Elva Ramirez is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Brooklyn, New York.

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How One Woman Completely Changed Tequila

Illustration by Zoe Van Dijk.

Illustration by Zoe Van Dijk.

Originally published in Lenny Letter.

While you were toasting to better times (or drowning in your sorrows), there’s been a quiet shake-up in distilling. Traditionally male-dominated, the spirits world is putting more women in charge of making the liquors you drink.

The spirits industries and individual houses vary on how they grant titles, but typically "master distiller" and "master blender" are awarded to those who've had years of hands-on experience in distilleries and at least some college education (usually in chemistry). Each industry has its own certification and tasting boards, too. Thus how one moves up within the ranks to become a master distiller or a master blender is specific not only to each spirits sector but also to each spirits house. Many of the world’s best-known spirits houses were founded by men, who often anointed other male colleagues as master distillers and blenders when they stepped down, setting up generations of male leadership.\

But things are finally changing. Last fall, Bombay Sapphire hired Dr. Ann Brock, who has a PhD in organic chemistry, as its master distiller. She joins a rarefied but growing demographic of female master distillers and blenders.

Lesley Gracie, who joined William Grant & Sons in 1988, is credited with creating the Hendrick’s Gin recipe in 1999. Gracie is still master distiller for Hendrick’s, where she is one of just five people in the world who know how Hendrick’s is made. At Dewar's, master blender Stephanie MacLeod crafts all that Scotch, while in Jamaica, you’ll find Joy Spence, the celebrated master blender for Appleton Estate rum. (Spence, incidentally, is the first woman in the spirits industry to hold a master-blender title, according to Campari Group, which owns Appleton Estate.) Jassil Villanueva Quintana is the first female head distiller for Brugal Rum; in 2015, she became the youngest master of rum, at age 28.

And then there’s Ana Maria Romero Mena.

Read more on Lenny Letter. 

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