In honour of Women’s History Month, we’ve rounded up the most powerful women in spirits, both then and now. March may be the month wherein the world celebrates women, but as far as we’re concerned, we’ll be celebrating women all-year-round. It isn’t easy being smart, creative, beautiful, kind, resilient, independent, and strong at the same time, but amazing women from every corner of the globe carry those crown jewels with grace on a daily basis.
Prepare to be amazed, because we’re about to explore the phenomenal contributions that these empowered females have made to the industry. They are self-made bosses who are responsible for the wines and spirits that we have come to love for many generations.
Before we begin, let’s raise our glasses to these fine women making even finer spirits!
Celebrating Women In Spirits: Then
Mary The Jewess
Frankly speaking, we wouldn’t even have any alcoholic drinks if it weren’t for the famous alchemist Mary the Jewess, who made waves with her work in the first and third centuries A.D. Being the one responsible for developing distillation technology, this brilliant mind is a key factor in the world of spirits as we know them today.
Rita Taketsuru is known as the Scottish Mother of Japanese Whisky. She worked side by side with her husband, Taketsuru Masataka to establish the Nikka distilling company, which became the catalyst for bringing whisky to Japan around the ‘20s and ‘30s. To this day, Nikka is one of the most popular spirits in the Land of the Rising Sun. Now, that’s what we call a far-reaching influence!
As the only female to own and manage her own distillery, Laphroaig, in the 20th Century, Bessie Williamson made her mark as a spirit magnate in 1954. She became the proud owner of the establishment after working there for 20 years, inheriting it from its previous owner, Ian Hunter.
The ‘90s were an era that saw massive advances in technology, multi-dimensional style preferences, and the awareness of multiculturalism.
It was also the time wherein Lorena Vasquez joined the Zacapa rum industry. We now know her as the very first woman to ever become a master blender of rum. It was her genius idea that the distillery was built 2,300 metres above sea level, now famously known as the House Above the Clouds in the stunning Guatemalan mountains. With a consistently cool temperature of 16 degrees all-year-round, the House Above the Clouds is the perfect facility to age and preserve rum.
Celebrating Women In Spirits: Now
Jassil Villanueva Quintana
The 21st century was a turn of the millennium that saw the youngest master of rum step up to the plate. At only 28 years old, Brugal Rum’s head distiller, Jassil Villanueva Quintana showcased that the younger generation can shatter barriers and do amazing things beyond their years.
Maria Teresa Lara
Starting her illustrious career at Mexico’s Tequila Herradura in 1987, Maria Teresa Lara worked hard for 30 years, being promoted along the way. Come 2001, she solidified her status as the first-known woman to lead production at a tequila distillery. Eight years later, she was promoted yet again to master distiller. While she may be a retiree who lends her expertise to her apprentice, Karinna Enriquez, we’re so inspired by the fact that she built such a successful career, an accomplishment that only the relentless can achieve!
Bertha Gonzalez Nieves
In 2008, Bertha Gonzalez Nieves was certified by the Mexican Academy of Tequila Tasters as a master of tequila. Elevating women-owned businesses one step further, she became the co-founder of Casa Dragones, a small-batch tequila production company.
Victoria Eady Butler
If you know the name Nathan “Nearest” Green of Uncle Nearest whisky and the Jack Daniel Distillery, then you’re about to get acquainted with his great-great-granddaughter, Victoria Eady Butler! The legacy of master distillation continues as Victoria was named the Master Blender of the Year in the Whisky Magazine Icons of Whisky Awards 2021. Walking in her grandfather’s famous footsteps like a queen!
The last time Scotland saw a distillery opened by a woman was nearly two millennia ago when Helen Cumming and her husband John, established Cardhu Distillery in the 1800s.
Heather Nelson broke that 200-year silence in 2015 with the opening of Toulvaddie Distillery. This milestone makes her the first woman to ever spearhead a scotch whisky distillery on her own. The first of many women-owned businesses taking over the spirits industry!
Another reason for celebrating women in the spirits industry is courtesy of Marianne Eaves. She shook Kentucky in 2015 by becoming the state’s first female master distiller since the prohibition. She’s become such a force to be reckoned with that she was sought out by Castle & Key to become their master distiller at the age of 28. Such a power move.
Rounding out our list of admirable women-owned businesses and women in spirits is Melissa McKeown. In 2014 McKeown and her brother established 1847 Stone Milling, a proud partner of Spirit of York. With a mission to support the local farming economy, she sought to source local ingredients as much as possible, and we applaud her amazing efforts to keep things organic, and high in quality. She always mills fresh to order, using 100% organic grains and currently supplies to bakeries, retailers, specialty grocers, and of course, distilleries.
We have Melissa to thank for the deliciously refined flavour of our red fife vodka that takes spirit aficionados on a trip back in time.
Spirit of York: Celebrating Women In Spirits Everyday
Women’s History Month is an opportunity to celebrate women everywhere – and what better way than by raising a glass and making a toast? Fill your glass with only the best spirits at Spirit of York – now available for purchase through our website and delivered right to your door!
Happy Women’s History Month!