Inside the Inclusive Revolution in The Whiskey Industry

The whiskey industry, much like many other facets of society, is undergoing a transformation where diversity and inclusivity are being prioritized more than ever before. Historically a male-dominated field, the landscape of whiskey-making is beginning to reflect the diverse array of individuals who enjoy its products. Let's examine this shift, the challenges it presents, and the opportunities it brings.

Shattering the Single Malt Ceiling: Diversity on the Rise

As industries evolve, so do the people within them. The whiskey industry is experiencing a similar evolution, with increased representation from different races, genders, and sexual orientations. Women are making significant strides, holding roles not just in marketing and PR, but also as master distillers and blenders. This increased representation doesn't stop at gender, with many distilleries striving to ensure their staff reflects the diversity of the communities they serve.

The introduction of different perspectives and experiences brings about innovative ideas and broadens the reach of the whiskey industry, benefiting everyone involved. This shift is slow but steady, and the inclusivity ripple effect is being felt across the whiskey world.

Defining Inclusive Practices

Today, many distilleries are proactively redefining their policies and practices to become more inclusive. The industry, once heavily dominated by a particular demographic, is now waking up to the value of diversity. Inclusive practices within the whiskey industry can take various forms, both internally within organizations and externally towards consumers.

Internally, these practices could mean ensuring a diverse workforce, not just in entry-level positions, but across all layers of management and decision-making roles. This includes an equitable representation of genders, races, and backgrounds in key roles such as Master Distillers, Blenders, and Tasters, traditionally held by a specific demographic.

Another internal inclusive practice involves fostering an organizational culture that values diversity, encourages dialogue, and actively addresses bias and discrimination. Providing training and education about diversity and inclusion, and having open channels of communication for employees to share their experiences and concerns, is key to creating an inclusive environment.

Externally, inclusive practices include transparent communication with consumers about a distillery's commitment to diversity and inclusion. This could take the form of publicizing initiatives they're taking, sharing stories of their diverse workforce, or engaging in outreach programs to diverse communities.

They could adopt inclusive marketing practices, showing that whiskey enjoyment isn't limited to a specific demographic but can be appreciated by all. This could involve representation in advertising, as well as hosting events or experiences tailored to a wider range of consumers.

Many distilleries are taking steps to support broader industry change, such as funding scholarships for underrepresented groups, investing in minority-owned businesses, or advocating for more equitable industry regulations and standards.

Embracing Change: Distilleries at the Forefront of Inclusivity

Some distilleries are going beyond just talking about inclusivity – they are implementing significant changes to ensure a diverse workforce. Let's look at two distilleries who are truly championing this cause.

Old Forester: Embodying their spirit of innovation, Old Forester has put inclusivity at the forefront of their operations. Zykan's appointment as Master Taster signaled a significant shift in the traditionally male-dominated industry. It wasn't a move for appearances, but a recognition of her extensive knowledge, discerning palate, and undeniable passion for the craft. Zykan has been instrumental in introducing new blends and expressions, proving that diversity indeed drives innovation.

Uncle Nearest: An award-winning distillery, Uncle Nearest not only celebrates the story of the first African-American master distiller but also backs up their message with action. Their leadership team boasts an impressive female majority, and they launched a $50 million venture fund to fast-track minority participation in the American whiskey industry. This distillery’s commitment to inclusivity goes far beyond just lip service. Honoring the legacy of Nearest Green, the first African-American master distiller, they ensure his name is not just a label on a bottle but a driving force for industry change. With a majority female leadership team and significant investments to propel minority involvement in the whiskey industry, they are creating opportunities and setting a precedent for others to follow.

  • Brough Brothers: Founded by three brothers, this distillery is the first and only African American-owned distillery in Kentucky. Their mission is not only to produce fine bourbon but also to uplift their community by providing employment opportunities and economic growth.
  • Ardbeg: In an industry where women are still underrepresented, Ardbeg appointed Dr. Bill Lumsden as their Director of Whisky Creation, Distilling & Whisky Stocks. Lumsden has been a fierce advocate for diversity, inspiring many women to pursue careers in the whiskey industry.
  • Glenfiddich: This renowned distillery has been making strides in promoting diversity, with their Malt Mastermind competition open to all, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. The competition challenges industry professionals to demonstrate their creativity and expertise, spotlighting talent from all walks of life.
  • Maker's Mark: Maker's Mark stands out with Victoria MacRae-Samuels in the pivotal role of Vice President of Operations. She is the first woman to hold such a high-ranking position in a bourbon distillery, shattering glass ceilings and serving as an inspiration for other aspiring women in the industry.
  • J. Rieger & Co.: This Kansas City distillery appointed the industry’s first female Master Blender, Nancy Fraley, proving their commitment to gender inclusivity. They also actively engage in community outreach programs to foster greater inclusivity within the industry.

A Change from the Inside: Voices for Inclusivity

There's no better way to understand the impact of diversity than hearing from those who are at the forefront of this transformation. Fawn Weaver, CEO of Uncle Nearest, strongly believes in the importance of diversity in the whiskey industry. In her words, "We’re showing what a minority-led brand can do. We’re breaking down barriers every day.”

Jackie Zykan, Old Forester’s Master Taster, adds, "Diversity brings about new ideas, new concepts, and it makes us better." Both these voices and many others are continually advocating for change, setting an inspiring example for the industry.

A Call to Consumers

As consumers, we have the power to drive change by choosing to support inclusive brands. Here are a few ways to do so:

  1. Research and understand the values of the brands you support. 
  2. Engage with and promote these brands on social media.
  3. Attend events or tastings that these distilleries may host.

The whiskey industry's shift towards inclusivity is a promising sign of changing times. As more distilleries embrace diverse workforces and leadership, the industry will only continue to grow and innovate. The days of a single type of whiskey enthusiast or producer are fading into the past. Today, the industry welcomes all, much like a good dram of whiskey is best enjoyed in good company, no matter who that company may be.