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Interview: Women in Spirits, with Beth Buckner of Maker’s Mark

March is Women’s History Month. In 2024 this comes as the U.S. spirits industry highlights and celebrates numerous women who have made huge contributions. Including Beth Buckner, senior manager of innovation and blending at Maker’s Mark. Buckner continues a tradition at the distillery dating back to cofounder Margie Samuels, whose innovative marketing, bottle design and brand building helped forge a globally and generationally successful company.

Our sister magazine Beverage Dynamics recently spoke with Buckner about this legacy and her own whiskey journey.

How did you end up in bourbon?

My own journey started in 2023. Working in bourbon wasn’t my end goal. I went to school to be a biologist. I wanted to be an infectious disease expert. After 2020, I was quite relieved that that was not the path my career took.

I needed a job when I graduated. My dad was a bourbon fan who said: Why not consider a job at a distillery? At the time, I said, ‘There’s no science in bourbon’. But I looked around and then took a temp job at Maker’s Mark. After about 10 minutes into my first day I realized that there’s a lot of science here, haha.

We industry folks know how much science is in distilling, but how can we better educate science students of this career path?

When I was in college there were no professors who shared that. But I think there are more now. You’re seeing industry things like the Kentucky James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits at the University of Kentucky. They have certificates and teaching going on there. You can learn everything about the business.

Speaking of learning, who were some of your female industry mentors?

BB: Diane Rogers at Maker’s Mark. She hired me, and brought me in. She taught me how important it was to never stop asking questions.

Jane Bowie was my first boss. She’s such a powerhouse. She believed in me before I believed in myself.

It’s one of those things at Maker’s Mark. The company really embraces how the founders were a true 50/50 husband/wife team. Margie was behind the bottle shape, the wax, everything about creating the brand. There was a precedent set at Maker’s Mark that women are as empowered as men at this company.

It feels like the spirits industry is currently better than others in terms of empowering women.

I think so. Ten years ago, maybe there was one seat at the table for a woman. Now there’s a seat for everybody.

Spirits does seem more welcoming. I see a wider variety of people in the industry. Especially in the bartending community. It’s fantastic, because people come at the industry from so many different angles: quality, sustainability, brand story, all of the above.

Great point. Diversity is so important in the industry, as it reflects the various backgrounds and preferences of the consumer base.

Exactly. If you don’t have a wide variety of people working in the industry, how will you reach all of those people who represent a diverse consumer base? I don’t think the thinking in the industry has always been that way, but I do think we’re seeing a shift in industry thinking in the last few years.

What advice do you have for women entering the spirits industry?

Tell yourself that you’re good. Speak up when you think you should. Go ahead and say it, because your voice matters. But at the same time, never try to be the smartest person in the room. The best way to grow is to put yourself in uncomfortable positions.

My best advice is to never stop asking questions.

How important are women-focused industry groups?

BB: I’m a member of the Bourbon Women Association and Women of the Vine & Spirits. They’re great platforms for getting women bourbon exposure where they wouldn’t normally get it. It’s a way for women to get a voice in a typically male-dominated industry.

And there’s so many options for women getting into the industry: finances, marketing, distilling. There’s a shift of so many more people coming into the industry. And you don’t have to be a young person, you just have to be interested in the industry.

This article was edited and condensed for publication.

The post Interview: Women in Spirits, with Beth Buckner of Maker’s Mark appeared first on Cheers.

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