I was busy last month chatting with four talented women in the whiskey business for a series of profiles for The Bourbon Review. It was a dream assignment for me, as I got to ask the questions I’ve always wondered to women I’ve always admired — and one I met for the first time.
Some of the questions I kept the same, but mostly the focus was on each person’s journey to where she is today. I chose the Q&A style of interview so that their own voices would shine through, and I think it worked pretty well.
You tell me if it worked. Here they are in order of publication date.
Memphis Belle: Alex Castle walks the tightrope between tradition and experimentation at Old Dominick
In 2015, Kentucky native Alex Castle got the email of a lifetime. She was working as a production supervisor for Wild Turkey at the time, where she had landed soon after getting her chemical engineering degree from the University of Kentucky. The email posed a simple question: Would you be interested in working for a startup distillery in Memphis?
Castle had been at Wild Turkey for more than four years and had gotten a taste of the day-to-day operations of a large bourbon distillery. She loved her job there, but this new opportunity was one she couldn’t pass up. Fast-forward five years, and Castle is now the master distiller and senior vice president of Old Dominick Distillery, located in the heart of downtown Memphis.
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Seven years ago this summer, Andrea Wilson made the decision to join the team of the up-and-coming Michter’s Distillery after 10+ years working for spirits giant Diageo. Michter’s was just getting ready to open its first Kentucky-based facility in Shively, and Wilson saw this as a great opportunity to further expand her distilling experience and join a crew who shared her passion and dedication to the craft.
Wilson left her job with Diageo on June 30 and started with Michter’s the very next day, on July 1 of 2014. Now, as executive vice president and master of maturation, she works endless hours in all facets of production and has helped shaped Michter’s into the premium brand it is today.
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In 2007, Jane Bowie was crashing on her mother’s couch while back in Kentucky for a friend’s wedding. She had just finished a teaching job in Japan and was ready for her next adventure, which she thought might take her to New Zealand. As fate would have it, though, life rerouted her to the small town of Loretto, Ky., population 737.
Bowie’s mom had cut out a help-wanted ad from the newspaper and suggested she apply. The Maker’s Mark Distillery was looking for an event coordinator. To appease her parent, Bowie applied for the job in her own special way. The first line of her cover letter read: “I don’t want this job, but …” Bowie proceeded to outline her dream job for the company, which would send her all over the world sharing the good news about Maker’s Mark bourbon.
Of course this unique approach caught the eye of Maker’s Bill Samuels Jr. and his son Rob Samuels, and they quickly hired Bowie as a global brand ambassador. Since then, Bowie has worked her way up the ladder in — not surprisingly — some of the most unconventional ways, and now she serves as the master of maturation and director of innovation for the company.
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In 2013, the Nethery family of Shelby County, Ky., was at a crossroads. Should they continue a fulfilling yet slightly stagnant life as they knew it — with husband Bruce farming the family land and wife Joyce teaching high school chemistry? Or should they bet the farm and do something much more unconventional and risky — like building a bourbon distillery from the ground up?
Kentucky is lucky the Netherys chose the latter, and while Bruce still farms the land, Joyce runs the operations at Jeptha Creed Distillery, serving as CEO and master distiller, while daughter Autumn takes the helm of co-owner and marketing manager. Even son Hunter pitches in, although he’s not 21 yet, helping out in production and farming while he learns the trade. And we hear he even has a knack for harvesting honey — just another perk of owning a farm craft distillery.