Raise a glass to 20 experts revolutionizing the spirits industry.
Creative Director, Kumiko and Kikko
At Kumiko, one of the biggest names in Chicago’s bar scene, it’s all about the little things. As creative director and beverage guru Julia Momose puts it, “If there are 100 things in the room, even though one guest won’t notice all of them, over the course of the evening, our guests as a unit will.”
Momose, who opened Kumiko with Noah and Cara Sandoval in January, certainly sweats the small stuff when it comes to the West Loop bar’s expansive and innovative beverage menu. She describes each drink as a connection to Japan, where she grew up, whether through its style and feel or a specific ingredient. There are explorative flights that help guests experience Japan’s key sake-producing regions, and comparative spirits flights to help them appreciate nuances in Japanese whisky and shōchū, a distilled liquor made from grains or starches like sweet potatoes and barley. And then there are what Momose calls “spiritfrees,” the zero-proof cocktails she’s been designing since long before their recent rise in popularity. The Hōji-Hai, for example, features hōjicha, a Japanese green tea, as well as pomegranate molasses, Concord grape vinegar, and Q Club soda.
Momose wanted to have something on the menu “beyond your basic Diet Coke and soda with a lime” for guests who don’t drink, but it was also for her mom and dad. “My parents don’t drink, and it took me a really long time to tell them that I was a bartender,” she says. “Part of that was because I didn’t know if they would approve, necessarily, but also because I knew that they wouldn’t be able to experience the work that I was doing.” A spirit-free drink menu was one way to give them a view into her world.
For Momose, it comes down to creating an experience tailored to each guest, whether they’re searching for a complex cocktail or an artfully arranged drink. “Kumiko is a place where you can dive in and lean forward and ask questions and get smart answers—or a place where you can just sit back and feel special.” —Melissa Flandreau
First Female Master Cicerone, Alvarado Street Brewery
Achieving the title of master cicerone is no small feat. The designation, which recognizes an individual’s “exceptional understanding of brewing, beer, and pairing,” requires a grueling two-day, 14-hour exam with written, oral, and tasting components. A test-taker might, for example, have 15 minutes to identify which beers in a flight are different from a control sample and explain how. In 2011, Nicole Erny became the fourth person and the first woman to receive the certification. “You don’t really prepare for that exam,” she says. You just know when you’re ready.
Today, she’s the quality, sensory, and educational projects coordinator at Alvarado Street Brewery in Monterey, California—in other words, the resident beer genius. And Erny really does take every sense into account. Part of her job involves training the staff to identify different aroma compounds and distinguish them from taste. “Our tastes are limited to sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami,” Erny says. “Everything else is an aroma.” She draws on years of experience as a beer bartender to instruct others on creating a positive customer experience. “That’s a big part of where the magic happens,” she says. “It’s about connecting great beer with people who are going to enjoy it.” —Tommie Ethington
Click Here to see the recipes Marrero shared with us.
MOLLY TROUPE AND JILL KUEHLER
Master Distiller and Owner, Freeland Spirits
According to the American Distilling Institute, women own and operate less than 2 percent of distilleries, but when it comes to tasting spirits, they do have the upper hand. “Women have more olfactory cells and more taste buds, so, in a way, there’s this whole profile of spirits, a whole palate, that’s never been introduced to the world because women haven’t been [involved in] production,” says Jill Kuehler, who began dreaming up Freeland Spirits in 2014. The company’s first spirit launched in December 2017, and the Portland, Oregon, distillery and tasting room opened in July 2018. Kuehler and Molly Troupe, the master distiller at Freeland Spirits, have since developed a coveted gin-making method that preserves fresh botanicals. They also produce a bourbon aged in local pinot noir barrels and have plans to release a rye whiskey. And they’ve done it largely with an all-female team. Many of their ingredients come from female farmers, their teardrop-shaped bottle was designed by a woman, and about 80 percent of their investors are women. Troupe interprets their motto—“She flies with her own wings”—to mean there are no limits. “That’s something we really do live by every day.” —T.E.
Founder, Wheyward Spirit
A food scientist by trade, Emily Darchuk has worked at NASA, Kellogg, and Coca-Cola developing new products. But when the Oregon native began consulting in the dairy industry, she saw a problem—and set out to solve it. “For every 10 pounds of milk, you can make 1 pound of cheese, so you’re left with 9 pounds of excess whey,” she says. Some producers have outlets to use this whey, like turning it into whey protein powder, but for the most part, it goes to waste. Darchuk came up with the idea of creating a special spirit by fermenting the lactose in the whey and converting it into alcohol.
