Working for Bourbon: KDA Scholars Spotlight

 

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association created the Lifting Spirits Foundation in 2020 to educate the public about the Commonwealth’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry through charitable, educational, literary and scientific research efforts. The 501(c)(3) non-profit Foundation also supports workforce development issues and initiatives, including scholarships aimed at increasing diversity and removing barriers to entry into the distilled spirits industry. 

 

“Our scholarship program aims to make our thriving industry more diverse, equal, and inclusive,” says Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory. “These students are breaking down barriers and transforming our timeless craft in the process, and this scholarship allows them to do just that while pursuing their dreams.”

 

The Wild Turkey Distilling Co. and Russell’s Reserve Bourbon announced a donation of $20,000 to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s Lifting Spirits Foundation earlier this year, a program aimed at increasing diversity in distilled spirits through scholarships and externships. The donation will cover credits for students attending Bourbon-related certification courses at the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University with preference given to Black students, women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ and other underrepresented groups. 

 

“We are resolutely committed to fostering a more diverse workforce that reflects our local Kentucky population and evolving Bourbon culture,” says Rick Robinson, Vice President of Supply Chain at Campari America and KDA Board Member. “We live by a principle of “Reserved for All,” meaning we welcome everyone interested in Bourbon to have a seat at the table, just as we welcome everyone to enjoy Bourbon in their own unique way. We are honored to make our signature industry more inclusive by sponsoring students with a passion for Bourbon-making through the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.” 

 

Earlier this year, the team at Russell’s Reserve Bourbon interviewed six KDA Scholars about the impact of the scholarship and what they hoped the Bourbon industry would one day look like. Enjoy their Q&As below.

 

For more information on the Lifting Spirits Foundation or how you and your company can contribute, please contact sara@kyBourbon.com. If you or someone you know are interested in applying to be a KDA Scholar at Kentucky State University, University of Kentucky, or the University of Louisville please use the links below. 

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KDA SCHOLARS SPOTLIGHT

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University of Louisville

Distilled Spirits Business Certificate

 

Q: How did you become interested in the distilling industry? Any personal anecdotes to share?

A: I became interested in the distilled industry as I am from the southern Indiana area and have been on a lot of bourbon tours. I also have family members that worked over at Brown-Forman.

 

Q: What do you hope for American Whiskey as we move the industry in new directions?

A: I hope the American Whiskey industry starts to look like America which is full of people of different backgrounds and races that all come together for the greater good. It is so inspiring for little boys and little girls to see people look like them in all industries.

 

Q: What’s your favorite way to drink bourbon?

A: My favorite bourbon to drink currently is Basil Hayden’s on the rocks with a splash of water on top.

 

Q: Do you have any bourbon idols? Anyone who has inspired you along the way?

A: No specific bourbon idols but I have been pretty interested in the Brough Brother’s Distillery based out of Kentucky. They have a good message, and this goes back to having people of color in every industry, representation matters.

 

Q: If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and why?

A: If I could have drink with anyone it would be Oprah. She is truly one of the most fascinating people to me and she seems like she would be fun to have a cocktail with.

 

Q: If you are comfortable, do you mind explaining what having this scholarship program means towards your goals of working in the distilling industry?

A: This scholarship gave me an opportunity to help get my foot into the distillery industries door. This industry is traditionally white men and for me to be a black woman who is 36 is something different. I have been trying to get into this industry for years and am hoping by some exposure and some focus that this could become a reality for me.

 

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University of Louisville

Distilled Spirits Business Certificate

 

Q: How did you become interested in the distilling industry? Any personal anecdotes to share?

A: Working in the restaurant industry, that where I essentially learned all my knowledge about alcohol and the further I dove into it the more interested I became. Then I started going on distillery tours and when I got to see and hear all the equipment, technology, and techniques and that is when I realized that I really didn’t know anything. So naturally I had a need for information for the things I enjoyed normally but did not actually realize that it was an avenue as a career.

 

Q: What do you hope for American Whiskey as we move the industry in new directions?

A: My hope is that more education is provided about American Whiskey, the only reason I am knowledgeable is because of where I have worked and the beverage groups I have joined. I think bourbon as whole is vastly dominated by a single demographic and whiskey needs to more open, because bourbon is the national spirit of the United States and it doesn’t feel like it because few people know what bourbon is or the amount of work that goes into making whiskey. I feel like once that is established, the bourbon world would flourish and be widely accepted and appreciated within our country. Bourbon has a large history and I think people would be surprised of the amount of knowledge from different cultures from around the world that helped create whiskey and bring it all the way to where it is now, honestly it would be a trip to most people.

