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Bourbon is her choice: Women promote Kentucky product

By Josh Abner, Correspondent, Women Business First

Bourbon Women started as an idea among friends and now has spread to 22 states, Canada and Australia.

“I think initially it was just a conversation with girlfriends,” founder Peggy Noe Stevens said. “We were all sipping on our Manhattans, and it dawned on me that many of the women that were around the table had been bourbon lovers for years.”
Stevens first noticed a more tentative attitude toward bourbon among some women years ago, when she served as a bourbon ambassador for Brown-Forman Corp.
As the industry’s first female master bourbon taster, she held events and noticed that women who attended mainly mingled in the back, hesitant to ask questions until they spoke one-on-one with her afterward.
“It dawned on me that we really weren’t reaching out to women,” she said, of those initial outreach efforts. “We really weren’t educating them.”

A toast among friends

In 2011, Stevens pulled together several key women with an affinity for the product to form Bourbon Women. She is the group’s current president, and Kelly Ferrara is the director.
The group views itself as “a vehicle to create a conversation about bourbon in a very non-commercial way,” Stevens said.
That distinction is key because it puts women new to the group at ease, said Victoria MacRae-Samuels, vice president of operations at Maker’s Mark Distillery Inc. and a BW member. “It was very, very clever to allow women an opportunity to experience bourbon and get to know it in a safe environment,” MacRae-Samuels said.

Industry support

Distillers have supported the organization, and a number of them are listed as sponsors on the Bourbon Women Web site.
The majority of BW’s nearly 500 members are from Kentucky, Stevens said. But events outside the Kentucky — called “Bourbon Women Take Flight” — in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Washington, D.C., have helped expand membership to 22 states, Australia and Canada.
BW’s plans for 2013 call for holding events in Chicago and New Orleans later this year and probably a third destination yet to be determined.
The board decides the location, based on requests from members of the association. Events are paid for by sponsors and fees that are charged to attend, particularly if a dinner is involved, said Stevens.
“We consider ourselves Kentucky ambassadors and bourbon ambassadors,” Stevens said.
The $50 annual membership provides access to member-only events, discounts on key bourbon gatherings and bourbon specials, and a complimentary online subscription to “The Bourbon Review” magazine.

‘Official’ blessing

BW’s inaugural event, hosted by Kentucky’s First Lady Jane Beshear, drew about 80 women to the Governor’s Mansion when it was held two years ago. Anyone who joined the group then became a charter member.
Other local outings have included a behind-the-scenes tour at Maker’s Mark; an education class on how to cook with bourbon at The Brown Hotel, presented by Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc.; and a recent distillery and ghost tour at Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Some events are complimentary while larger-scale events generally come with a $20 to $50 cost.

The mix of education and entertainment for a girls’ night out typically draws confident yet curious types, Stevens said. Members range from longtime spirits industry executives to bourbon novices.

“They’re very sophisticated, very educated and truly know what they like. They’re not shy about saying what they like as far as bourbons and flavors.”

Women and Kentucky Bourbon: A History

Presented by: Bourbon Women

Program: Theme is the history of women and bourbon; speakers, bourbon tastings and cocktails, hors d’oeuvres

When: Thursday, June 20, from 7 to 9 p.m.

Where: The Filson Historical Society, 1310 S. Third St., Louisville

Sponsor: Wild Turkey

Cost: $35

More information: Visit www.bourbonwomen.org

Any Way She Likes It

Presented by: Bourbon Women

Program: Peggy Noe Stevens will describe the different aromas and flavors of bourbon to pair with food; hors d’oeuvres will be served to complement the bourbons; she also will discuss setting up a bourbon bar

When: Friday, Sept. 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Where: The Best Western General Nelson, 411 W. Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown, Ky.

Contest: Those attending will taste the cocktails of the top finalists for the second “Not Your Pink Drink” contest of Bourbon Women.

Cost: $35

More information: www.bourbonwomen.org