women distillers

8 Innovative Ways Women Are Transforming The Spirit Industry

While people have been distilling alcohol for hundreds of years, the industry is constantly evolving.

Lately, more females have been taking leadership roles in founding forward-thinking distilleries that push the boundaries of spirit-making.

From establishing distilleries in unusual places — like caves and high mountain tops — to using spirits to promote important initiatives, the following eight women deserve a spot on your radar.

To experience their expertise yourself, each woman will also recommended a cocktail recipe for further home enjoyment. Cheers!

Looking for a new #cocktail #recipe?! 8 women rocking the spirit industry share their favorites! Share on X
what to drink Ron Zacapa Rum.
Lorena Vasquez, Master Blender of Ron Zacapa Rum. Photo courtesy of Ron Zacapa Rum.

1) High Altitude Rum Production

Lorena Vasquez — Ron Zacapa Rum

Lorena Vasquez is a Nicaraguan woman who studied chemistry, food technology and business administration before marrying a Guatemalan and moving to his home country. She started working at Ron Zacapa Rum in Quality Control, where she deepened her natural sensitivity to scents and flavors, which allowed her to move up to Master Blender.

During her time as Master Blender, Lorena chose the location for the Zacapa aging facility in the highlands of Quetzaltenango, fondly known as the “House above the Clouds.” At 7,546 feet above sea level, the lower level of oxygen slows the aging process. This helps Ron Zacapa 23 Centenario Rum and Ron Zacapa Rum XO develop complex flavors.

Zacapa wraps every bottle of their rum with a petate band, hand-woven by local women from dried palm leaves. Through this partnership, these women can weave from home — a highly valued custom in Mayan communities — and earn income to support their families while maintaining a traditional craft.

Old Fashion with Zacapa 23

1 ½ oz. of Zacapa Rum 23
2 spoonbars of simple syrup
3 drops of angostura bitter
1 grapefruit peel

Place all the ingredients on a mixing glass, add ice and shake with the spoonbar until the desired taste. Serve on a glass with fresh ice and decorate with the grapefruit peel. Before serving, use the grapefruit’s essential oils over the glass rim.

what to drink S.D. Strong Distillery
Lisa Strong, co-founder of S.D. Strong Distillery. Photo courtesy of S.D. Strong Distillery.

2) First Distillery In A Cave

Lisa Strong — Strong Distillery

Lisa Strong established S.D. Strong Distilling with her husband and decided to bring her love of spirits 65 feet underground. She established the only known distillery in a cave in Parkville, Missouri.

Not only does the cave make this distillery a fun place to visit — especially during the Cave Concert Series — but the constant temperatures and conditions make the cave the perfect for distilling spirits. You can taste distinct, high-quality flavors when you sip their gins, vodka and whiskey.

Strong Collins

1 ½ oz SD Strong Pillar 136 Gin
¼ oz fresh lemon juice
¾ oz pure cane syrup
club soda

Fill shaker tin half way with ice. Add active ingredients and shake. Pour into 12 oz large rocks glass and top with soda water. Garnish with lemon and cherry.

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3) Contempory Cocktails from Century Old Recipes

Lisa Laird Dunn — Laird & Company’s

As the ninth generation family member of Laird & Company, Lisa Laird Dunn grew up around spirits; however, she wanted to do more than stand in the shadows of her predecessors.

Lisa joined America’s oldest family-owned distillery at the age of 23 as an Administrative Assistant, and worked her way up to Vice President and World Ambassador.

She travels around the world creating a place in the contemporary cocktail scene for Applejack and Apple Brandy, which are based on century-old recipes. Her enthusiasm has earned her the nickname “The First Lady of Applejack,” and she combines an innovative mindset with honoring the company’s rich history. For example, she helped refurbish the family homestead in Scobeyville, New Jersey, and plans to convert an old barn on the property into an educational Visitor’s Center.

Jack Rose

1 oz. Lemon juice
1/2 oz. Grenadine
2 oz. Laird’s AppleJack
Dash of egg white, if desired

Shake well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, or serve over ice.

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what to drink Tequila Sheela.
Sheela and Natalie, best friends and founders of Tequila Sheela.

4) First Healthy & Organic Spirits In India

Sheela Marshall & Natalie Merrick — Tequila Sheela

A small town Texas girl befriended an Indian immigrant, and fifteen years later they decided to blend the best of both of their cultures into founding Tequila Sheela.

After traveling to Jalisco, Mexico to learn the art of tequila making, Sheela Marshall and Natalie Merrick decided to make an organic, 100% blue agave tequila that celebrates the natural flavors of South India and proud heritage of Texas.

Part of the motivation of the beverage was introducing India — often touted as the diabetes capital of the world — to a healthier spirit. Both founders love to talk to consumers about the process behind their organic spirit and offer cocktail ideas to minimize sugar while maximizing taste.

Sheela loves Tequila Sheela Blanco, served neat in a rocks glass.  Natalie prefers Tequila Sheela Reposado with club soda and a splash of pineapple juice.

Yes, #spirits can be healthy. #4 on this list proves it! Share on X
what to drink Blüm Beverages
Candace Coleman of Blüm Beverages. Photo courtesy of Blüm Beverages.

5) Social Non-Alcoholic Spirits

Candace Coleman — Blüm Beverages

It takes a special person to turn an accident into an opportunity.

The story: Candace Coleman fell, slammed her head on a tile floor, suffered a brain injury and had to follow restrictions to get to full recovery. Fortunately, she is fully healed with no lingering effects; but part of her recovery process was no alcohol — not a drop. Zilch.