 

Q: What’s your favorite way to drink bourbon?

A: Honestly, it depends on what I am drinking. Usually I am a neat drinker, unless it is crazy high proof and if so; I’ll add ice or water.

 

Q: Do you have any bourbon idols? Anyone who has inspired you along the way?

A: Bourbon Idols? Not exactly, I am still learning about all the players who upheld the bourbon industry and those that are within it now, so I don’t think I have any specific person that I would idolize just yet. There are many who had their hand in what we know as bourbon today, as well as a lot of UNSUNG heroes that helped push the envelope in the world of whiskey that may or may not ever get credit. As far as Distilling Idols I like to look at certain individuals who might be a little younger than what you would think of as an idol, my first-person would-be Maggie Campbell, she is a phenomenal force and has made her way through many forms of spirits within distillation with a serious knowledge bank to back it up, honestly her sheer knowledge alone is absolutely inspiring. The other distiller would be Kyle Henderson, every time I have an interaction with him, I get the feeling that he is a mad scientist, he knows what he’s talking about and has a certain charm about him that draws you in. There are two other individuals who are not distillers but are very important and inspired me to get into learning about alcohol. They are both women in Louisville Ky, which would be Susie Hoyt and Felicia Corbett. Susie, who I learned under for a time, was the president of United Stated Bartenders Guild (USBG) of the Kentucky chapter and through her and the USBG I learned A LOT! My second individual is Felicia, a lovely unicorn who convinced me to take the plunge into the world of mixology, so I definitely have to shout her out for pushing me in the direction that brought me here… plus she’s awesome.

 

Q: If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and why?

A: He is no longer with us, but it would have to be Nipsey Hussle. Probably not the answer you were expecting. This man came from California just like me. He came from a rough background and used his upbringing to propel himself into a space where few with his origin would have had a chance to achieve. He was incredibly intelligent and made it to his platform on his own, without help or a formal education. I always watch interviews listen to how he tells his story of how he got to where he was, and it is just great to see and hear someone talk about their journey and the challenges they faced along the way. He was also a huge community advocate; he gave people who wouldn’t be given a second chance an opportunity and he really cared about the kids and their education. It would be crazy to have had a drink with him.

 

Q: If you are comfortable, do you mind explaining what having this scholarship program means towards your goals of working in the distilling industry?

A: It provides a great opportunity for me; I feel like this program is something that has not been available before open to people like me is a blessing. Most people don’t recognize the avenues that are possible until they have already passed. I am happy to be here and learn about the industry that I hold in such high regard, thousands of years of our human history revolves around idea of sharing libations with each other, and I would like nothing more than to be a part of this movement of history, science, and art. I am just very thankful for this opportunity.

 

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University of Kentucky

Distillation, Wine & Brewing Studies Certificate

 

Q: How did you become interested in the distilling industry? Any personal anecdotes to share?

A: I first became fascinated by the process during a distillation lab in Organic Chemistry. As a central KY resident, it was exciting to see how concepts from my major directly applied to an industry I was surrounded by.

 

Q: What do you hope for American Whiskey as we move the industry in new directions?

A: The greatest strength of American Whiskey is the traditional, tried and true processes. It guarantees consistency across generations. However, the greatest weakness of American Whiskey is also the traditional, tried and true processes. It corners the industry from growth and development. I hope to see the industry stick to tradition while adding to the industry with new solutions. This balance is important to find.

 

Q: What’s your favorite way to drink bourbon?

A: On the rocks. I am 22, so I still have a lot to learn about Bourbon flavor. I prefer to drink it on the rocks to challenge myself to distinguish the different sensory qualities of various Bourbons.

 

Q: Do you have any bourbon idols? Anyone who has inspired you along the way?

A: This is a hard question to answer because I have been inspired by many people. I am motivated by anyone with passion. My bourbon research team at the University of Kentucky and my coworkers in industry were all passionate about the bourbon industry, which inspired me each day.

 

Q: If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and why?

A: Matthew McConaughey! He is my favorite actor because he can play any role from How to Lose a Guy in 10 days to Interstellar. He seems so full of character, experience, and advice. I haven’t had the opportunity to read his book yet, but I have heard it is very motivational. Also, I know he is a Bourbon fan since he came to Wild Turkey a few years ago!

 

Q: If you are comfortable, do you mind explaining what having this scholarship program means towards your goals of working in the distilling industry?

A: As I mentioned in a previous question, the distilling industry sticks to tradition. I found through my experience that the distilling industry is a male-dominated industry. My mom is an electrical engineer, so I have never felt incapable of
pursuing chemical engineering. This scholarship program inspires me to maintain this mindset as I continue to work in the distilling industry, and to empower other women to do the same. I can be part of the advancement from tradition that the Bourbon industry needs.