The result was Wheyward Spirit, a smooth, clean liquor with a similar ABV to vodka (80 proof), but more flavor: hints of natural spiciness and creamy vanilla. The lactose is stripped out in the distilling process, so it’s nothing like drinking a glass of milk. So far, Wheyward Spirit is a proverbial drop in the milk bucket when it comes to making dairy operations more sustainable, but as the company continues to grow, Darchuk has big hopes of making a larger impact. “We like to say we do things differently for the right reasons,” she says. “We’re trying to have some fun from an outsider’s perspective.” —Kelsey Ogletree
COLY DEN HAAN
Owner, Vinovore Wine and Goods Shop
Nearly 4,000 wineries are sprinkled throughout California, but according to a 2018 study from Santa Clara University, just 10 percent have women as their lead winemaker. And of the small batch of women who lead those operations, only 4 percent also own the winery—compare that to male winemakers, who own the wineries 47 percent of the time.
But one woman in Los Angeles has adopted the Sisyphean task of getting women’s finished bottles of wines into the hands of consumers. A certified sommelier specializing in Italian wines—as well as a third-generation restaurateur and certified beer specialist—Coly Den Haan knew exactly what she was getting into when she opened Vinovore in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles in September 2017.
“The wine industry is a boys’ club,” Den Haan says. “I will admit it has gotten better since I first became a sommelier 12 years ago, but it’s still dominated by men.”
To help combat the industry’s skew toward men, Den Haan decided to create a wine, beer, and goods shop featuring natural, organic, and biodynamic wine and beer made by women.
Not that you’d know the rotating selection of 150 bottles is made exclusively by women, she says. Entrenched in Vinovore’s DNA is an interactive shopping system—Den Haan’s bid to “demystify geekier wines,” what she calls more obscure grape varietals or wines from less readily available growing regions. Buyers come in and choose which “vinovore” they are—in other words, an animal alter ego that suits their tastes and personality. An Orange Tiger will look for orange-stickered bottles that represent their adventurous tastes, while a Gold Owl might seek out old-world whites. In other words, they’ll soon find themselves with a wine that fits their palate and mood. —Kathleen Willcox
Whiskey Scientist, Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co.
Fort Worth, Texas
Ale Ochoa always knew she’d have a career in whiskey—the only question was how she’d get there. With a degree in food science and technology from Texas A&M University under her belt, she set out to earn her master’s degree in flavor chemistry and sensory science, all while keeping her eye on the goal. “I kept saying, ‘I want to work with whiskey; I want to work with whiskey,’ and that’s how I’d introduce myself.”
While completing her master’s, Ochoa met Rob Arnold, the head distiller at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. Today, Ochoa works at F&R as a whiskey scientist, where a big part of her day-to-day involves quality assurance, from when the spirit goes into a barrel to when it’s in the customer’s hands. “I sample every barrel when it turns a year old, 2, 3, 4,” Ochoa says. “I track everything, see how things are maturing, and try to develop patterns in our maturation in our barrel barn.”
But her favorite part? Smelling the whiskey. “Even with barrels from the same tank, you get some that are super maple-forward, some that are straight fig, and others that are smoky and nutty,” she says. “Not to quote Forrest Gump, but it’s like a box of chocolates—you really never know what you’re going to get with each barrel.” —M.F.
Thinking of California wine might conjure images of sprawling vineyards in Napa Valley or trendy tasting rooms in Sonoma. But in downtown Los Angeles, 102-year-old San Antonio Winery has weathered ups and downs—including Prohibition—to become the City of Angels’ longest-producing winery.
An instrumental part of the winery’s longevity? Ninety-seven-year-old Maddalena Riboli, who’s been in the family business for more than 70 years. In 1946, Riboli, then Maddalena Satragni, met Stefano Riboli on her family’s farm and married him later that year. Together, they began working with Stefano’s uncle, Santo Cambianica, at San Antonio Winery, and after Cambianica’s death in 1956, Stefano was granted ownership, with Riboli at his side.
In a male-dominated industry, Riboli made room for herself. She took over bookkeeping, had the idea to begin sourcing grapes from California’s Central Coast, and encouraged the company to open a restaurant within the winery—one of the first such operations. Almost 50 years later, the eatery, Maddalena, is still open.
Today, Riboli remains involved with the winery, with a little help from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who are carrying on the legacy she helped build. And her namesake line of vinos at San Antonio Winery—Maddalena—has been carefully crafted with “bold, yet humble flavors,” to honor the passionate woman for whom it’s named. —M.F.
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