Women are responsible for a great many things: Solar power. Computers. Whiskey. You probably didn’t see that last one coming, but it’s true. Women have always been part of whiskey’s history. In Whiskey Women, The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey, author Fred Minnick details the story of how, without women, the spirits would never have existed. In 3 AD, an Egyptian woman created the alembic still, an early prototype for stills used today. Medieval women worked in apothecaries distilling tonics from everyday ingredients like rosewater and potatoes. By the mid-1400s, women in London accounted for 30 percent of the brewers guild and from the 1700s to 1950s, women distillery owners were among the most important in the industry.
“They were distilling anything and everything before whiskey became a popular term,” Minnick writes. “Their contributions should not be overlooked.”
I feel the same way about the women leading the whiskey charge today. While the food and liquor industries are still mostly dominated by men and the sheer mention of the word “whiskey” may provoke images of your dad, grandpa, and Mad Men, there are an amazing group of women working their way to the front of the pack of the industry, changing all that. From master distillers to brand ambassadors and company owners, we raise our glasses in cheers to these whiskey women.
I didn’t have an invitation. I started a whiskey company without much experience, but I have always considered that an advantage. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to develop something unique that reflected the essence and traditions of Japan but was accessible to U.S consumers. I did a lot of research, studied lots of whiskeys (and sometimes sampled a few too many; one of the perks and pitfalls of the job).
One of my toughest challenges and greatest rewards is that I produce, age, and bottle Kikori all in Japan; we also do nearly everything by hand. One time, not enough glue was applied to our labels, which resulted in some of them loosening upon arrival in our ports.
We sell a lot of Kikori, but are still very small compared to some of the sophisticated giants in the industry. We simply do not have many of the technological or financial advantages. However, what we do have are creativity and a beautiful whiskey which goes a long way and perhaps would not have been possible 15 years ago.
I am fortunate to be surrounded by a great team, so I have strong support in all parts of the business. Since we are such a small company, I do wear many hats, but I would say I dedicate most of my time to sales, marketing, branding, and planning the development of new markets. I often start the day with early morning East Coast calls before running the kids to school and then work on supporting my sales team, reviewing events, marketing initiatives, budgets, goals, following up on emails, putting out fires and chowing down lunch at my desk. I also spend too much time figuring out the right music to play on Sonos, recreating and tasting new cocktail recipes, and getting lost in the spirits sections of liquor stores.