This is the first in a series focused on women who love whiskey throughout the area, from enthusiasts to the wonderful people who help make and sell the spirit.
On the edge of Lyons, Spirit Hound Distillers is known for fine libations, including the single-malt whiskey recently awarded Whiskey of the Year in the London Spirits Competition. More than that, the distillery also holds court for a group of women interested in exploring the production side of spirits. Led by Amanda Engelhorn, Spirit Hound’s tasting room manager, they call themselves the “Whiskey Wenches.”
Engelhorn calls herself the “switchboard operator” at Spirit Hound, with her role going beyond just managing the bar and more into connecting people with who or whatever they might need at the distillery. Starting with the company in 2013, before the big flood, she’s been officially in her role since 2015. Her husband, Craig Engelhorn, is the head distiller and co-founder of the distillery, she explains with a laugh, adding that whiskey really brought them together.
“I actually didn’t like whiskey at all when I first started here, which was kind of a point of contention between Craig and I,” she explains.
The change came when Engelhorn sat down with the owners to develop tasting notes for each barrel. Spirit Hound’s single-malt whiskey is released as individual barrels, which lend unique qualities to each.
“When I took my mind off of not liking the whiskey and more into what I was tasting, once I got past that hurdle of trying to pick out flavors, then it became interesting” Engelhorn says. “All of a sudden it’s not that I don’t like it, I found the whiskey interesting, which turned to just liking to drink whiskey.”
That experience has continued to shape her palate, with single-malt whiskey and Scotch holding dominance in her taste, but Engelhorn says she loves exploring beyond that. The Whisky Wenches were inspired by her own love of whiskey and spirits, with an experience at a distilling conference in Estes Park acting as impetus to encourage more women to explore their curiosity with distilled spirits.
Craig was giving a seminar at the conference, she explains.
“I was looking at all the people in the room and thought, ‘Holy shit, I think everyone in the room here is a man,’” Engelhorn says. “I don’t think it was intentional, but there wasn’t a single woman in there.”
Compounding that, Engelhorn found some misogynistic tendencies when it came to discussing whiskey. Visitors to the distillery would ignore her or dismiss her, assuming she didn’t know anything.
“It got under my skin a little bit,” she says. “Especially working in the tasting room, you can see it in people’s faces.”
Engelhorn wanted to start a women’s group at the distillery, but sat on the idea for a few years. Finally, she found the time to launch with an informational group discussing the basics of distilled spirits, including different categories of whiskey and what went into gin. In those early meetings, Engelhorn says she could see the lights turn on in people’s heads as they started to understand the spirits world a little better.
“I think part of what keeps women out of it is the intimidation factor. You feel like you don’t have anything to contribute to a conversation, you’re afraid to ask questions,” she says. “But that first meeting created an awesome connection with these amazing women.”
Since then, the group continues to grow and shift. One meeting focused on chocolate and whiskey pairings, including what goes into making chocolate from raw cacao. Others have included Scotch tastings, field trips to the Burns Pub to learn more about Irish whiskey, and eventually turned to actually operating the stills to produce a batch of gin.
“These outings cost money, so I figured if we sold our own gin, we could use the proceeds to have more adventures with the Wenches,” she says.
Called Revelry, the gin came out in a limited quantity, with a botanical blend carefully selected by members of the Whisky Wenches. The batch sold well, Engelhorn says, and only a handful of bottles remain in the wild. Like many things, COVID put a halt to the Whiskey Wenches meetings, but Engelhorn is getting the group back together on the regular once more. A new batch of gin is in the works, she says, along with more whiskey-inspired events.
Women interested in joining the Whisky Wenches can find the Whisky Wenches Spirits Society on Facebook, Engelhorn says, or inquire about them at the distillery. With a boom in the spirits industry in general, and whiskey in particular, Engelhorn says she’s excited to see the group grow.
“We’re definitely seeing more women whiskey drinkers,” she says, “and knowledgeable ones too. It’s really fun.”