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My career in the wine and spirits industry began a little over 15 years ago. It doesn’t seem that long now, but when that time is measured in progress, it feels like centuries. I remember large scale whisky events with an over 85% male attendance, and scantily-clad women working from a script as they poured them whisky. In interviews, I was always asked what it’s like to be a woman wine buyer/editor/writer instead of what I thought about a certain product, trend or event. But in those 15 long years, not only has there been serious progress at blasting that so-called “glass ceiling” in the alcohol industry, more women than ever are spear-heading projects that change the way we drink, and helping to preserve the integrity of what’s in our glasses.
I’m happy to say there are now so many women I’d love to feature in an article such as this—incredibly talented and altruistic individuals who excel as winemakers, master blenders, writers, bartenders and business owners—that they outnumber my capacity to mention them all.
But there are some you may not be as familiar with as others. So to honor International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, a celebration that’s now over 113 years old, here are three rising stars in the liquor industry who are starting to make an impact.
Restoring lost American whiskey traditions
Nora Ganley-Roper is the co-founder of Lost Lantern Whiskey. The name reflects the mission: to shine a light on the lost tradition of American whiskey independent bottlers by highlighting great spirits from different distilleries. It’s a practice that used to be more common in the states before and just after Prohibition, and has always been popular in Europe, most recently with brands like Compass Box.
The company was co-founded with her husband Adam Polonski in 2020. “Launching a brand with your romantic partner is definitely an interesting undertaking,” says Ganley-Roper. “There’s no real separation between work life and home life, despite our best efforts. But the amazing thing, especially for a project like this, is that we have all of our goals naturally aligned.”
Aside from being half of the “tasting panel” that decides which whiskies are worthy of becoming a Lost Lantern bottling (they provide full transparency on the provenance of each one), she runs the operational side of the business. While Polonski, a former staff writer at Whisky Advocate, has been the “face” of the brand, she says “My point of view has naturally driven many of the decisions we’ve made for Lost Lantern.”
Ganley-Roper comes to Lost Lantern first from Astor Wine & Spirits in New York City, and then moving on to become the chief of staff for the CEO of a music startup, and the Head of Member Experience at Knotel. This way she could develop a passion for whisky while learning the business skills she would need before taking the leap to start her own company.