Both Sheila Jackson and Natasha McCrea had known one another as wine entrepreneurs and entertainment industry producers before a revelation over an Old Fashioned: they both enjoyed whiskey and had long thought of creating a whiskey brand. The two Co-Founders of Jackson McCrea, LCC are using their acumen as producers and business owners to create a whiskey made specifically for women with a mission to support wellness and self-care for women.

Our favorite quote from the interview: “Feel the fear and do it anyway. And do not do it alone.”

BW: Can you take a minute to tell me a little bit about how the idea for this whiskey and brand came about?

NM: Sheila and I came together because we have a love for wine, but also we’re both in the entertainment industry. And one evening, I was having a late dinner and I invited Sheila and she showed up and I was drinking an Old Fashioned. And she and I together have had a lot of wine, but never whiskey and she was like, “Oh my God, you’re having an Old Fashioned?!? I’m gonna have one of those!” We started to discuss how women are whiskey drinkers kind of on the down-low. Almost in the closet whiskey drinkers. Ads and pictures show us [women] drinking wine. We drink wine publicly with friends, but when it came to whiskey that was not. . .

SJ: It was in the bottom of the cabinet.

NM: So we started talking about our love for whiskey and our excitement about that. Sheila had been thinking about creating a whiskey brand. It had been rolling around in my head, too, and she said, “Hey, why don’t we do this?” And I was like, “Hell, yes. Let’s do it. Let’s do it.” And we’ve wanted to do it in a way that hadn’t been done before. Whiskey companies are not speaking to women –

SJ: At all, at all. Even the ones owned by women. And that’s not a criticism. It’s just a fact, you know? And we talked about this a lot up front – are we concerned that we narrow our demographic to women? We say our whiskey is by women, for women, and to be enjoyed by everyone, but we know that we’re going to focus imagery and reach on women. Is that gonna be debilitating or limiting in any way?

And we decided, no – we’re gonna stand in it. Because we’re [as women] not seen. We’re focusing on the demographic of women who run things and are the boss, and who are raising families and running companies. Those women who are not seen – you don’t see those images in the media. We wanted to create a company where women can feel seen for who they are in our diversity in our beauty and all the different ways that we are ourselves outside of the stereotype, or the image that the media chooses to perpetuate.

NM: So we lean into that. We started identifying all of the elements that we love about our favorite whiskies and tried different whiskies. We compiled those elements that we love. We started a women and whiskey study [that you can fill out here: ] where we sent out a survey to women and they began to answer these questions about spice, caramel and smoky flavors.

We noticed that they liked the stuff we like. It was so fascinating. And so that’s how we decided to develop the flavors in our whiskey. It’s very much a traditional whiskey. I want to make sure people aren’t thinking, “Oh, this is for women,” and that we’re doing something weird with the whiskey. [We’ll be doing] something unique, and it’s specially crafted with the responses of women in that survey in mind.

SJ: Women really do need something crafted for us. Because when we reach in that cabinet in the dark, we really need that sip of whiskey. We really want to chill out with that drink. We don’t aspire to be a craft whiskey [distiller]. Personally, I’m not in that scientific space.

But Natasha and I went up to northern California to interview people and tasted a lot of whiskey and wine. We found some guys who were geeky about making whiskies – as much as I am about wine. They’ve been amazing. Our first samples were great. And we’re on our second round with just a few notes on the one that we liked the best. They’ve really been responsive and creative; we want to work with people who are innovative.

Like Natasha says, we don’t want to just put whiskey in a bottle and throw a label on it because there are major brands where that’s all they do. We’re going to have some extra finishing on the whiskey as well to pull out certain flavors and notes.

BW: What is your background? What have you all been doing before you started to enter the whiskey and spirits space?

SJ: I’m a writer/producer and started out in commercial production and media space. And I got into the wine industry because I’ve always had a passion for wine and whiskey. I decided I wanted to really take my interest in wine more seriously. I became an ambassador for the Boisset Collection because I wanted to get the free training that came along with it. I had a child who was getting ready to go to college and wanted to be able to make some additional money that I could just dedicate to that. Natasha and I met at Sundance.

