Interview: Bourbon Women Association President Maggie Kimberl

Maggie Kimberl
Bourbon Women Association President Maggie Kimberl. | All photos by Michele Korfhage

The Bourbon Women Association recently named its newest president in veteran spirits expert, speaker and journalist Maggie Kimberl.

Founded in 2011, the association highlights and supports women in the world of whiskey. Kimberl moves into the top role at a time when the spirits industry, like many others across the world, has benefited from modern efforts at improving equality. Yet there remains much work ahead in the fight for fairness and inclusivity.

We recently spoke with Kimberl on this topic, and about whiskey trends she expects in 2021.

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Beverage Dynamics: Why is it so important to recognize and empower women in bourbon?

Maggie Kimberl: Women have always been part of the bourbon industry, from the farm distillery days when beer-making and distilling were simply a matter of home and hearth, to the last century when they were running bottling lines. Empowering women to step out of the more traditional roles they have held in the industry opens the entire industry up for growth and innovation. Innovation dies in an echo chamber.

“Empowering women to step out of the more traditional roles they have held in the industry opens the entire industry up for growth and innovation.” — Bourbon Women Association President Maggie Kimberl

It’s also crucial to recognize that women are the ones doing the purchasing in most instances, regardless of whether they are the whiskey connoisseurs in their families. Empowering women at all stages of bourbon appreciation means that more women will feel comfortable in the whiskey aisle, on tours of distilleries and when ordering a drink at the bar — all of which opens up the industry to a larger part of the population.

This is one of many reasons I am thrilled to be taking the helm at the Bourbon Women Association. Through our events, distilleries have an opportunity to reach women in a way that is comfortable for beginners and fun for our more seasoned members.

BD: How can the industry better promote equality?

MK: It’s crucial, especially at this place in history, to acknowledge the contributions made by both women and by people of color from the beginning of this industry. It’s only when we fully understand and acknowledge this past that we can begin to create something that is accessible to and acknowledging of all. Right now today, instead of looking through a pile of resumes, go find and hire the person who is going to prioritize diversity in all they do.

BD: How can we eliminate that odious phrase, ‘A whiskey made for women?’

MK: For starters, I would urge companies and agencies to look around. Are there women and people of color on your team? Do they feel empowered to speak up if there is a problem? If you only hear from your team that every idea is great, and you look around and you don’t see real diversity and empowerment among your team, this is where bad ideas thrive. I once heard a story about an ad that was so tone deaf that some women at the company wondered whether their competitors had made it, but what I did not hear in that story was that any women felt empowered to stand up and say so.

BD: What are your goals as president?

MK: The first order of business is helping people get through this pandemic, recession and trade war.

I’m proposing a series of meetings arranged around topics that will actually help get people moving forward again, from personal branding topics to changing career paths. I want to empower women both in the industry as well as outside of the industry to move forward with gusto and with a whole bunch of women supporting them in the background. Getting together with friends for a drink is great, but helping each other grow is even better.

Of course that doesn’t mean we will give up the fun side of things at all. We want all of our members to know that we are here planning their next fun night with friends, excursion to a new distillery, Toast to the 10th in February, and especially the SIPosium in August. Watch this space for upcoming events at the national level!

In the long run, I want to grow this organization until every woman who has been told that bourbon is a man’s drink feels comfortable and empowered to order, to buy or to drink whatever she wants.

BD: Who are women you admire in the industry?

MK: How long can this be? Really, as a blanket statement, I admire all of us. I admire the women who shattered the glass ceilings, like our Founder, Peggy Noe Stevens, as well as Marianne Eaves, Lisa Roper Wicker, Elizabeth McCall and many others. But even before them there were women like Mary Dowling and Margie Samuels who paved the way, and now we are starting to see recognition of people like Samara Davis, Fawn Weaver and Victoria Butler, who are helping shape the next chapter of the industry.

BD: What are the biggest trends you see in bourbon in 2021?

MK: People are always looking for that next special bottle, so things like private barrel selections, new barrel finishes and even emerging whiskey categories like American Single Malts are going to continue to grow in popularity.

On the media side of things, podcasts and influencers are growing exponentially, which exposes industry and consumers alike to different intersections of the market share.

In Bourbon Women trends, we have a lot to celebrate this year as it is our tenth anniversary! We have a Toast to the Tenth event scheduled for February 25-26. We’re also going to be doing barrel picks throughout the year geared toward women’s palates that will be available for sale at the SIPosium as well as other places.

We’re also going to be seeing a lot of our favorite bars, restaurants and brands struggling to reopen, so it’s important to keep in mind that we need to support what we want to see succeed.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 10 American Whiskey Trends in 2021.

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