If you've had your head buried in a spiked beverage, you may have missed that March is Women's History Month. This designated time provides a platform to consider the professional women-bartenders, writers, distillers, and makers-who have a daily impact on the thriving cocktail scene in Portland, Oregon.
There are a lot of remarkable Portland women who are active in our beverage community. Women in this arena make a concerted effort to collaborate, mentor, and build community in their beverage projects. Karen Locke, author of High-Proof PDX and founder of High-Proof Creative says, "I've received support from the Portland cocktail and distilling scene but what I see from the women in this industry is unparalleled. There's something intensely genuine about the support too — not just same-gendered, blanket encouragement — it's thoughtful and often includes much needed critique. More so than women supporting women, I find people support each other's work. An example that comes to mind is Camille Cavan, bar manager at Quaintrelle. After my book, 'High-Proof PDX' about the Portland distilling scene launched, Camille planned a dinner including my book that highlighted and paired Portland-made spirits with dishes at Quaintrelle. It's actions like these that have shown me women are seeing big picture, and how our actions can help support not only each other but industries as a whole."
Public Provisions and Bar Miranda co-owner, Melaney Schmidt echoes Locke. "When the goal is to succeed as a community the entire vision is enhanced and everyone wins. Women are so good at seeing that united goal and lifting up others around them. I've found that women give constructive feedback because they truly want to see you succeed." This hands-on partnership approach and supportive networking resonates repeatedly. "Community", "strength", and "support" are emphatically integral to local women in the beverage business. Quaintrelle restaurant's bar manager, Camille Cavan responded, "I believe not only do we as women work stronger together, but I think our approach in creating, mentoring and developing concepts are derived from intuition, drive and trusting in ourselves." It's clear that Portland's women-in-beverage help one another and work to uplift one another. "There are so many amazing women out here that aren't just crushing it...they're taking the time to appreciate each other and lift each other up," said Kachka restaurant's bartender, Jamie Otto.
Natasha Mesa, bartender at Southeast Portland's Deadshot, speaks to these essentials. "Shared passion, support and mentorship are fundamental elements of the thriving community of female bartenders. In the male-dominated bar industry, women tend to look out for each other, cheer each other on and share whatever knowledge they can pass along. The edge of competition is for the craft, not against each other, and victories for one feel like victories for all. This community support has allowed space for talented bartenders and creative thinkers to thrive in their industry."
Expressed by many is the knowledge that there are more women in the Portland beverage community than in previous years. "Women in the beverage industry are really reaching a renaissance right now," says Lacey Jane Miller-Cahoj, a sommelier, chef, and the head of the wine program at Renata restaurant. "Whether it be wine, spirits, or brewing, you're seeing more and more female-driven projects. It's an exciting time to be a part of the culture of creativity with so many badass women."
Behind the scenes, local women are crafting the spirits that go into our cocktails. With distillers like Freeland Spirits' Molly Troupe, Mel Heim at Eastside Distilling, Faith Dionne of Jaz Spirits, and Vinn Distillery's Vicki and Michelle Ly, the Oregon beverage landscape is strong with female direction. Others have added specialty layers to our drinks. Judy Bennett's Portland Bloody Mary Mix and distiller Lee Hedgmon's The Barreled Bee Honey have added complexity and innovation to otherwise standard products; taking them to a heightened level that raises the stakes on our bar games. Genevieve Brazelton, CEO/founder of Improper Goods (with products such as RAFT syrups and The Bitter Housewife bitters now also under the "RAFT" name), believes that "The more women who become involved in the cocktail industry, from brand ambassadors to distillers to bartenders and owners, the more approachable and fun it becomes for all."
From Freeland Spirits CEO and owner, Jill Kuehler, to Sara Brennan, co-owner at Trail Distilling to Jennifer Kadell, the director of operations at Bull Run Distilling Company, women are in leadership roles, taking the reins from "soup to nuts." Kadell says, "I am proud to see such a strong group of women carving our way through the craft beverage scene in Portland: from brewers to distillers to cocktail creators and influencers to the enthusiasts."
Emily Ross-Johnson is the vice president of Oregon Bar Guild. Ross-Johnson wrote, "It's wonderful to see more women in charge, making some much needed changes to the bar culture, and creating an environment where more women feel comfortable and supported behind the stick. I think with such strong female leadership in the community, we are making space for and encouraging other women to take part of a world that might previously felt unwelcoming for them."
ProTip: Don't skip out on Cider Rite of Spring 2019. The Northwest Cider Association hosts this engaging, annual event. It's a great chance to get out, sip 100 ciders, and meet cidermakers. See NWCider.com for details and tickets.
ProTip: We are in the final days of Women's History Month cocktails at Abigail Hall inside the Woodlark Hotel. Get in and show your support. Salud!
[Disclosure: In this article, I reference Bar Miranda. My current cocktail pop-up, Bunny Bar, is a collaboration at Bar Miranda. However, that relationship did not impact this article.]