Welcome to the February edition of the HerKentucky Book Club!
This month's book, Fred Minnick's Whiskey Women, was absolutely fascinating to me! The history of women as distillers and marketers and merchants was so richly constructed by Mr. Minnick, and, of course, I loved the way that Kentucky bourbon played such a huge role in the conversation!
Here are our book club questions for the month. Feel free to answer in the comments below, and raise any other discussion you'd like!
1. In a weird way, I felt that, if I had to distill (pardon the pun!) the theme of the book down to one word, it would be comfort. The earliest distillers were making concoctions intended to heal. Kate Kearney nourished people with her poitín during the Irish famine. A hundred years later, moonshiner Maggie Bailey of Harlan County offered beans and cornbread to her customers, just like any other Appalachian lady would. Bessie Williamson nurtured her Laphroaig distillery family and was a beloved philanthropist. In one way or another, so many of the whiskey women offered warmth and comfort. Did you see comfort shining through as the main theme of the work? What word would you use to describe the whiskey women?
2. I once had the opportunity to interview Peggy Noe Stevens, whom Mr. Minnick references frequently in the book, about her Bourbon Women association. Her words stood out to me that, for years, only fruity cocktails or wine were considered "appropriate" drinks for women, and that female bourbon drinkers really only resurged in the early 21st century. I was kind of fascinated to see the way that 20th century viewpoints about alcohol -- from the woman-led temperance movement to the female distillery work during WWII to the sexist attitudes toward women in alcohol advertising and women working as bartenders -- seemed to regress in the second half of the twentieth century. In your experience, has it been considered "unladylike" or otherwise unseemly for women to drink whiskey?
3. Were you familiar with the stories of Margie Samuels' contributions to Maker's Mark? I feel that the Maker's Mark Distillery Tour does a great job of discussing Mrs. Samuels' influence on the product marketing. What did you think of Heaven Hill's Kate Shapira Latts' claims that women are inherently better suited to whiskey PR and marketing than men?
4. As a Kentuckian, I've always envisioned a huge geographical dividing line between the white whiskey of the mountains and the brown spirits of Central Kentucky. Moonshine represents the hardscrabble way of life we often associate with Appalachia, while bourbon tends to have a little more refined and history. I grew up hearing stories of my great-grandmother being assigned a shift to watch the family moonshine still when she was 8 years old. What is your family's history with spirits?
5. I feel that, since Whiskey Women's 2013 publication, there are even more high-profile women in bourbon roles. Woodford Reserve has a female master taster, Elizabeth O'Neill. Marianne Barnes is Master Distiller for the revival of the Old Taylor Distillery. Do you feel like the bourbon glass ceiling is shattering as the spirit enjoys renewed popularity?
Thanks for reading along, y'all. March's book is The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.