Meet South Africa’s liquor ladies

Women’s Day is all about celebrating female empowerment, and we could think of no better way to do this than by profiling 11 savvy, strong and sexy women who are dominating in the male-dominated liquor industry.

From distillers to trainers, innovators and brand ambassadors, here’s how they broke into the business, and how you can too.

Caitlin Hill, National Brand Ambassador for The Botanist Gin, Bruichladdich Whisky & Mount Gay Rum (Rémy Cointreau)

I studied fashion design but I wasn’t really interested in a career in fashion, so I landed up taking a cocktail waitress position at Orphanage Cocktail Emporium. I fell in love with all things cocktails and spirits, and started developing cocktails and experiences for competitions and events. I then left the nest to run Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar, breathing all things gin … which led me to where I am today!

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Stay true to who you are, never compromise, feed your passion and never be scared to ask for what you want.

Desert-island drink:

Corpse Reviver Number Two!

Lucy Beard, Owner and Distiller at Hope on Hopkins

I’m a small town girl: born, bred and educated in Grahamstown. I escaped after my studies and travelled the continent before ending up in London, where I spent 14 years working as a television lawyer. Fed up with the weather and looking for a change, I took a year off and followed the sun around Europe, falling for the gin trend while in Spain. It’s hard to believe I went from lawyer to distiller … It’s been a steep learning curve!

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

It’s scientifically proven that women have a better sense of smell and taste, both of which are key in this industry. Remember this, and don’t doubt yourself; combine this with passion and good sense and you’ll find you can get ahead.

Desert-island drink:

French 75 cocktail … and of course I would choose a Hope on Hopkins distilled gin!

Chantelle Horn,Learning & Development Specialist at Diageo Field Services, Smollan

Ever since I can remember, I was off on some adventure with my camera in hand. The wanderlust bug bit me early, and with that the dining and imbibing industry captivated me. I’ve spent more than a decade in the craft bar scene as well as serving as an ambassador of Diageo’s luxury spirit portfolio. One of the highlights of my career was the launch the world’s most prestigious bartending competition in South Africa, World Class. I live, love and breathe this industry.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

If you’re ever told that you can’t, show them you can. In heels. Be persistent. Pay attention to the details. Be kind. And never stop reading.

Desert-island drink:

Ron Zacapa Centenario 23.

Sarah Joanna Kennan, Alpha Lioness CEO at La Leona

I have always been interested in energy; from the food I eat to the alcohol I drink, I like to know where it comes from and the effect it has. At university in Australia I discovered that 100% agave spirits are the most energy giving, if treated with respect. I became so interested that I travelled all around Mexico, learning from the master distillers. Then I adventured through the Karoo and convinced the farmers to supply me with agave, so I could get 100% Karoo agave spirits distilled in the traditional method I learnt in Mexico, called La Leona.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Stay true to and embrace the powerful lioness within you. 

Desert-island drink:

Mezcal served chilled in a tall shot glass and a cold cervesa on the side. 

Lauren Penny, National Brand Ambassador for Cointreau (Rémy Cointreau)

I grew up in the hospitality industry, and my passion for it was amplified after travelling throughout Africa. After matriculating, I did the Shaker bartender course in Cape Town, and I haven’t looked back, working in cocktail bars and nightclubs around the city. I found that what I enjoy most is sharing my love for the industry, so when I was offered my first brand ambassador position I jumped at the opportunity, and I couldn’t be more excited about the adventures that the future holds.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Don’t hold back, and never be afraid to try new things – that’s how you grow! 

Desert-island drink: 

A Piña Colada… no wait, a Boulevardier … no a Side Car … ooh that’s a tough one…! 

