Top female distillers and blenders pt.2By Amy Hopkins
In an industry still pervaded by a largely male force, a number of female distillers have established outstanding reputations and continue to drive spirits quality and excellence.
Whether producing Cognac or Scotch, pisco or gin, women distillers around the world are behind some of the most well loved and critically acclaimed spirits brands.
Some are industry stalwarts and have pioneered cutting edge spirits production for decades, while others are emerging talents and prove undeniably that women can work on an equal footing with their male counterparts, setting an example for future spirits generations.
We already brought you one installment of top female distillers and blenders, but the wealth of talent across the industry certainly warrants another.
Click through the following pages to view our latest selection of top female master distiller and blenders. There are, of course, many more who have made an invaluable contribution to the sector – let us know if you believe any have been missed off this list in the comment box below.
Lesley Gracie – master distiller, Hendrick’s Gin
A chemist by trade, Lesley Gracie moved from Yorkshire to Scotland to join William Grant & Sons in 1988. Working in collaboration with Charles Gordon, the late life president of William Grant & Sons, Lesley Gracie was tasked with creating a gin that used two antique stills – a rare Carter-Head and 19th Century Bennet. Working out of Hendrick’s home in the Girvan distillery, Gracie is just one of four people who know the specific recipe of the quirky gin brand’s 11 botanicals. She leads the New Liquid Development Team within William Grant & Sons and also holds positions in both the Gin Guild and ISC tasting panel for white spirits. Gracie has also created experimental products that sit alongside the Hendrick’s brand, including quinninated cordial Quinetum and most recently Hendrick’s Kanaracuni Gin, which saw her join an expedition to the Venezuelan rainforest in search of new flavours.
Pierrette Trichet – cellar master, Rémy Martin
After more than 10 years in the role, Pierrette Trichet retired as Rémy Martin’s cellar master in 2014, leaving an indelible mark on one of the world’s largest Cognac brands. Trichet joined Rémy Martin in 1976 to study wines, distillation and Cognac ageing, eventually gaining acceptance on to the house’s Tasting Committee. Ten years later, she succeeded Georges Clot as cellar master and distinguished herself with an impressive ability to design new blends, and recreate old recipes, from thousands of samples. Among other innovative releases, Rémy identifies Trichet’s “masterpieces” as two unique expressions of the Louis XIII bottling – Rare Cask 43.8 and 42.6.
Riannon Walsh – co-founder and master blender, Brandywine Branch Distillers
Riannon Walsh, founder of the Whiskies of the World Expo in the US, has a wealth of experience across the international whisky industry. An authority on the subject, Walsh has authored numerous whisky books and previously acted as president and CEO of Cloonaughill Celtic Malts for more than 20 years. In addition to consulting and lecturing on malt whisky production, she built the Whiskies of the World Expo to be America’s largest spirits-focused consumer event at the time of its sale in 2010. Walsh is founding partner of new micro-distillery Brandywine Branch Distillers in Pennsylvania, where she is also master blender and MD of production and creatives, creating recipes for base mashes and botanical macerations. Her portfolio of uniquely designed grain to bottle pot stilled gins, called The Revivalist Botanical Gin, launches nationally in May 2016.
Stephanie Macleod – master blender, Dewar’s
Stephanie Macleod is the seventh master blender in the 160-year history of Bacardi’s Scotch whisky arm John Dewar & Sons. Macleod learned the science of whisky while working as a sensory analyst, researching the secrets of maturation and blending. She joined Bacardi in 1998, when the group acquired Dewar’s, and took over as master blender for the unit in 2006, since when the brand has grown exponentially and a wealth of new products have launched. Macleod was instrumental in releasing the first honey-flavoured ‘Scotch whisky’, Dewar’s Highlander Honey, in the industry.
Melanie de Trindade-Asher – CEO, master distiller and master blender, Macchu Pisco
Named Pioneer of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail in 2015, Melanie de Trindade-Asher is CEO, founder, master distiller and master blender at Macchu Pisco. Born in Peru, Asher had her first taste of her homeland’s spirit when she was 12. Armed with an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and experience working with large spirits firms, Asher recognised America’s rapidly growing interest in cocktails and artisanal products, prompting her to launch Macchu Pisco in the US market in 2008. With control over taste and quality at each stage of the brand’s production, Asher runs Macchu Pisco with her sister, Lizzie, the firm’s president. The sisters actively promote fair trade practice for women in Latin America and set an admirable example by paying fair wages to their female co-op of grape harvesters.
Maggie Campbell – head distiller and vice president, Privateer Rum
Maggie Campbell is both vice president and head distiller at Massachusetts-based Privateer Rum, and is also a Masters of Wine student. She first became interested in distilling in 2004 during a trip to Scotland, later receiving a Diploma in Craft Distilling Technologies from the Siebel Institute and a Level IV Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), where she now sits on the International Advisory Alumni Board. As founder of the Denver Brewer’s League and member of the board of directors at the American Craft Spirit Association, Campbell has established herself as a rising star on the American craft drinks scene.
Caley Shoemaker – head distiller, Hangar One Vodka
As head distiller at Alameda, California-based Hangar One Vodka, Caley Shoemaker is responsible for all phases of production at the site. Before joining Hangar One, Shoemaker worked her way up the ranks of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey under the stewardship of head distiller Rob Dietrich. A self-confessed “spirits nerd”, Shoemaker is currently testing limited edition batches on Hangar One’s new pilot still as the distillery expands its business, set to open a tasting room and visitors’ centre later this year. Using a unique mix of grapes and grain grown in California as base ingredients, Shoemaker says it is her ambition to push the boundaries of vodka distillation.
Lisa Wicker – distiller and production specialist, Starlight Distillery
Lisa Wicker started her long-running drinks career in wine, at the Brown County Winery where she worked across all aspects of production, before setting up the Kentucky’s WhiteMoon Winery on the grounds of an established vineyard in 2011. She then moved to Limestone Branch Distillers and took up the position of winemaker and whiskey production specialist, working across the firm’s whiskey, liqueurs, moonshine and brandy portfolios. Currently, Wicker is distiller and production specialist at Indiana’s Starlight Distillery, based on the historic Huber family farm. She says of her craft: “Distilling is elemental – heat, water, grain, wood, metal – it draws me in everyday. As I write this my hands are calloused and splintered, my lab table a disaster and the paperwork not quite balanced. But the drive to make excellent spirits and do everything better the next day never lets up.”
Becky Harris – founder and chief distiller, Catocin Creek Distilling Company
Becky Harris founded the first distillery in Loudoun County, Virginia, since Prohibition with her husband Scott in 2009. Becky’s experience in manufacturing control, as well as her Chemical Engineering degree, made her a natural fit for the role of chief distiller, while Scott, a computer engineer, manages the business. Previously, Becky worked at companies such as Amoco, YDK America, and CIBA, specialising in industrial processes and production systems. At Catocin, a certified organic and kosher distillery, the couple creates a range of whiskeys, ryes, gins and brandies.