We talked with Molly Troupe, Master Distiller, and partner at Freeland Spirits in Portland, Oregon about her role at the woman-led and run distillery that’s putting women first both in their company and as their mission within the spirits and beverage community. As one of the youngest (if not the youngest) female Master Distillers in the US, she’s already taking leadership and mentoring roles within the industry to change the face of distilling.
BW: Your Master’s Degree is from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. What was it like studying distillation in Scotland – as an American and as a woman? What do you think you learned there that you might not have learned had you had your advanced degree from the US?
MT: Studying distilling in Scotland was an amazing experience and a great welcome into the industry. Growing up in Oregon, the craft distillery scene had not really started and I was not exposed to many distilleries. Scotland was my opportunity to be immersed in whiskey culture. My class had the largest percentage of women (25%) of any class prior, and because of this it was a welcoming atmosphere. It was also 25% American and there was even another student from Oregon to reminisce about home.
I was part of a small group that was eager to learn everything about brewing and distilling, which meant day-long homebrew events and visits to distilleries. And with such an abundance of whiskey history readily available in real-time, it’s hard not to fall deeply in love with everything about spirits. For me, it was a trip to Islay and seeing this tiny beautiful island as a whiskey powerhouse that solidified my love of spirits, enough that I named my daughter after this magical place.
BW: When did you discover you wanted to work in distilling?
MT: I discovered I wanted to work in distilling when I was earning my undergraduate degree in Chemistry. My plan prior was to go into forensic anthropology, but while earning my degree, I realized that the chemistry I’d be using every day with that degree was not the chemistry I loved. I loved the creative side married with the analytical. I really did not know how to apply that, but through some collegiate drinking, I had the idea that the drink I had in my hand I could make. I decided to research it more and from what I discovered, it was exactly what I was looking for in a career: a blend of art and science achieved outside of a lab.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to become Master Distillers?
MT: My advice for women who want to become Master Distillers is to not listen to the people who will tell you you can’t do it. Learn everything you can, improve on your weaknesses and always strive to be better. Never close yourself off from a learning opportunity. Part of mastery is realizing that you always need to be learning.
BW: I read that you have a young daughter. What advice would you give her if she wants to work in distillation? Or is it too early to think about that?
MT: My daughter just turned three months, but the thought has crossed my mind! My partner and I have a plethora of science books for her already and my plan is to make science fun and go from there. If she ever wanted to be a distiller, I’d be honored that she saw what her mama was doing and wanted to follow in her footsteps. In terms of advice, I’d tell her much of the same advice I’d tell a woman trying to become a Master Distiller, always be learning. I’d also tell her to stand up for herself and not let her legacy dictate what she can and can’t do.
BW: Freeland seems very embedded and supported by your local community in Portland. How do you think that affects your mission as a company, and your outreach to other parts of the state and country as you continue to grow?
MT: From the moment of our first sale, Freeland has found an amazing community within the Portland area. As our distillery continues to grow, our community may change but our mission to empower women will stay the same. How we achieve that is evolving, but the goal remains the same.
BW: What’s something you wish the industry at large understood or would appreciate about working with a team of female and female-identifying folks?
MT: Women are more sensitive tasters than men which means that our team is predisposed to be better at sensory analysis. It is fascinating to think about what this means for the products we make. I do think our heightened sense of smell gives us a competitive advantage.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in Portland!
MT: My perfect whiskey weekend in Portland involves hanging out at Multnomah Whiskey Library. Anything you want they have and it really is a library of whiskey throughout the years. After sampling whiskey, nothing sounds better than a good cocktail, and what’s better than a whiskey sour? The egg white almost makes it a meal in a glass.