Inspirational Women in the Spirits Industry

Mar 8, 2022

For Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, I want to highlight four inspirational female founders in the spirits industry who have personally helped to guide me. 

Entering a new industry is no easy feat, so finding women who have already made an impact in the spirits industry I could learn from was important to me. I have been fortunate to connect with some amazing female founders and leaders who have opened doors for other women to enter the male-dominated spirits industry.   

I have received guidance from so many industry veterans, male and female, but these ladies really helped me get started. I am featuring two incredible, inspiring women in today’s blog and two more later this month.

Inspirational Women in Spirits – Part 1

Dr. Sonat Brinecker Hart of KOVAL Whiskey

One of my first emails to a female industry veteran was to Sonat Birnecker Hart of KOVAL Whiskey. Sonat is a former university professor, and her distillery is located in my backyard of Chicago. I met with Sonat at her distillery right before the COVID lockdown in March of 2020, and I am so happy I did.

I had three key takeaways from my meeting with Sonat.

First, study all the state regulations for each state I want to enter, as well as the federal laws surrounding spirits. 

The laws regarding alcohol are pretty archaic, dating back to post-prohibition in 1933.  Every state is subject to different taxation rules as well as regulations surrounding spirits. In addition, there is a three-tier distribution system in place which provides that a supplier/importer (me) needs to sell to a distributor who sells to a retailer who sells to the customer.   

Sonat’s incredible knowledge of the compliance rules and laws in the spirits industry blew me away.  

Sonat recommended studying the state regulations for each state I wanted to sell in as well as the federal laws surrounding spirits. I heeded her advice, and I immediately started researching all the federal regulations regarding establishing a tequila brand and the federal excise tax laws.  

In addition, I studied the state laws and wrapped my head around the open state vs. closed state laws. There is still a lot to learn, but I started with our first states we wanted to sell Inspiro Tequila in. Luckily, my law background has made the daunting compliance issues a little easier to grasp. 

Second, understand every aspect of the business myself before bringing on consultants to help.  

I truly appreciate this advice since I agree a founder needs to understand each area of their business.

I don’t think I’ll ever be as knowledgeable as Sonat since she is remarkable, but I am inspired by her to continue to learn as much as possible. I have learned about freight, bottle production, operations, digital marketing, SEO, and social media, along with tons of other topics.   

Third, a beautiful bottle design and packaging are essential.  

The KOVAL packaging is exquisite

This helped solidify my decision to create a custom bottle design. Many suggested I speed things up and create a less expensive bottle by using a stock bottle

However, I wanted something that stood out on the shelves – and after hearing Sonat’s advice – I stuck to my guns and ended up with a sleek, sophisticated tequila bottle that is truly unique.

Dr. Nicola Nice of Pomp & Whimsy

In July 2020, when I was getting started with Inspiro Tequila, I sent a cold LinkedIn message to Nicola Nice, the founder of Pomp & Whimsy. Nicola graciously replied, and we have been able to connect several times.  

Here is a little tip though on sending out cold messages: I did not reach out without preparing first. Before I sent Nicola a message, I listened to podcast interviews she did and read articles she is featured in. It is always best to add a personal touch to any cold outreach. 

Here are some of the lessons from Nicola.

First, the importance of being part of a community of women.  

Nicola is the founder of the Women’s Cocktail Collective, a group that brings women in the spirits industry together to collaborate and support each other. This effort to bring women together in the industry to lift each other up really resonated with me, and I am happy that I finally reached the milestones to become part of the Women’s Cocktail Collective. 

This is a community of powerhouse, inspirational women that I am so excited to meet and collaborate with. I hope to offer some of my insights that I have learned on my entrepreneurial journey to the other women in the Collective since so many women have openly provided guidance to me.  

It is essential to build a customer-centric brand.

Nicola unapologetically focuses on a female consumer, and she does so in a manner that highlights all the women involved in cocktails before her. She speaks respectfully to her customers, and the thoughtfulness in everything Pomp & Whimsy does is clear.  

Her guidance led me to also use a customer-focused approach. We conducted focus groups and sent out surveys to female drinkers to gain a better understanding of their drinking habits and occasions. It was important that we understood our consumers’ drinking choices and what they were looking for. 

We built a tequila brand focused on a thoughtful female consumer, and we try to keep her in mind with everything Inspiro Tequila does.

Second, getting real metrics will help guide you. 

It is hard to get concrete numbers from anyone, but Nicola provided me with real case goals and a breakdown of marketing spend.

The information she shared helped me understand the capital requirements for starting Inspiro Tequila and the yearly goals we should strive for.

Thank you to the inspirational women in every industry that support other women.

The women in spirits that have supported me have been critical to my understanding of how to enter the traditionally male-dominated spirits industry. I am forever grateful to each woman who has agreed to take a meeting with me and offered guidance.  

I hope to offer other women the same inspiration and pay it forward with The Inspiro Purple Bicycle Project.