NM: I was doing a Wednesday Wine Down. I was a Life Coach and I was doing these Wednesday session talks and Sheila reached out.

SJ: And we have been hanging out and drinking wine ever since. And whiskey. We had been friends for three years before we knew that [we both] loved whiskey. That’s what blew our minds about it. Because that was like, that’s our biggest secret!

NM: It was!

SJ: I really went forward, thinking maybe I’ll open a winery or do my own wine label at some point. In the three years of working in the wine industry, I had many periods where I was stressed out about the fires. That’s when I really started thinking about spirits. I got in Women of the Vine and spirits – we both joined. That exposed me to more women distillers. And like you said at the top of our conversation, if you can’t see it, you don’t know you can be it. That’s what got me on that path. We have been continually surrounded by communities of women that have kind of helped us edge our way forward.

BW: How do you think the writer/producer side of things has informed you about moving into the whiskey industry?

SJ: One thing that I work with clients on is brand storytelling and social impact strategy. Both of us have been producers, [so our strengths are knowing] how to put a team together to fulfill your creative brief. It’s about knowing what needs to be done.

You’re the person that comes in and it’s like, this is the job. We need this, this, and that. These are the people we need to hire. These are the kinds of people we need to be looking for. It’s just a way of organizing a project in your brain that comes along with production.

When I say she’s [Natasha’s] a producer, too, this is how her brain works. . . She said I want to go to the Cannes Film Festival. I’m gonna make a short film and go to the Cannes Film Festival. And I’m gonna make this short film in eight weeks. And you did it! Both of us are like that when we get together. “Okay, let’s start a whiskey brand!” And it’s funny. I have a mentor that I was paired with. And he’s looking at me like, who told you you could do this?

NM: There’s an interesting subtext happening. I find it really interesting that women are natural multitaskers – that’s psychologically and physiologically how we operate. And I feel that all the tools that we have gleaned from businesses and professions we’ve been in up to this point, what is going to help us in this moment? And we are not professing to know the answers. We have found mentors that believe in us but there’s no blueprint that’s out there.

Now, when I wanted to become a coach, I went online, and I found somebody who’s gonna show me how to become a coach. But for this, none of that information is out there. And that’s something that we’ve found to be very fascinating. And we want to really just have the confidence that we have exactly what we need to make this happen.

BW: When is the launch of your first whiskey – the rye?

SJ: We’re looking at before the holidays this year. We’ll know a date in a few weeks. But we didn’t start meeting until last fall. We interviewed the contract distillers last year in October.

Sheila Jackson and Natasha McCrea Founders of Jackson McCrea Whiskey

Sheila Jackson and Natasha McCrea – Founders of Jackson McCrea Whiskey (photo courtesy of Jackson McCrea Whiskey}

BW: What does your day-to-day work on this look like right now?

SJ: A lot of our days start out with check-in and encouragement early in the morning. For example, we started this out in October of last year and by December of last year, my mother had a fall. I ended up having to go to Memphis for several months, and I was still working on this business but life is still happening to us. Natasha’s mom got a diagnosis so there are all those things pulling on you emotionally.

I don’t want to candy-coat it – this is difficult. And we both have other businesses. We have other responsibilities so we always start with the check-in.

NM: So the first year we met strictly for two hours on a Thursday. And sometimes those were working meetings because we both have other businesses. There were months of it simply only being from 1230 to 230 on Thursday. That’s it. That’s all you got.

So now that we’re moving into crowdfunding. We didn’t get angel investors. We had a little bit of seed money, but in order to bring this to market, we need the community. In addition to all the other things is [the importance of] social impact. We know that we are not only making whiskey, but we are also impacting the lives of women. We chose our social impact to be women’s wellness because that’s what we needed. We need to take care of ourselves and have a community because there’s always help for those who are in dire conditions. But what about the person who looks like their life is going well? That’s the area that we’re focused on.

In thinking about our crowdfunding, we decided to create a collective called the JM100. They are women who are leaders in their field who believe in women’s empowerment, and who want to stand behind us to disrupt this whiskey business. That’s what we’re about to do. It’s going to be a disruption, whether we like it or not. Probably just standing in a room will be a disruption. And at least in two ways, we can count. We have the power of 100 other leaders to stand behind us, and that is going to go a long way.