As a social drinker, Candace found it difficult to visit friends and parties without accepting a glass of wine, so she decided to invent a non-spirit “spirit” to avoid feeling like an outsider.

She developed Blum Botanical Elixirs, sold in a bold glass bottle that helps people fit in while enjoying the chilled beverage in a wine or cocktail glass.

Blum makes alcohol-free, botanical elixirs in two blends — Zen & Uplift — with the goal of elevating the social experience for the non-drinker or health conscious guest.

Candace also dedicates Blum to supporting the Planet Bee Foundation and brain trauma research.

The Adele

Bogart Vodka
Blum Botanical Elixir

Serve on the rocks and garnish with cucumber and/or orange.

For those who prefer non-boozy drinks, check out #5 on this list! #cocktails #spirits Share on X
what to drink Greenbar Distillery
Litty Matthews of Greenbar Distillery. Photo courtesy of Greenbar Distillery.

6) Community Boosting Spirits

Litty Mathew — Greenbar Distillery

Fourteen years ago, Litty Mathew and her husband, Melkon opened Greenbar Distillery as the first in Los Angeles since Prohibition. This trailblazing effort involved working with county planners to figure out logistics like inspections and paved the way for other craft distillers in the city.

Since opening Greenbar Distillery, the couple continues to innovate and leverage their successful production of small batch, certified organic spirits as a means to support various initiatives. This includes things like planting a tree for every bottle sold, resulting in more than 670,000 newly planted trees. Moreover, during March 2018 each purchase of Greenbar CITY Bright gin at local bars will result in a free meal for the hungry through their #DrinkCityGin campaign.

In addition to promoting a community focus through charity efforts, Litty celebrates her immigrant heritage when she makes spirits. Litty was born to South Indian parents in Ethiopia, and grew up farming her family’s own fruits and vegetables. She moved to Jamaica before settling in the United States.

Litty used her knowledge from cooking school and understanding of the food scene in LA to create CITY Bright gin, “a gin that was less colonial and more immigrant.”

She explains, “this idea of ‘cultural terroir’ sparks discussion about what a sense place means, and hopefully this spurs others to innovate in this manner, as well”.

The Wanderer

1/2 oz each of FRUITLAB Hibiscus and Jasmine liqueurs
1/2 oz each of GRAND POPPY & HOPS amari
1/2 oz SLOW HAND Whiskey
2 dashes BARKEEP Lavender bitters.

Build over ice in rocks glass. Stir. Top with soda water.

Many of the innovative spirits on this list also give back to the community. Here's how to feel extra good about that #cocktail! 😉 Share on X
what to drink Montanya Distillers
Karen Hoskin, CEO and co-founder of Montanya Distillers . Photo courtesy of Nathan Bilow, Montanya Distillers.

7) Minimal-Waste Mountain Rum

Karen Hoskin — Montanya Distillers

Karen Hoskin is the owner, CEO and co-founder of Montanya Distillers, a sustainable craft rum distillery located in a picturesque town in the Colorado Rockies. Her mountain rum is earning international recognition in a male-dominated industry. She gave the first female keynote at the American Distilling Institute conference and serves as a mentor for other women in a national distilling organization.

Karen’s passion for sustainability is evident in her tasting room where she eliminated all plastic in favor of glass, fully recycled paper products, reusable or compostable items. As a side project, she recently launched Zoetica, a company that makes a zero-waste life convenient with stylish reusable containers.

Jamaican Rum Crème (batch recipe)

2 Cups heavy cream
4 oz. Organic chocolate chips
2 Teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 (12 oz.) Cans of organic evaporated milk
8 oz. Organic caramel
2 Tablespoons strong, locally-roasted coffee
2 Teaspoons vanilla extract
3 Cups Montanya Oro Rum

Add first three ingredients to a saucepan with a heavy bottom.  Simmer on low heat until chocolate is melted and set aside briefly. Add the next five ingredients to Vitamix or other sturdy blender and blend until smooth. Add cream mixture to blender mixture. Chill. Refrigerate for up to 30 days.  Shake and strain before serving. Garnish with a pineapple wedge. Rim the glass with a combination of Turbinado sugar, powdered cinnamon and nutmeg (or other favorite spices).

what to drink FrutaPOP
Tracy Memoli of FrutaPOP. Photo courtesy of FrutaPOP.

8) “Poptails” For Adults

Tracy Memoli — FrutaPop

Tracy Memoli is the founder of FrutaPOP, a handcrafted, small batch gourmet ice pops company, which include “poptails” as a fun alternative to frozen cocktails.

Traditionally ice pops are filled with artificial colors and flavorings; but FrutaPOP is a healthy and wholesome alternative. The company uses fresh fruits and vegetables, without added sugar or syrups. The alcohol-infused pops are made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Drambuie and several other brands, with poptails containing 5% ABV or less.

She also makes non-alcoholic fruit, juice and coffee flavors.

Tracy’s favorite poptail is the Moscow Mule made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, fresh lime juice and ginger beer.

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When deciding what to drink at home, which of these recipes will you choose?

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8 Innovative Ways Women Are Transforming The Spirit Industry

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Katie Foote

Katie Foote may be a physicist by trade but she spent several years travelling the world as much as possible. After four years of semi-nomadic life, she spent a couple years in Auckland, New Zealand and recently moved to Vancouver, Canada. Despite living more traditionally, she has insight on how to travel the world on a graduate student budget (cheap!), explore off-the-beaten-path destinations and authentically experiencing new places by connecting to locals. When she's not doing physics or globe-trotting, she likes kickboxing, yoga and exploring her extraordinary new backyard of British Columbia.

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