I had my first high ball bourbon cocktail at my Grammy’s kitchen table when I was a teenager. It was a Kentucky coming of age & I remember the feeling clear as day. She reached into the corner cabinet & produced a bottle of Very Old Barton from the folks at 1792, poured some over ice & added some off-brand cola to the top. That was the day I became a bourbon woman.
Kentucky girls have always had bourbon in their blood, but there weren’t always social spaces to celebrate it. Now the bourbon business is brimming with powerhouse women in every role from marketing to Master Distiller, & there are organizations popping up across the country creating opportunities for us to gather & build community centered around our native spirit. I am a proud member of one such group, the Bourbon Women Association, & had the opportunity to see us show up strong at the New Orleans Bourbon Festival.
From session leaders & panel moderators to featured distillers & attendees from across the nation, Bourbon Women were a powerful presence & people took notice. One of my favorite moments of the experience was hearing the stories of five female master distillers, three from Kentucky, & sipping some of their products in the Bourbon Women Panel – Myths to Marvel: Women in Distilling.
Bourbon Women Founder & Master Taster Peggy Noe Stevens led the panel discussion including Andrea Wilson (Michter’s Distillery), Joyce Nethery (Jeptha Creed Distillery), Marianne Eaves (Castle & Key), Alex Castle (Old Dominick), & Christine Riggleman (Silverback Distillery), an altogether impressive collection of brands making waves in the craft spirits scene. Their experience ranged from long time maturation & mash bill specialists at monsters like Diageo & Brown-Forman, to teaching high school chemistry & falling back in love with engineering through a casual class at Moonshine University, but they had one thing in common…a passion for creating great bourbon.
It was inspiring to hear the stories of these all-in entrepreneurial women, who wear a dozen hats a day, balancing work & personal life (which often overlap), always pushing boundaries & finding new ways to champion their brands. I may have geeked out a little at their awesomeness.
It’s impossible to truly communicate the incredible flavors of the products each woman chose to showcase from her distillery’s collection, so I’ll simply encourage you to give them a try. Here’s my rating of the seven we sampled, along with my notes:
#1 Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon: This low entry proof bourbon is a 5-7 year product with a heavy vanilla nose. It is velvety in your mouth & strong on the palate, but goes down smooth. This one has been a favorite of mine for some time.
#2 Jeptha Creed Four Grain Bourbon: This brand new bourbon will be available to the public for the first time on May 10th at Liquor Barn & other local beverage retailers. I LOVED it. Using malted grains & their special heirloom variety Bloody Butcher corn, this product is 98 proof & Kentucky Straight. The nose was like a caramel cinnamon roll with maybe a little sweet peach. But, fear not, that sweetness doesn’t cross too heavily into the taste.
#3 Silverback Christine Riggleman Reserve – This bourbon, the first released under the name of a female master distiller, has buttery vanilla notes & goes down smooth.
#4 Michter’s Single Barrel Rye – Some disagree, but I think this one has some bite…& I like it. The spicy apple notes are pleasing to the nose & the taste buds.
#5 Old Dominick Bourbon – This is a level four char that you can taste. Much more barrel on the nose & palate than I expected from a product this young, but I’m not complaining about it.
#6 Silverback Honey Rye – This one was interesting. A rye infused with honey was a little too sweet for my whiskey taste, but I did hear lots of yummy noises around me. I’d say if you aren’t into a hard spirit on the rocks because it’s a little too much, you could easily sip this & enjoy the vanilla honey scent & flavor.
#7 Old Dominick Whiskey – This high rye has a light sorghum flavor and more honey on the nose. It may be the last on my list, but I’d still go back for seconds.
Take some time to read up on these female distillers & learn the depths of their stories. I also hope you’ll take every opportunity to taste any of these fine spirits, made by even finer women, in the finest industry. And if you are looking for a place to increase your odds, look up the Bourbon Women Association or Whisky Chicks & go to an event! They will welcome you with open arms & I guarantee you’ll love the community & libations.