Uncommonwealth: Bourbon Women just might want you

Are you a successful woman who wants to learn to refine your palate with Kentucky's most famous drink?

Then Bourbon Women wants you.

Bourbon Women was founded by Peggy Noe Stevens, a Louisville businesswoman who was the world's first female master taster in the bourbon industry. Her group — at — promotes the history, heritage, culture and lifestyle of bourbon.

While it has members nationwide, many of the group's events are in Kentucky. Bourbon Women has 500 members in 20 states and three countries (the others being Canada and Australia), Stevens said.

When she started Bourbon Women in 2010, Stevens found the women who joined to be "very confident, very sophisticated," she said. "They know what they like. They're decision-makers. They're people who are not intimidated by ordering a bourbon at the bar."

But even for successful, assertive women, "Sometimes it just takes another woman to introduce them to the product," she said.

Women might think of bourbon as their father's drink, said Stevens, who has worked for Jack Daniel's Provenance Marketing, Brown-Forman and as director of the Woodford Reserve Homeplace.

While some have fond memories of drinking bourbon during their first flush of legal drinking, they might have fallen away from bourbon as they got older, or fallen into the lure of "pink drinks" such as Cosmos, driven by the popularity of the television show Sex in the City.

Susan Reigler wrote about bourbon for the Courier-Journal and co-authored the Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, which she calls "a briskly selling little volume."

She said women generally start their post-21 drinking experience "with some fairly non-challenging flavors" such as beer, vodka and sweet wine.

"As their palates mature they want to invest their consumer dollars in quality products, not any old cheap swill," she said. "Bourbon is complex and sophisticated."

Bourbon drinking also can be a lifestyle, Reigler said, which includes drinking bourbon to learning to use it in food.

She enjoys traditional bourbon cocktails or drinking bourbon neat, or with a little splash of mixer, she said. She is working now with bourbon historian Michael Beech on a bourbon-tasting notebook.

Once women try bourbon, Stevens said, they'll often say, "'I never knew. I remember now, I do like this.' Then they want to learn more, they're very curious."

She compares learning about bourbon to being a foodie who likes cheese and starts to experiment with different kinds of cheese, and learn how cheese is made and what causes the unique flavor in different varieties.

"To really develop your palate and understand bourbon, it's a matter of focus," Stevens said. "Once you start focusing on the taste profile in pure form, you can start to distinguish the different levels of bourbon and the different styles."

In her business, which involves everything from hospitality education to experiential marketing, Stevens wants women to take away the lessons of "leaning in," a term now popular because of the best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by businesswomen Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook.

"My personal experience, and what I try to teach other women, is to become visible by stepping out of people's blind spots," she said. "Too often women take a back seat. Too often we kind of fade in the background, where there are incredibly dynamic intelligent women who have a lot to say. Until we lean in, you won't be heard."


Women and Kentucky Bourbon: A History

When: 7 p.m. June 20

Where: Filson Historical Society, 1310 S. Third St., Louisville

More information:

Cost: $35; registration required.

Sponsors: Presented by Filson Historical Society and Bourbon Women Association sponsored by Wild Turkey.


Winning recipes from Bourbon Women's 2012 cocktail contest, Not Your Pink Drink. The organization plans another contest beginning in May.

Professional division winner

Not your suburban housewife

1 ounce or equal parts of the following:

90 proof bourbon

Butterscotch schnapps

Frangelico hazelnut liquor

Splash Grand Marnier

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass rimmed with raw sugar. Garnish with an orange twist and a dried apricot.

Amateur division first place

High doll

11/4 ounces 90 proof bourbon

3/4 ounces amaretto

2 ounces chilled lime sparkling water

1 lime wedge

1 slice orange

Fill a highball or rocks glass with ice. Pour bourbon and amaretto over ice. Add sparkling water. Squeeze juice of lime into glass and add lime wedge. Stir gently. Garnish with orange slice.

Honorable mention

Bourbonista apple pie a la mode

2 ounces 80 proof bourbon

3/4 ounce apple caramel Schnapps

1 ounce sweet cream coffee creamer (or half and half)

Pinch of cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with cinnamon stick.