The JM100 are our very first investors, but they are hand-picked. And they’re going to get perks: they’re going to know about Jackson McCrea VIP up front. Our whole objective now is spending time and adding more hours to really hand pick our JM100 and get ready for our crowdfunding. The JM100 is not about funding. It’s our social impact advisory board.

SJ: They will be our think tank on different areas we want to focus on.

NM: A lot of our time right now is crowdfunding, marketing, meetings, budgeting, getting glass, designing, and interviewing ad agencies. We started having working meetings where we’re on Zoom together to make sure it gets done. You set a time, you do the due diligence to have a meeting to start things, but eventually, we have to delegate. There’s no way you can do this without a team.

BW: You are a women-focused company. Are you all purposefully looking for women to hire for your team?

SJ: In my company since its inception it’s something that I’ve always tried to do. And it’s something that I’ve gotten to 100% women production team and that’s always been a focus. It was tough with our craft distillers that are men, and that’s been hard. That is something that’s always been our intention.

BW: What advice do you have for other women who want to do something similar or have large projects in areas they’re not familiar with and they want to step in and change?

SJ: Don’t be scared.

NM: Feel the fear and do it anyway. And do not do it alone. I think a lot of us end up being isolated and thinking we have to do it by ourselves. And there’s so much more power when you add someone else to the mix.

SJ: That’s the reason for the check-in so we can be authentic and transparent with each other to talk through it. I had read that most business partnerships don’t work and it’s probably because they’re not talking to each other. We’re not pretending this is easy; we’re just being transparent and honest with open communication.

The way I cook, I look up a recipe, watch 3 videos on the food network and then decide how I’m going to do it. That’s been my approach to entrepreneurship. This is how you run a production company, but this is how I’m going to run mine. You can enjoy the work and you can make your own rules and create your own way and approach to your business. This is a time of great innovation with technology and how people do business. This is the time to be innovative because the more unique you can be the more your voice can stand out in the marketplace.

NM: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate. Sometimes people throw those two things together, but they can be two different arms. There’s magic in, “I don’t know.” If you act like you know everything you miss the opportunity to learn things. So asking people, to be vulnerable is huge. Speaking of women leaders, vulnerability is a kind of dirty word. I teach women how to lean into vulnerability.

Delegation is huge!

SJ: And self-care. The more you do, the more essential self-care is because you’re going to kill yourself otherwise. You have to create space around the things that you do so you can sit down and have a glass of wine or binge-watch Iron Chef. You have to give yourself grace.

We want women to drink in good health. That’s our social impact. We want them to move, to enjoy, to have fun, to laugh, to celebrate who we are, and stand in the power of this.

BW: Talk a little bit about your different roles as Co-Founders. . .

NM: We’re doing everything together. But we each have our own strengths and weaknesses. Sheila definitely is my crutch for my weaknesses.

SJ: I think one of the things that we were we did at the beginning [that we did was] from a book we were reading about called Build the Damn Thing by Catherine Finney. She talks about business partners, and about being able to write out your core values. And then also knowing what our strengths are – what is our zone of genius. She didn’t use that term. But I know that’s a term that Natasha uses.

And [we got to the place of] knowing that for each other, so that we can say, when it comes to writing, I got that part. When it comes to photography and visioning something with the colors the light or setting up a shoot, Natasha has got that. We know a lot of what those strengths are, but I think in this journey, we’re gonna continue to discover what those are two, but as CEOs, as founders, we’re in that space of identifying where we can delegate and also where it makes sense to bring people in.

BW: What is your perfect whiskey weekend?

NM: My perfect whiskey weekend is making some cocktail that I’ve concocted in my head and sitting out on my patio listening to the water fountain. . . winding down on a weekend with a nice whiskey cocktail and putting something on the grill.

SJ: Mine would involve fire and a sunset. There’s something about whiskey and a sunset that I just love the combination of. I used to live in the Caribbean. At sunset every day I was always on the beach with a glass of rum (I was in the Caribbean after all) and there’s something special about winding down the day and telling your body it’s time to switch gears. But that’s perfection to me, whiskey matched with a beautiful sunset.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This