentic bourbon experience you can have worldwide.

What is the most important personal attribute that you bring to your job?

I do my best work when I am collaborating. I love working with people that are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and do the work. I like to find out each person’s superpower and put it to good use. Recently, I acted as the bourbon liaison for a PR project, the “Bardstown Collection,” in which distilleries created a unified release to celebrate Bardstown as the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” This type of collaboration has never been done before in the bourbon space. It was challenging but very worthwhile. The Bardstown Collection added two more distillery partners and will release a 2023 Collection.

Who are your mentors?

It is hard to pick just one. First would be my mother, Dineene Bradley. Even if she weren’t my mother, I would have come to her for professional advice. She worked in the tourism industry for years, and I am proud to have inherited her work ethic and passion for bourbon tourism; it is truly in my blood. I have also been fortunate enough to be mentored by one of the best in the business, Jeff Crowe, director of Kentucky experiences for Heaven Hill. I continue to learn so much about being a leader from him. Dan Callaway, vice president of hospitality and product development at Bardstown Bourbon Co., encourages me to think outside of the box. He inspires collaboration and teamwork. I am also encouraged by an amazing board of directors and a top woman in business herself, Kim Huston, president of Nelson County Economic Development Authority.

Susan Reigler, Bourbon writer

Susan Reigler

Susan Reigler is past president of the Bourbon Women Association. She is an author, columnist, and speaker and previously served as a restaurant and beverage critic for The Louisville Courier-Journal. She is a regular correspondent for American Whiskey Magazine, Bourbon+ and others. She has written or co-written six books, one most recently with Peggy Noe Stevens.

Reigler has hosted tastings and been featured in whiskey festivals throughout the United States, including in Chicago, New Orleans, Savannah, Seattle, Louisville and Smithfield, Va. She currently resides in Louisville, where she grew up but lived for two years in England.

Involvement in the bourbon industry:

I write about all aspects of the bourbon industry. I especially enjoy interviewing people in the industry and writing about the biology and chemistry of bourbon-making. I also write reviews and tasting notes and judge international spirits competitions, which allows me to taste a wide variety of American whiskeys. For many years, I was a biology professor. With a keen interest in bourbon and bourbon tourism, I am now a bourbon professor for two different universities. Educating people about bourbon’s history, culture, science, and economic impact is a great pleasure.

How did you get interested in the bourbon industry?

I was covering bourbon for The Louisville Courier-Journal in the 1990s when bourbon was making a comeback.

What do you love about bourbon? Why do you think it has become so popular?

I love the rich history and heritage, not to mention the flavor. I think other people appreciate the American roots and the fact that they can visit the places where it is made. And again, it tastes great!

Is the interest level in bourbon changing among women?

I grew up in Kentucky. Women always drank bourbon. My mother was a fan. I think more women around the country are now enjoying it.

Do women have different taste preferences than men?

In general, I’ve found that women tend to like higher proof, more complex bourbons. They also savor their sips and very much enjoy well-balanced cocktails.

What is your favorite way to drink bourbon?

My favorite bourbon or bourbon cocktail happens to be what’s in my hand.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far in your career?

Having been able to mentor other bourbon writers.

Lynne Dant, Chief operating officer/distiller Log Still Distillery

Lynne Dant

Dant’s family has a long history in the bourbon industry. Her grandfather, Will Dant, was the president of and distiller for Dant & Head Distillery, which once stood on the site where Log Still is now located. Generations of distillers came before him, Dant said.

I am responsible for the startup and all operations of our new spirits distillery and am actively engaged with other endeavors on our 350-acre campus. My specific areas of accountability include process design, equipment layout, product line development, organization structure and staffing, facilities management and more. I have also been very engaged in the planning and design of campus lodging, offices, site design, and early marketing and brand strategy development.

Involvement in the bourbon industry:

I am part of the executive management team and one of the minority owners of our family-owned craft distillery. I am also involved in other industry organizations, such as the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, Bourbon Capital Community Alliance, Stave & Thief Society’s Executive Bourbon Steward.

Education/training:

Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering (University of Dayton); MBA (The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania).

How did you get interested in bourbon and/or the industry?

My aunts and uncles would share stories of my grandfather’s work, and I have joked that I grew up learning my A-B-C’s, 1-2-3’s and the fact that to be bourbon, the mash had to be over 50% corn. I am the fifth continuous generation distiller in my family, so I have always been aware of the bourbon industry. My interest came as naturally as one’s interest in one’s own family history comes.

Why do you think bourbon has become so popular?

There are a lot of theories on why bourbon has become so popular, and I think a lot of factors have contributed to bourbon’s growth in popularity. I believe a combination of cultural influences, changing demographics and generational preferences, product innovations and efforts within the industry to better market and position itself to new consumers, and last but certainly not least, the growth of craft distilleries across the country have all helped the bourbon industry flourish in recent years.

Do women have different taste preferences than men?

While there may be some general differences between women’s and men’s tasting preferences, I believe that taste preference is a very individual thing and that the market can best be segmented based on types of spirit preference and flavor profiles rather than just simplistically segmenting by gender. Building flavor profiles with the different spirits, we will be producing at Log Still is one of the areas of the job to which I am most looking forward.

What is your favorite way to drink bourbon?

I like to drink bourbon neat or in a cocktail. My favorite brand is, of course, Log Still Distillery’s Monk’s Road.

