Local clubs and distilleries educate female drinkers about the historic spirit.

By Kaitlyn Pacheco | March 7, 2018

The ingredients used to make Maryland-style rye whiskey are simple and loose: spicy rye, sweet corn, and a hint of one of two other grains. Maryland farmers and distillers have been using variations of this recipe since the 1890s, but now, as the Old Line State’s signature spirit experiences a local and national comeback, women have become the not-so-secret ingredient to its success.

In fact, women are some of the most direct producers of whiskey in the state at places like Sagamore Spirit, Lyon Distilling, and Louthan Distilling. And there’s even a Baltimore chapter of Women Who Whiskey (WWW), an organization that unites like-minded women for events that feature educational presentations on whiskey and the distilling process, and, of course, tastings.

A big part of changing those perceptions is the fact that the president of the Maryland Distillers Guild is a woman, Jaime Windon of Lyon Distilling in St. Michaels.

“There’s never been a better time to have a cocktail, and there’s probably never been a better time to be a woman,” she says. “The results are proof that we’re working just as hard as we always have, but we’re finally getting a little bit of credit for it.”

Windon, who has been the president of the guild since its inaugural year, says that while she shares other members’ motivation to promote and educate others about Maryland’s growing spirit industry, she also wants to be a visible resource and leader for other women in the distilling community.

“During the first year that [Lyon Distilling] was open, I can’t tell you how many times I answered the door to the question, ‘Are you the wife of the owner?’” says Windon. “I want to help others; I don’t want anyone else to go through that.”

As a woman in the traditionally male-dominated spirits industry, Windon says she quickly realized people were going to assume that she wasn’t in charge or knowledgeable about distilling. She threw herself into the business, learning about its local history and every step of the multi-year process, and she continues to lead as an advocate for local spirits.

She says that having women involved in everything from bartending to manning the still has helped drive whiskey’s recent renaissance. In the 1990s, 15 percent of whiskey drinkers were female. By 2014, women represented 37 percent of whiskey swillers.