“ Whisky, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation “ – Haruki Murakamiv
A quote I whole heartedly agree with ! Over the past months, many brands, Instagrammers , and friends of mine, have showcased women in the whisky industry. Many you’ve probably heard of are the main names , those front runners like master distillers , marketing gurus, or brand ambassadors. All of which deserve the upmost respect and recognition, and I don’t want to knock that. However what about the other women, the ones that don’t make it into a Forbes article or have a photo gracing a magazine cover – hell what about all the ones maybe you haven’t even heard of yet ?
Last week I attended the New Orleans Bourbon Festival ( it was phenomenal but that’s another story). The second seminar I took was a bourbon and cigar pair – I wanted to take the class so bad I didn’t even bother to see who was leading it until the day before. Maggie Kimberl , a quick witted sharp tongued Kentuckian – and she is a bad ass woman I need you to know about- was the one leading this class.
University of Louisville graduate of English and literature as well as philosophy is how this future columnist got her skills. Currently, Maggie is working as a columnist for American whiskey magazine , also freelancing writing for whisky magazine – oh and she also is editor and chief for
Bourbonveach.com. The devil works hard but Maggie works harder. Although I didn’t just want to go off on a girl crush rant, so instead I was intrigued on her experience in not just the whisky community, but cigars as well.
1. So i know you’re a true Kentuckian, but what came first as far as love affairs. Bourbon or cigars ?
You are the first person to ask me this so I think people are in for a bit of a surprise here. I was actually into cigars long before bourbon. I turned 18 at the tail end of the last cigar boom in the 90s when cigar clubs were popping up all over the place, so since I could go to cigar clubs but not bars at that age I got into it back then. It was more of a casual hobby, of course, and it fell by the wayside during college and when I was a new mother, but then I reconnected to cigars about the same time I started to really appreciate bourbon — when I worked the night shift at a liquor store and cigar shop here in Louisville when my kids were little.
Putting the two together came after that, and only because I got tired of hearing terrible advice given to cigar smokers who wanted to enjoy whiskey with their cigars. I would often ask people what whiskey to pair with a cigar and I would hear the same thing everywhere — if you have a full bodied cigar pair it with a full bodied bourbon, and if you have a light bodied cigar pair it with a light bodied bourbon. That didn’t make sense to me because two bold flavor profiles are going to compete for your attention and blow out your palate, while two lighter bodied flavor profiles are likely to be dull or uninteresting. So I set about to change the game and bring balance to the bourbon and cigar pairing world.
2. How has becoming submerged and writing about the whisky industry changed or shifted your life ?
First and foremost, this is where I feel a true sense of belonging and family. The whiskey world is full of amazing people who are passionate about what we do, and when you surround yourself with those kinds of people work no longer feels like work.
Second, bourbon is my meditation. It sounds funny, but I came to this realization while I was laying on my kitchen floor listening to my meditation app. Meditation is all about reconnecting with yourself and your own feelings and acknowledging those feelings and giving them names. Bourbon does that, too. When I try a bourbon, I’m smelling, looking, feeling, and tasting, trying to analyze all those sensations. It brings my own senses into focus and validates what I am feeling at that moment and that those feelings matter. I think a lot of times in life many of us have to stuff our feelings just to get through the day, so it’s nice to be able to focus and reconnect on a regular basis.
3. What kind of changes have you seen as far as women impacting either Cigar or whisky industry? Does one stick out to you more ?
Women have made huge strides in the bourbon world, not only in making it to higher level positions, but also in having the depth of our past contributions recognized. Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women was largely the impetus for that, and now we have rapidly growing representation in all areas of the industry.
The cigar world is still largely a male-dominated world. I’m probably one of the only women writing about cigars at this level, and unfortunately sometimes I think people aren’t really taking me seriously. That said, when I get a chance to talk to people from that industry in greater depth they often realize that I’m the real deal and that this could be a good thing for the industry. I’ve made a lot of great friends in the cigar world but the progress is a little slower going over there. Industry-wise, there have also been women making major contributions to the cigar world that often go unnoticed, from the rollers in the factories to owners of companies. My sisters of the leaf are doing great things out there and it’s just a matter of time before they begin to get the recognition they deserve.
4. What has been you’re favorite experience while working at your current job(s)?
Every day I wake up doing this I have to pinch myself. I often say that if my career blew up today I would walk away happy and grateful for the experiences I’ve had — not everyone gets to have these kinds of experiences. I’ve interviewed people years ago who few people knew at the time who are now Master Distillers at major distilleries — more than one! I have brought stories to light that no one else was telling. It is always an honor and a privilege to be entrusted to tell someone’s story, and then to watch that person go on to become a rock star of the world is unbelievably gratifying. I can’t pick just one, but some of my favorite moments have been rowing mash at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery with Steve Bashore, breaking the story that Jim Rutledge had been distilling again after his retirement from Four Roses, and introducing the world to the concept of Bourbon Archaeology through all the stories I have done about my great friend Nicolas Laracuente. But I still have more stories to tell about the amazing people I meet every day, so stay tuned!
5. What has been the most difficult thing to overcome while on the road from a freelance writer to now being a columnist fro the American Whiskey Magazine ?
I still freelance and I still have a day job and I still have two kids, so balancing all that has been a wonderful challenge. Sometimes things get overwhelming and I have to remind myself that I’m so incredibly fortunate to have two amazing careers that I have grown side-by-side, whereas many people never get the chance to have even one. It’s intense but I love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being involved with American Whiskey Magazine has been the experience of a lifetime. Few people get to start with a magazine from the ground up. I’ve been very involved with the writing side of things there, averaging 5-7 stories per issue, but I’m also always looking for ways to move the mission forward. I’m personally invested in the success of this magazine.
If I could end this article on one note. It’s another favorite quote of mine I feel also can relate to how I wish people would view women in whisky.
“ Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels ”
It’s not the fact that someone happens to be a woman so we celebrate just that – It’s that we celebrate people who are just kickass, woman or not.
*** All pictures are from Maggie Kimberl and have been used with her consent ***