 

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University of Louisville

Distilled Spirits Business Certificate

 

Q: How did you become interested in the distilling industry? Any personal anecdotes to share?

A: I am Venezuelan American, but I have spent most of my life in Kentucky and bourbon is a way of life that has a unique culture of its own that connects people from all around the world, which is beautiful. People in Kentucky pick up interesting tidbits about bourbon almost naturally because they are surrounded by it. I have always had an interest in the history and lore behind the bourbon industry. I like how the industry combines lore, tradition, and science. In 2016 I completed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which really made everything come alive and made me want to be a part of it. From there I was hooked I became a hunter of bottles, I started to write about the subject (I write for my friend’s blog www.juiceinthebottle.com ), I joined social media groups to discuss all things bourbon, I completed certification programs, and I eventually found employment in the industry where I could give my knowledge to others hopefully creating a new wave of “bourbon fanatics.” Learning about bourbon has taken me to interesting places, my writing about bourbon has opened opportunities that helped me become an Honorary Kentucky Colonel.

 

Q: What do you hope for American Whiskey as we move the industry in new directions?

A: I would like the American Whiskey industry to promote diversity and inclusiveness. The United States is an extremely diverse country that can give the American Whiskey Category a competitive advantage in international markets. Expanding diversity in the industry will develop new perspectives and ideas that will help expand the category to different groups of people who may never have never tried a whiskey before. I would also like educational programs like the graduate Distilled Spirits Program at the University of Louisville to expand to create well rounded candidates for employment in the industry that can create new and creative ideas that can push the boundaries of categories like American Whiskey. Better education about the category will help create more informed consumers who will help spread the wonders of American Whiskey.

 

Q: What is your favorite way to drink bourbon?

A: I am a big proponent that there is not a best way to drink bourbon, it is all about personal preference and circumstances. If it is neat, in a cocktail, or on the rocks it is all good for me, if I have good company to share it with and a great product that is loaded with history and stories to talk about.

 

Q: Do you have any bourbon idols? Anyone who has inspired you along the way?

A: People like Jimmy & Eddie Russell are an inspiration, I could only wish to have a career as long and as fruitful as theirs. I have been inspired by many people on my “bourbon journey.” I was previously employed at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and their staff and the staff at Heaven Hill (their parent company) are like family to me, I am grateful that they took a shot on me. The Artisanal Distiller at Evan Williams Jodie Filiatreau was always so kind to me and was always ready to answer any question I had.

 

Q: If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and why?

A: If I could have a drink with anyone it would be my grandfather. My grandfather passed away when I was in high school, so I never got to have a drink with him. He was a WWII veteran. He was my all-time hero and hopefully the work I do honors him. It would also be cool to have a drink with Plato, Socrates, Jesus, Winston Churchill, George Washington, & Simón Bolívar. It sounds like a good idea for a drinking song or something. If you are comfortable, do you mind explaining what having this scholarship program means towards your goals of working in the distilling industry? Distilling is kind of a difficult industry to get into because owning and operating a still without a license is against the law and opportunities to learn about the industry are extremely valuable especially from industry leaders that are a part of the Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Louisville. Minorities like Latinos are underrepresented in higher education and the distilling industry. I have a goal of creating my own distillery and I would be willing work for a large or small distillery. Ultimately the Distilled Spirits Graduate Program is filling in some of the gaps, I have in my distilled spirits industry knowledge that would have been difficult to learn without having a door opened like the opportunity afforded to me by the KDA Lifting Spirits Scholarship. The program is equipping me with the tools needed to be a competitive business leader or a well-prepared job candidate in the Distilled Spirits community.

 

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University of Louisville

Distilled Spirits Business Certificate

 

Q: How did you become interested in the distilling industry? Any personal anecdotes to share?

A: Honestly, my love for the distilled spirits industry and bourbon specifically started when I moved back to Kentucky about 13 years ago, as I started to explore my own palate and drinking preferences. While I explored other categories, time and timed again I found myself coming back to bourbon. From this realization as a consumer I began to explore the business side of the industry and found myself really intrigued by the history, legacy of the industry, and the various stories behind each brand. Then, over the years as social media began and continues to change the landscape in terms of how we engage, advertise, and build relationships with consumers, I saw tremendous opportunity for the industry. As a communications and marketing professional, with a focus on organizational/program development and diversity & inclusion, this truly sparked my interest from an innovation and sustainable growth lens, so here I am…thankful and enjoying the opportunity and career possibilities that lie ahead.

