Marked annually on March 8th, International Women’s Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century with the first gathering held in 1911 to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
The spirit distilling industry is an example of a sector traditionally dominated by men, yet welcoming women at it’s highest ranks. We speak to Becky Harris, distillery founder and chief distiller at Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, and Corryn Wheatley, sensory analyst at Sagamore Spirit Distillery, about their journey within the spirit world.
Becky Harris is the founder and chief distiller of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company and president of the American Craft Spirits Association. She explained: “My journey in spirits started in 2009 when my husband Scott and I combined our technical and business backgrounds to build an independent family-owned business crafting unique local spirits. My experience in manufacturing and process control and a chemical engineering degree made me a natural fit as chief distiller.”
Today Catoctin Creek is an internationally award winning craft distillery, primarily focused on creating Virginia rye whisky from grain to glass, and distributing products from across the United States, and internationally in Singapore, Europe, Mexico, and Australia. Catoctin Creek has received numerous international gold medals and has been featured in many national publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast, and Whisky Advocate. The Daily Beast, Forbes, and Men’s Journal who have highlighted the distillery as an example of great American craft distilleries making whiskey from scratch, with Becky at the helm.
“The craft distilling industry has been a pipeline through which talented women have taken the opportunity to innovate and lead in companies of all sizes,” said Becky. “Some of them have moved on to create new products at large companies, and some have started and grown their own companies to change the way people think about the spirits industry, and its history.”
She added: “All our products begin with the finest local and organic grains to create the cleanest spirit possible. At the heart of the distillery is a pair of pot stills, where I insist on cooking the distillate for a full nine hours, more than twice as long as most other distilleries, to create the unique and award-winning flavours in my distillate.”
Attention to these details have won Becky accolades including inclusion in Food and Wine magazine’s as one of ‘6 Women in Whiskey to Watch’.
Corryn Wheatley, sensory analyist at Sagamore Spirit Distillery, has served as the quality assurance specialist at Sagamore Spirit since 2018. She is responsible for providing qualitative and quantitative analysis on all products during each stage of production and manages a team wide sensory analysis program to measure the quality of every batch of distillate.
She is a graduate of University of Maryland, Baltimore County where she majored in biochemistry, molecular biology and psychology. Her journey into distilling started on her 21st birthday when she was taken to visit a brewery with her family and friends as part of her birthday celebrations. She says that when the group got to the lab on the tour she was absolutely fascinated and knew that was for her. “I added biochemistry to my major the next day!”
She’s never looked back: “Women have been a part of distilling since the beginning but are only recently starting to gain respect in an industry that for too many generations has been male dominated. The industry is now reaching the point where things are changing and diversity is becoming more of a priority. I am optimistic we will see the day when women are featured for their talent and skill instead of their gender.”
The final word
The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Choose To Challenge’. A challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change. “As president of Catoctin Creek and of the American Craft Spirits Association, I #ChooseToChallenge the spirits industry and consumers to support women in the drinks industry at every level,” said Becky “and starting on this #IWD2021 to make a woman-owned spirit a regular in your glass”.