View Full Version : Woman distillers then and now
Mike's reference to a woman distiller in the early 1800's got me wondering: are there any female distillers or assistant-distillers in the industry today? If there aren't, were there any in, say, the 20th century? The matter of bourbon seems kind of alpha male in orientation but this shouldn't exclude the possibility of female involvment. After all, brewing, an activity related to distilling, was traditionally (way back) a female activity. To this day, a number of breweries are owned or were founded by women (New Belgium Brewing and Stoudt Brewing are two examples of modern microbrewers partly founded by women).
I can also recall Mary Dowling. There are some papers dealing with her in the U.D. Archive. She moved her distillery to Mexico during prohibition and made Waterfield and Frazier bourbon. Pappy Van Winkle has several letter from her because the last of her Kentucky made Waterfield and Frazier was in the Stitzel warehouse and they were bottling it for her and selling it for medicinal use charging her a small fee on each bottle for doing these things for her. An interesting letter in the collection comes from a salesman who complains that someone is selling Waterfield and Frazier cheaper than he can and wants to know what is going on. Pappy writes back that the other Waterfield and Frazier was made in Mexico and was an inferior product. I always wondered how Mexican Waterfield and Frazier could end up in the legal market. I am sure there was some legal loophole that allowed her to import her new whiskey since she still had some Kentucky whiskey in bond.
As a side bar I think we can better understand now why Mexico was the last hold out to the treaty that made bourbon a sole product of the United States.
Thanks Mike, very interesting information, as always. I recall seeing bourbons with names such as "Jaurez" in old label collections; no doubt this was some of that production being made over the border during Prohibition. I wonder too how it could have been imported; there must have been a loophole as you say. There was as you know much bourbon-type whiskey made in Montreal during Volstead by the Bronfmans (using various company names). I have to think some of it was pretty fair. Our corn is good, our barrels are good, our warehouses can be heat-adjusted (and were at the time, as were some American depots); the water would not have been from under Kentuck's limestone shelf though.. That's where those chemists come in..
I've also heard that African women made beer for their families.
Ancient Age got its start as a "bourbon like whiskey amde in Canada" bottled by Schenley in the late 30's. They started making the whiskey prior to repeal and brought it to the U.S. to bottle so they could have an aged product on the market while others were still getting started with 3 month, 6 month and 1 year old products.
To keep this on the subject, while I was at U.D. the still operator at George Dickel was a woman (I am sorry her name escapes my memory right now). I don't know if she came back when they re-opened the distillery this year, but I hope so. She really knows her craft.
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