Hannah Lowen, VP Operations at New Riff Distilling, moved from running political nonprofits to running a distillery as their VP of Operations. We hear a bit about her journey here, and learn what a VP of Operations does (spoiler alert – a little bit of everything). And we couldn’t agree more with her advice: “take the credit you deserve!”
BW: How did you end up working in the industry?
HL: I know the Lewis family from growing up in Louisville. Back in 2010, Ken and Mollie Lewis approached me about coming to join them in opening a bourbon distillery. They knew my work outside of the industry and thought I might be a good fit. There was no role, title, or plan back then — just looking for smart folks to help. I jumped on the opportunity and never looked back.
BW: What was something surprising you learned in your early days at New Riff?
HL: Because I was new to the bourbon industry when I started, I was surprised by the amount of interest, passion, and engagement our customers were seeking — with us a bourbon company, with the whiskey itself, and with the industry as a whole. Even before we distilled a drop of whiskey we felt the love and support from our local customers — it was infectious.
BW: What lessons from your background / past experience do you apply to your role now at New Riff?
HL: Before coming to New Riff, I worked at a small nonprofit on the west coast that worked to get young folks involved in politics. I brought my political organizing 101 (and 201, and 301) with me and found a surprising amount of crossover. One of my favorite organizing principles that I still follow today is “small room/big crowd.” Beyond little things like that, my real passion for work is with humans — communication, connection, and management. Everything I was doing before to get a team rowing in the same direction laid the foundation for what I brought to New Riff.
BW: How long have you worked at New Riff (and in the industry in total)? What are some of the changes you’ve seen?
HL: I have been with New Riff since 2013! Almost 10 years. There has been so much growth, investment, and expansion in the last decade. So many acquisitions, mergers, and new construction, all of it. The Kentucky bourbon landscape is deeper and broader than it was in 2014, but we like where we’re sitting these days as a rare family-owned company. We’re little for a big guy, big for a little guy — and fiercely independent.
BW: What’s the future role or vision you’d like to see the industry move towards? What are the biggest roadblocks and how can we overcome them to get there?
HL: I’d love to see the bourbon industry continue to reach more diverse audiences. Bring more women, more people of color, and more non-traditional bourbon drinkers into the fold. All the research out there shows that diverse businesses are more innovative, competitive, and successful than their peers. There are so many amazing people writing new stories, telling old stories, and launching new ideas, I’m excited to see that growth continue!
BW: What does your day-to-day life in the distillery/organization look like?
HL: Oh wow, well, it really depends on the day. Somedays I am updating financial projections for the next decade and review contracts, somedays I am putting out HR fires and fighting software bugs. But on the best days, I am connecting between and across our distillery, warehouse, and front-of-house teams — dreaming up wonderful ways to engage with our customers and then making them happen.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to have similar jobs?
HL: Share your ideas! Dream them up, prepare them well, put them out there, and take the credit you deserve.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in your state/city:
HL: Start a morning with coffee and a breakfast sandwich at Findlay Market in Cincinnati, then maybe catch an afternoon Reds or FC game before ambling over to Covington for happy hour at the Hannaford, dinner at Riverside Korean, and a nightcap at Hotel Covington.