Back in 2011, The Bourbon Women group was founded on the knowledge that there were plenty of women out there who loved America’s Native Spirit but who needed to feel empowered to speak up about it.
Two years later The Bourbon Women hosted its first SIPosium, a conference designed to bring Bourbon-loving women together to learn more deeply about their favourite amber liquid. The conference has grown and evolved, and now just six years on, more than 300 women from across the United States joined together in August to learn and to celebrate in Louisville, Kentucky at the historic Seelbach Hilton Hotel.
“The SIPosium, I have to say, was always a dream of mine, to spend an entire weekend with women surrounded by the culture and lifestyle of Bourbon and whiskey” says Bourbon Women Founder Peggy Noe Stevens. “I didn’t know at the time six years ago that it would take off. Our very first one was at The French Lick Resort because someone was on the board who worked at that hotel and we thought, ‘what a great idea!’ and we had seventy women show up. On our first one! So I knew there had to be something to this.”
The format for this year’s event was a mix of classroom sessions and excursions, with breakfast and lunch opportunities for the group to come together as a whole.
When guests arrived Friday afternoon they were greeted by a cocktail reception at Angel’s Envy Distillery before heading out to a choice of tours at Angel’s Envy, Michter’s Fort Nelson, Locust Grove, Vendome Copper & Brassworks, The Evan Williams Experience or Buffalo Trace. Then participants boarded a bus to Lux Row Distillery for an exclusive dinner.
Saturday morning started bright and early at 8 a.m. with breakfast and a keynote address from Uncle Nearest Founder Fawn Weaver, where she spoke about her journey from discovering the story of Nearest Green to starting a distillery in his name, saying, “There are certain things in life we choose and there are certain things in life that choose us.”
Then came six breakout sessions over two class periods. Choices for the first session were Bourbon Blind Date with Samara Rivers, Founder of the Black Bourbon Society, Oceans of Bourbon with Jefferson’s Bourbon co-Founder Chet Zoeller, and The Art of the Blend with whisky writer and expert Heather Greene of Ben Milam Distillery.
Choices for the second session were Great Grains with Erica Fields of Brooks Grain, Trends in the Life of a Bartender with Marita Leonard of the Miami Bartender’s Guild, and a Vintage Spirits session with Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Samantha Montgomery.
Sessions were lively and interactive with people asking great questions of the speakers and really engaging in what was being said. Even lunch was interactive with a food and Bourbon pairing, and the winners of the Bourbon Women’s Not Your Pink Drink competition were also featured with the meal in the packed ballroom.
After that there were more excursions to Kentucky Peerless, Jefferson’s at Kentucky Artisan Distillers, and Jeptha Creed. This was followed by a choice of a President’s Tasting with Bourbon Women President Kerri Richardson, a speakeasy session cocktail class to learn all about the Seelbach cocktail, or a dinner at Peggy Noe Stevens’ house featuring a special appearance by Willett Distillery President Britt Kulsveen.
Women travelled from across the country, from California, Texas, Oklahoma, Chicago, New York to attend this event. There were seasoned Bourbon lovers and those who came to honour lost loved ones’ passion for Bourbon. There were doctors and lawyers, retirees who came complete with airstream trailers, and people both inside and outside of the industry, all coming together to celebrate a love for Bourbon with women from all walks of life.
“Little by little every year it inched up, and what you saw today was almost 300 women in the general session area,” Stevens says.
“We’ve changed hotels and it has grown, and I have realized that this is truly the only offering for women for an entire weekend that’s not a leadership conference, it’s not an academic conference, it’s not about your children, it’s about camaraderie, and Bourbon is just what brings us together.”
Throughout the event there was a vendor village featuring locally made items such as Art Eatables Bourbon Truffles and Bourbon-themed cookies by Baked Louisville. There was a silent auction sponsored by Silverback Distillery, benefitting the Family Scholar House in Louisville which was filled with exclusive bottles, tours, and wares. It was a marathon weekend of all things Bourbon and Bourbon-related.
“To me the vibe this year was totally different than it has been in the past,” said Bourbon Women managing director Sara Barnes. “There were new faces and new excitement, and maybe the new venue had a part in that, too. I think we might have outdone ourselves this year for the years to come.”
No one left this event feeling alone or unhappy – all the women in attendance were warm and welcoming to newcomers while also happy to see familiar faces. Only time will tell what next year holds for the Bourbon Women SIPosium. It just keeps getting bigger and better, and it’s a great place to meet people from all over the country who love Bourbon just as much as you do.
“The more we can make women happy - did you see anyone who wasn’t joyful, grateful, and having a great time?” Stevens asks.
“That energy, I just want it to get broader and bigger and broader and bigger, any way we can do that with women, because we need each other.”
The Bourbon Women know how to throw a party in the grandest style, and as this event continues to grow into the future there’s no telling what may happen next. One thing will be for certain – it will involve Bourbon and there may be parts that will fall under the jurisdiction of ‘What happens at Bourbon Women SIPosium stays at Bourbon Women SIPosium.’