Bourbon Women: The Spirit Industry’s Newest Tastemakers

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BY HEATHER C. WATSON

Not Your Father’s Bourbon: Bourbon Women are the Spirit Industry’s Newest Taste-Makers

For many people, the phrase “bourbon drinker” evokes a masculine connotation. They may envision a grandpa on a front-porch rocking chair sipping from a mason jar, a middle-aged father pouring a bourbon and branch after a long day at the office, or a frat boy on a particularly raucous Saturday night.

Bourbon Women Association, an organization for professional women with an interest in Kentucky’s native spirit, is working to change those misconceptions. Says Peggy Noe Stevens, founder of Bourbon Women, “Women have always enjoyed bourbon.”

Stevens, a Louisville-based image-branding executive, says that now-retro cocktails like the Old Fashioned or the Manhattan were popular among women of the 1940s and 1950s. “They knew what they liked, and they sipped on it.” While the 1980s brought a wave of affordable wines marketed toward female drinkers, Stevens notes, in recent years bourbon has introduced itself again. With all the new bourbons out there and an onslaught of mixologists offering clever new ways to drink them, Stevens says, women now have “a broader wardrobe for their spirits.”

Less than two years since its inception, Bourbon Women boasts a membership of over four hundred women.  Stevens characterizes the organization as a consumer group founded upon the idea that “bourbon is more than merely a spirit; it’s a lifestyle and a culture.”

Bourbon Women provides a vehicle for women to learn about and enjoy bourbon while providing valuable feedback to the group’s distillery industry partners. Bourbon Women events serve what  Stevens calls an “edutainment” purpose, at once educating and entertaining attendees. At a time when new labels are being released at an unprecedented pace — over 40 new bourbons were released last year alone — these events provide both novices and longtime bourbon enthusiasts with opportunities to sip and learn.

Bourbon Women members need not have a professional knowledge of bourbon. In fact, no members of the Association’s Board are employed in the bourbon industry. Rather, Bourbon Women provides a forum for professional women across a broad spectrum of industries to celebrate bourbon.  Stevens describes Bourbon Women events as “women gravitating together in a noncommercial setting, attending exclusive and unique events, getting together with girlfriends and networking.”

With low membership fees and events aimed to appeal to a variety of tasting interests, Bourbon Women strives to be an inclusive organization. While the association is based in Lexington, with the majority of events taking place throughout central Kentucky, Bourbon Women boasts members in 40 states and three countries.

When initially planning Bourbon Women, Stevens and the association’s co-founders, a group of women with extensive experience in marketing, PR, and branding, paid special attention to the demographic information of the modern female bourbon drinker. These women, the group found, are confident, loyal, and sophisticated. They love to eat and to entertain. They wanted a forum in which they could learn, meet, and network. Stevens sums up Bourbon Woman members lyrically and succinctly:

“They wear their cocktails like their jewelry. They’re all about the glass — and what’s in it.”

As bourbon becomes more diverse and accessible than ever before, the Bourbon Woman — hospitable, stylish, capable, and dynamic — is perhaps the perfectly reimagined “bourbon drinker.”

If you want to become a member of Bourbon Women:

Bourbon Women Association is an educational, networking, and charitable social organization, open to women over 21 years of age. Membership fees are $50/year; the organization’s financial proceeds go toward a scholarship awarded to a female student  at Sullivan University. Visit www.bourbonwomen.org for more information.

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