 

Q: What do you hope for American Whiskey as we move the industry in new directions?

A: My hope for American Whiskey is that it continues to evolve as an industry from an innovation perspective, particularly within the R&D, production, and branding/marketing areas. With the industry seeing more and more newcomers in the category, I look forward to seeing the creative brand strategies that will be implemented and how brands will continue to utilize social media to advertise to the younger/millennial consumers.

 

Q: What’s your favorite way to drink bourbon?

A: Straight, but I have an absolute love affair with an Old Fashioned!

 

Q: Do you have any bourbon idols? Anyone who has inspired you along the way?

A: 1. Nathan Green (Uncle Nearest)- First African American master distiller who taught Jack Daniel how to distill and make whiskey 2. Ray Walker- Owner/Founder Saint Cloud Bourbon & Los Angeles Times best-selling author

 

Q: If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and why?

A: When first asked this question, my immediate answer is my younger self because there’s a lot of wisdom I would love to bestow- stay focused, take chances, trust your gut, and everything that’s worthwhile takes time. Outside of that, I’d need a whole table to fill up my personalized “Happy Hour”. My invitees would be a perfect mix of “education, soul, wisdom, and laughs”, much like the perfect cocktail, and would include: Ruth Ginsburg, Oprah, Stevie Wonder, Tracee Ellis Ross, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Kevin Hart. Collectively, I think this group would provide an evening in which my soul would be enriched by the realness, triumphs, truths, and successes of each.

 

Q: If you are comfortable, do you mind explaining what having this scholarship program means towards your goals of working in the distilling industry?

A: As a recipient of the KDA Scholarship I am very grateful for the opportunity and trust KDA has put in me as a rising trailblazer in the industry as an African American female. This scholarship has no doubt afforded me the chance to explore my passion fully from an educational standpoint, to collaborate with other like-minded peers, and has also provided me the needed exposure and input from industry leaders. Through this program, I’m not only getting to explore the marketing side of the industry (which I’ve always been interested in), but I get to dive deep into learning about the other parts of the industry that I wasn’t full aware of prior. With that said, it has opened my eyes to other career opportunities that I now am interested in exploring from a long-term perspective. It’s an amazing opportunity to see and learn the industry from all angles free of silos- up close and personal. 

 

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University of Kentucky

Distillation, Wine & Brewing Studies Certificate

 

Q: How did you become interested in the distilling industry? Any personal anecdotes to share?

A: I became interested in the distilling industry my freshman year of college. I am originally from Chicago, so bourbon was never something talked about too much, but my freshman year I went on a tour of a distillery and got to learn how much goes into the process of making bourbon and how it is a perfect combination of science, experimentation, and history. The first sip of bourbon I ever had I almost had to spit out because it was so strong, but after diluting down with some water I was able to truly see all of the characteristics of the wood portrayed through the bourbon- which was so fascinating! Since then, I’ve been hooked!

 

Q: What do you hope for American Whiskey as we move the industry in new directions?

A: I hope that the American Whiskey industry continues to trend innovatively. The small batch bourbons are setting the bourbon industry up to continue their growth. Additionally, the increasing diversity of talent within the industry will be instrumental for the growth of the industry. Diversity brings new ideas, new methods, and will bring this industry to the next level. The increase of diverse hires within the industry has been great, and I can’t wait to see it increase even more.

 

Q: What’s your favorite way to drink bourbon?

A: My favorite way to drink bourbon is as an ALe 8 slush! It brings out great characteristics of the bourbon and the flavors mesh so well!

 

Q: Do you have any bourbon idols? Anyone who has inspired you along the way?

A: My bourbon idol would have to be Bill Samuels, the creator of Maker’s Mark. He sought to create a product that was palatable on the first sip, and after years of searching for the best location and grains, he was able to precure one of the best bourbons in the industry. I really respect him because he saw a need in the bourbon industry and filled it. His successful drink would not nearly have been as popularized if he didn’t have the creativity of his wife, Margie Samuels who developed the red bottle dip and the branding.

 

Q: If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and why?

A: I would love to have a drink with Abraham Lincoln because I would love to hear his perspective on how the country has progressed and we could also swap stories about bourbon production in Kentucky!

 

Q: If you are comfortable, do you mind explaining what having this scholarship program means towards your goals of working in the distilling industry?

A: This scholarship has allowed me to take bourbon and distilling classes that I would not have been able to, allowing me to further my depth of knowledge concerning the distilling industry and further grow my passion for this industry.

 

By |2021-08-19T12:31:30-04:00August 18th, 2021|
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