Across our industry, as in many others, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. But the science tells us women are uniquely talented, having more taste receptors than men and therefore superior tasting abilities. We spoke with a few female leaders in spirits about their experiences and hopes for women in this industry, and we wanted to share their words with you here. We are fortunate to be able to work with and connect so many extraordinary women in food & beverage.
Clara Tronêt-Guillon, Head of Åhus Akvavit
Favorite Food: Anything cooked outside directly on the fire – of course paired with plenty of Åhus Akvavit!
"Working in this industry taught me really early on that you need to have integrity, stand up for your opinions and try to understand quickly who are the serious people that you want to work with and who’s just there to show off. On a personal note, work/life balance is always a challenge with 3 young children, of course, but fortunately in Sweden our culture and system makes it possible to enjoy it all, but not always without friction.
I love the craftsmanship surrounding Åhus Akvavit. Our team puts so much knowledge and care into the creation and production of our spirit and brand design and then getting to experience all the incredible ways bartenders interpret that into their cocktails. I’m always inspired and excited to tell our story of heritage and creativity — from a little town in Sweden all the way into bars and homes across the world."
Laurence Dèche, Master Distiller & 5th Generation, Château de Millet Armagnac
Favorite Food: My sweet sin is Roquefort cheese. I like to surprise my guests and serve it on slices of toasted farmhouse bread. You can even pour a few drops of Armagnac VS or VSOP directly on the cheese and lightly crush it with a fork before tasting.
"It's not very easy to be a girl heiress when your own parents dreamed of having a boy to pass the property on to. Now, mentalities have changed. In the countryside, everyone knows that women have always had a central role. Women in the country are hard-working, organized and often behind many of the decisions on how to run the farm. When you are a passionate and committed person, even if you are a woman in a man’s world, you easily attract trust and esteem.
With other women winegrowers in Gascony, we created the "Bons Crus Milady" club (part of the action Les Bons Crus d'Artagnan) in 2018 to promote women who put their talent at the service of discovering the vineyards of our region through tourism. We are 10 winegrowers and winemakers, and intend to communicate our values of passion, commitment, enthusiasm, determination, and quality with positive attitude dedicated to building a charming destination for any visitor curious to know our products better."
Kristina Hansen, Co-Founder and GM, Bimini Gin
Favorite Food: Mapo Tofu that’s just drenched in chili oil and Szechuan pepper. Truly face-melting Szechuan cuisine is hard to find where I live now, but the hu tieu xao at Cong Tu Bot in Portland, ME is a completely different but just as masochistic Vietnamese noodle dish with a spicy red-eye gravy and fresh chilis. It’s the hottest dish I’ve found in Maine and is honestly always in the back of my mind.
"In my experience, the most difficult challenge as a woman in this industry is other people’s expectations of my role and contributions, coupled with a lack of respect for those contributions. I’ve had countless people (nearly all of them men) assume I’m a clueless brand ambassador hired to recite vague talking points and be flirtatious, rather than an active business owner who can answer any question backwards and forwards all while noticing how rude you are to the service staff. I once had a customer inquire about my husband and business partner and, after learning we were married, declared, “Ah, the wife! Second-in-command!”
I really enjoy connecting with people who have tried the gin and loved it. It’s always interesting to hear what different people’s palates pick up, and what kinds of flavors they are inspired to mix together. The other favorite part for me is diving into the physical tasks around the distillery. There is a wholesome sense of accomplishment after tackling a cleaning job, or purging all the cardboard recycling out of our space, or hauling boxes of botanicals around to reorganize the production shelves. Owning a business requires you to have a hand in every aspect of operations, which can quickly get overwhelming. Something physical with a clear beginning and end point can help you mentally reset."
Hillhamn Salome, Founder and Distiller of Xila Licor de Agave 7 Notas
Favorite Food: Sushi FTW!
"Before I started college, I worked at a bar in Mexico City where I learned the basics of mixing and managing a bar. What really caught my attention was all the different brands and types of spirits that I encountered. I was perplexed by the origins of how these spirits were created, and I decided to create my own. I bought a book, started reading and then started distilling and formulating all types of spirits and liqueurs. I decided that the foundation of my company would be based on being a brand that would always support women in the industry and so our distillery is the first micro-distillery in Mexico City 100% run by women.
When I started, no one took me seriously because I was very young and a woman. I was told by some distributors that they would never work with me because they didn't trust me because of my age and my gender. They said that a woman that distilled was impossible and not common. A lot of doors were closed to me when I started because I am a woman. But, the more I travel and visit bars all over the world, the more I notice that women are having a much stronger presence in the industry - being brand ambassadors, brand managers, bar managers and bartenders. I also notice men supporting women in the industry and this is huge."
Written by Pilar Vree
The Craft Spirits Cooperative, Oakland, California