In 2018, the three founders of Milam & Greene, a distillery in Blanco, Texas, made their first trip to the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, one of the state’s largest gatherings of bartenders, distillers and their legions of fans. They were excited to introduce their new whiskey, until they found their assigned table — stuck in a corner, far from the action.
The cold shoulder might have come because they were new to the scene, or because a portion of their whiskey was made outside Texas. But it didn’t help that all three of them — Marsha Milam, entrepreneur; Heather Greene, CEO and master blender; and Marlene Holmes, master distiller — were women, trying to make it in an industry well known for its assertive, sometimes aggressive masculinity.
“There were literally complaints, like, ‘Why are they in here?’” Greene said.
Undaunted, the Milam & Greene team persevered, winning competitions and critical acclaim, including an award at the Texas Whiskey Festival in April. And three years after that first, frosty reception, they find themselves not just accepted, but celebrated by other Texas distillers.
“It was a total turnaround,” Greene said. “We just had to dig in and say, ‘We’re here, and we’re one of you guys.’”
Similar stories abound in the American whiskey business, where women have long played a quiet and underappreciated role, often in places like the bottling line or the marketing department. In the past few years, though, women have…