What is the most important personal attribute that you bring to your job?

The breadth of experiences I have accumulated in my career is an important aspect of what I bring to my role. Coming from a different type of manufacturing industry (chemical industry), I bring different experiences and perspectives that are very applicable to the bourbon industry.

Who are your mentors?

I have been fortunate enough to have many mentors throughout my career, and there is not one I would single out at this time. As I have learned to network more effectively, I have formed strong professional relationships with peers and managers who have given me excellent advice and been important mentors. I would strongly urge women reading this to learn to be effective at networking to form good working relationships and help them navigate their career paths.

Stacey Shepherd Yates, Chief marketing officer Louisville Tourism

Stacey Shepherd Yates

Stacey Shepherd Yates has worked at Louisville Tourism for 17 years. Recently, she was promoted to chief marketing officer and is responsible for the destination branding of Louisville. Yates has made huge contributions to Louisville’s tourism efforts, helping create and develop bourbon tourism in Louisville. She is credited with the launch of the Bourbon Country brand and the Urban Bourbon Trail, which have played a key role in the city’s visitation development and growth. Yates is the chair of Louisville Tourism’s Bourbon City committee, which comprises local distillers and community agencies working together to promote the city’s bourbon brand.

Involvement in the bourbon industry:

I wouldn’t really say I’m in the bourbon industry, but rather a supporting industry in bourbon tourism.

Education/training:

Marketing degree from the University of Kentucky.

How did you get interested in the bourbon industry?

I had just left the Kentucky Derby Festival for a new job at what was then called the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau (now Louisville Tourism). The CEO at the time, Jim Wood, was working with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to put in a display at what would be a new visitor center downtown, scheduled to open in early 2007. Little was known in Louisville about the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” at this time and none of the eight distilleries with tours were in the city. Jim wanted us to figure out a promotion around it that would generate tourism interest.

Our teams launched a “Bourbon Country” campaign and positioned Louisville as “the gateway” to it. The model was the way San Francisco serves as the gateway to Wine Country. We worked with the towns that had the distillery tours to help market the region collectively and eventually created something for Louisville to promote specifically, launching the “Urban Bourbon Trail” in 2008.

What do you love about bourbon? Why do you think it has become so popular?

History and heritage are truly one of their most compelling things. I can’t be unlike most Kentuckians my age, that probably experienced their first bourbon “taste” as a teething infant or in grandma’s hot toddy. I can still see the Jim Beam white-label bottle that my grandmother kept at the top of her kitchen cabinet!

The popularity of bourbon has followed an interesting historical path of lows and highs and I think we are certainly in a golden age of it once again. I think so many factors are involved, but one that resonates with me the most is this return to the appreciation of authenticity and craft. There’s a growing population of younger bourbon fans that are seeking products that take time to make and are worth the wait.

Who are your mentors?

I’ve had so many great mentors in my career, including late tourism icons Dan Mangeot and Bob Stewart. But the one that sticks out to me most is Mike Veach. He patiently spent the better part of five years in the early days of building the Urban Bourbon Trail being my personal tutor and historian—at least that’s how it felt. He spent hours educating me and countless journalists over dinners at Bourbons Bistro, all for the love of history and a nice pour.

Terms like “Whiskey Row” and Louisville, known as “the Wallstreet of Whiskey,” came back into the spotlight because of Mike. He keeps our team honest by pointing out ways to improve our market.

Elizabeth Pritchard-Koko, Co-founder of Horse Soldier Bourbon

Elizabeth Pritchard-Koko

Elizabeth Pritchard-Koko grew up in Ontario and now resides in Tampa and Montana. She is co-founder of Horse Soldier Bourbon in Somerset, Ky.

Education/training:

University of Western Ontario, Moonshine University.

Involvement in the bourbon industry:

We want to help everyone believe that anything is possible and that everyone can live a legendary life. So that’s part of our dream to help others to live their dreams – for us, it just happened to be bourbon. We want to bring that same belief to Somerset, Ky., which will be ours forever home.

How did you get involved in the bourbon industry?

It all started on a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Three of us on horseback through the amazing nature and countryside formed a vision on the back of a napkin and signed it … to build one of the world’s best bourbon brands. That started us on a journey that took us all over the world and back to Kentucky. Full circle. And what a legendary ride it has been and still will be.

What do you love about bourbon?

I love that bourbon is so accessible. It’s different than any other drink. Among males and females, of all backgrounds, any occasion, friends and family, it’s like “blue jeans meets diamonds.” I just love that feeling of connectivity.

What is your favorite way to drink bourbon?

There are no rules or pre-established boundaries. It’s male and female. It is all about personal preference or taste. I feel bourbon has always been associated with being a guy’s drink. That’s just not true anymore. Try our Basil Bourbon Smash. It will change your approach to bourbon.

What has been one of your biggest challenges in the bourbon industry and how did you overcome it?

The bourbon industry can be a very male-dominated business and our company has been no exception. In fact, for the longest time, I was the only woman in the entire company, which is comprised of former military and many Special Forces leaders.

My challenge has been to share my vision and combine it with their direction without compromise, finding a way to bring it to life and make it better for the overall brand. Our bottle is stunning. It tells our entire brand story beautifully and elegantly while honoring our award-winning bourbon.

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