Women have a rich and varied history with bourbon: running farm distilleries while the men worked out in the fields, working in bottling, running bootleg operations during Prohibition and even leading the temperance movement. During the mid-20th century, bourbon advertising was geared toward men, cementing its image as a man's drink. But today, whiskies are increasingly popular with women. The history and the popularity of the drink with women was what motivated Peggy Noe Stevens to create the Bourbon Women Association in 2011.
Peggy, who is chair emeritus of Bourbon Women, also owns her own image branding firm, Peggy Noe Stevens and Associates, and spent 17 years at Brown-Forman in hospitality and marketing. At Brown-Forman, she worked with many spirits companies and became a master bourbon taster. She saw that distillery events were mostly attended by men, and just a few women, who often waited until the end to ask questions about bourbon.
"I noticed bourbon was targeted to a male audience," Peggy said. "Being a Kentucky girl, we grew up with bourbon. I found women were loyal to bourbon, very proud of the Southern heritage."
Bourbon Women was started in Louisville, KY, with the goal of creating a platform for women to learn about and taste bourbon, and have a like-minded social and networking group. Events include tastings and distillery tours. This August, the group will hold their second annual "Sip-osium", a weekend getaway of bourbon-related events.
"Why should we be left out?" said Susan Reigler, former food and beverage reporter for Louisville's Courier Journal, and the current president of Bourbon Women. "Why should the guys have all the fun?"
Susan noted that the women who attend their events are interested in the educational aspect, and that having a knowledge of bourbon gives women a leg up in their careers.
"They know how to talk bourbon with colleagues and clients; it's very empowering," Susan said.
Members often bring friends to the events, and sometimes transform them into bourbon lovers. Peggy recounted the story of one woman who was not a bourbon drinker before she came to their events, but grew to love it, and now serves on the board of Bourbon Women.
"When we break it down and teach them how to enjoy it," Peggy said, "it's almost like [they are] tasting bourbon for the first time."
Despite its relatively new arrival on the bourbon scene, Peggy estimates that Bourbon Women already has between 500 and 600 members, and that membership is growing every day. Members are scattered across 22 states and four countries. Bourbon Women hopes to develop branches in areas with fast-growing membership, such as Indianapolis, Chicago, and Rochester, NY. Susan and Peggy said they have seen membership grow in Manhattan as well, and would love to have New York City as a branch.
"I think it's reached that tipping point where it's really going to grow exponentially," Susan said.
To join, visit the Bourbon Women membership page. There is a $50 fee. Photo courtesy of the Bourbon Women Association
February 9, 2015