You’ve heard of Jack Daniel, Samuel Adams, and José Cuervo, but what about the badass women who have been overlooked in the male-dominated alcohol industry?
In honor of Women’s Month, we’re raising a glass to the trailblazing women who shook up the alcohol industry, but never got the recognition they deserved. From bootleggers to bartenders, these ladies paved the way for us all.
Women and the History of Alcohol
Catherine the Great
- Catherine catalyzed Russia’s vodka industry by allowing Russian nobles to distill their own vodka on their estates, increasing state revenue derived from vodka sales by 20 percent during her reign.
Hildegard von Bingen
- Like beer? Thank this 12th century German abbess. Hildegard von Bingen was a nun who was perhaps the first person to document adding hops to ale. Adding hops prevented the growth of bacteria in the beer, meaning it stayed fresh longer and it could be exported.
- Tatsu’uma Kiyo built a saké empire but has been nearly forgotten. Tatsuuma Kiyo was born in the early 1800s to a family who had made sake for over one hundred years. Initially, only women were allowed to make sake, but as sake industrialization began, women were pushed out of sake-making. Her husband controlled the family sake-making, and she went on to have six children, but when she was 46 her husband died, and she became widow with young children. Determined not to lose the sake business, she found a loophole to let her run the sake business without breaking the law. It wasn’t long before Tatsuuma Kiyo’s brewery, Hakushika, grew. It became the leading Japanese brand, producing three times more sake than any competitor.
Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe
- Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe, the formidable Prohibition-era bootlegger. Bootlegging was a male-dominated occupation peopled by some very rough characters, but Gertrude could handle them.
- Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, “the grand dame of Champagn.” Clicquot, one of the world’s first international businesswomen, brought her wine business back from the brink of destruction after her husband passed and created the modern champagne market in the process.
- Bartender Ada Coleman revolutionized the cocktail. Ada Coleman, the “most famous barmaid,” was head bartender at the Savoy Hotel in London for 23 years, one of only two women to have held that position. While working at the Savoy, she invented the “hanky panky”, a distinctive variation on the sweet martini cocktail.
- Scottish woman, Bessie Williamson, who popularized single-malt scotch in the US. She was a Scottish distillery manager and former owner of the Laphroaig distillery noted for being the first woman to manage a Scotch whisky distillery during the 20th century.
- American woman, Margie Samuels, cofounded Maker’s Mark. Margie was the first woman from a distillery to be inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. Her design work and her commitment to establishing the distillery as a place for guests brought her this distinction. Some even credit Margie with inventing bourbon tourism.
- CNN: Women have been overlooked in the history of alcohol. This author set out to change that
- Mallory O’Meara: Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol
- The Craft Cask: The Untold History of Women in Wine, Beer, Spirits & More
- ABC: How women shaped the history of alcohol and what we drink today
- Encyclopedia.com: Alcohol Monopoly
- The Moscow Times: Russia and Vodka: a History Primer
- This Day in History: The History of Sake-Making: A Woman’s Story
- Smithsonian Magazine: The Widowq Who Created the Champagne Industry
- Liquor.com: Masters of Mixology: Ada Coleman
- Makers Mark: Margie Bottle