October is National Women in Business Month, and while we are all about stories of women who have smashed straight through the glass ceiling and are occupying corner offices (“she is touring the facility and picking up slack,” as Cake said), we like it even better when they run liquor companies.
Distilling is one of those businesses that seems just to be male-dominated. You hear about male master distillers like Lincoln Henderson (RIP) and Guillermo Erickson Sauza, but what about the women making sure civilized society isn't thirsty? We always like to support woman-owned businesses, especially when their products are so freaking tasty, and so here are just five of the females in the distilling business.
1. ≈, Cecilia Murrieta
Cecilia Murrieta Ríos may live in Mexico City, but that doesn't stop her from traipsing up and down the hills of Oaxaca, ensuring that the family palenques from whom she gets her mezcales are running smoothly. While mezcal has a reputation of being a cantina (read: lower-class) drink, the new generation of mezcales are as fine as any spirit. Murrieta has already started importing her Espadín to the United States, and is about to start distributing a gentler Primario, a rare Madrecuixe, and a very, very limited release of mezcal de pechuga. We can't wait.
2. Tequila Hacienda de la Flor, Marcela Valladolid
You know Marcela Valladolid from the Food Network, where she teaches people how to make family-style Mexican food on Mexican Made Easy, but you might not know that she's a fierce Tijuana promoter and a tequila brand owner. Tequila Hacienda de la Flor is her highlands tequila brand, made in Arandas, Jalisco. The liquor, which is USDA certified organic, sneaks up on you, beguiling you with a very fruit-forward agave flavor followed by an intense liquor burn; the idea for the label came from the barrels of unlabeled tequila her father would have at their house for any celebration.
3. Pueblo Viejo, Carmen Villarreal
When Carmen Villarreal took over the Pueblo Viejo brand of tequila, she moved the brand to a town with better-quality water, and promptly took Mexico by storm. Every bar in Jalisco and hundreds of bars outside it have their bottle of Pueblo Viejo tequila. It's one of the well tequilas at the famous El Parián, the largest bar in the world, outside of Guadalajara. The price point is low–you can often pick up a bottle of Pueblo Viejo for under $10 in Mexico, and about $15 here–but what's in the bottle is surprisingly good, fruity and not too sweet, which goes to prove how shrewd doña Carmen is, trading price per bottle for volume.
4. North Shore, Sonja Kassebaum
Gin may make you think of stuffed-shirt old British men or tired old British comedies re-airing on BBC America, and you may think of it as drinking pine needles, but New American gin is not like its British parent; the rules only state that it can't be gin unless it has some juniper in it.
Sonja Kassebaum's New American gins, which are numbered, will change your mind. Kassebaum is not content to leave the flavors to the traditional (juniper, citrus, angelica, etc.), and the proof is that her Distiller's Gin No. 6 has lavender in it–oh, my word!–which makes one of the most outstanding and floral martinis ever devised. That's not all she makes; there are other gins, a vodka, and an aquavit, that old Scandinavian spirit that's been begging for its moment on the stage since the naissance of the craft cocktail movement.
5. Eastside Distilling, Melissa Heim
What's most shocking about Mel Heim is not her gender, but her age: she's not quite 30 years old, and she's already taken the craft spirits world by storm. While she was master distiller at Rogue Distilling, she created Dead Guy Whiskey, a sweet liquor modeled after Rogue Brewing's Dead Guy Ale, and which won microdistilling awards.
Now Heim is at Portland's Eastside Distilling, and she's started making bourbon. Burnside Bourbon is bottled at 96 proof, far hotter than other bourbons, which makes it stand up well to the assault of sweet vermouth in a Manhattan.