Andri Janeke, Co-founder, Designer, Distiller’s Assistant and the only person who can label 100 bottles in half an hour by hand at New Harbour Distillery (distillery record)

Growing up in a household with 25 people (not kidding) I wanted to explore a little bit more of the world than the bunker I so often had to share with a sibling, so I decided to go to the US for two years. I was completely inspired by New York’s visual expression and came back to study graphic design, but I quickly realised that I didn’t want to work in the corporate field. When Nic and I established New Harbour Distillery we saw the opportunity to see a product through from start to finish, and find the right balance between science and art.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Think differently, then be brave.

Desert-island drink: 

Vodka Martini, always!

Cassandra Eichhoff, Director and Head Instructor at European Bartender School, Cape Town

When I was younger, I knew that a desk job wasn’t for me. I needed to work with people, and be able to be creative and challenged at the same time. The hospitality industry was introduced to me through mobile bar services, then I realised how many different possibilities the bar industry had. I craved personal and business growth, so after exploring different avenues, I joined a global platform that offers education, tourism and travel for the future worldwide bartending generation.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Put in the hours, research, study and network. Be confident and believe in yourself. Lead by example. The industry is massive, with endless opportunities waiting to be explored.

Desert-island drink:

Old Fashioned

Lorna Scott, Founder and Owner of Inverroche Gin

I’ve always been inquisitive, and I discovered a story that I wanted to share with the world: the living relationship humans have with the environment, our common heritage and the protection of one of the world’s most precious floral kingdoms. After a number of years as the Executive Deputy Mayor of the Hessequa Municipality, this led me to studying sustainable development and management. I subsequently spent nearly three years experimenting with fynbos and other botanicals to develop the recipes we use for our gins today.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Master the craft and every aspect of your business, be authentic and employ people who are far better and smarter than you.

Desert-island drink:

Inverroche Gin Verdant Martini.

Sumaiyah Connolly, Global Brand Ambassador of Beefeater Gin & Plymouth Gin (Pernod Ricard)

Soon after I was introduced to bartending, I fell in love with the world of spirits and cocktails. Apart from enjoying the vibe, I wanted to understand and appreciate different categories, cocktails and brands, so I learnt from my friends, colleagues and mentors, who all shared their advice generously. Gin has always been one of my great loves, and I couldn’t be more excited to represent it around the world.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Never give up on your dreams. There will always be hurdles, but if you work through them you can achieve anything you want … and while doing it, always strive to be exceptional.

Desert-island drink:

Southside Fizz!

Shanna-Rae Wilby, Chief Alchemist and Owner at Time Anchor Distillery

I can remember being no older than six or seven and my grandmother teaching me how to make perfume, and the fragrance combinations and notes that you look for have always stuck with me. And I was always inspired by my creative, entrepreneur mother, who often made chocolates and other amazing treats in weird and wonderful flavours. This put me on the path of a long-time love for experimenting and creating, which I now focus on spirits.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Believe in yourself and your dreams.

Desert-island drink:

Our Time Anchor Alchemist Cocktail.

Stephanie ‘Polly’ Simbo, Chairman and CEO at Beyond Bars

I became accidentally enamoured with bartending while working as a waitress in Paris. Soon, I became interested in the possibilities presented by unusual spirits, classic mixes and new flavour profiles, and I completed my WSET training. Today I bring my cocktail expertise into social justice at Beyond Bars, an into-work programme in Cape Town that rehabilitates female ex-inmates in hospitality, one daiquiri at a time. 

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

Stay focused and keep a good balance between your professional and personal lives.

Desert-island drink:

Daiquiri – it can even fight scurvy!

Simone Musgrave, Founder of Musgrave Gin

As part of FoodCorp’s 7th Floor Innovation team, I travelled the world to track new food trends, and I saw a huge craft gin trend making its way to South Africa. So I took a leap of faith and launched my own artisan gin, infused with the same African botanicals my grandfather discovered when he arrived on the continent as a missionary in the 1900s.

Advice for women wanting to break into the industry:

I think our femininity is a huge advantage – tap into it and use its power.

Desert-island drink:

Double Musgrave Pink on the rocks.

This post first appeared on Food24 on 2 August 2017.