Virginia Distiller Helps Give More Minorities The Opportunity To Learn The Trade – NBC4 Washington


A woman from Loudoun County, Va., Who has successfully broken down barriers in the heavily male-dominated whiskey industry, is now helping to create opportunities for others who are under-represented in the craft industry of distillation.

Becky Harris and her husband Scott opened the Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcellville in 2009. It was Loudoun County’s first legal distillery since before the ban.

Over a decade later, Becky holds the title of Chief Distiller, responsible for finding the perfect Virginia Rye blends to bottle every day.

“When we founded the distillery in 2009, I think I probably knew half a dozen other women who held technical positions in the industry,” she said.

But she used her background in chemical engineering to get into the boys’ club.

News4’s Tommy McFly gets a glimpse of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery.

Becky has just been elected to the board of directors of the American Craft Spirits Association, a nonprofit trade association of small independent distilleries.

She said she wanted to help other underrepresented groups break their own glass ceilings.

“Last summer when George Floyd was assassinated, it really brought a sense of urgency and a purpose to what we were doing. So we really pushed, as an organization, to create a non-profit organization. separate 501 (c) (3) profit so that we can create an agenda to create truly meaningful opportunities for underrepresented people, ”Becky said.

They created the STEPUP Foundation and launched a one-year paid internship program to provide promising distillers with an educational and entrepreneurial experience.

Yaki Udoumoh was one of two people accepted into the program who received nominations from hundreds of others.

A Howard University graduate from Prince George County, Maryland, Udoumoh started out as a bartender to earn extra money while in college and is now a mixologist at famed DC cocktail bar The Columbia Room.

But Udoumoh dreams of one day becoming a distiller. He just didn’t know where to start.

“It’s really hard to get your foot in the door unless you have a lot of, like, supportive connections that come when I was a newbie back then. I was really grateful to the Step Foundation. Up to come and offer this internship program, ”he said.

Industry veterans like Becky will teach her how to bring her own flavor to the game.

“You know, flavor is related not only to what we eat now, but what we ate when we were kids, our memories, our experiences and people from different backgrounds bring all of that to the products they create. And, at the end of the day, it ends up being just this huge variety of things that pop up on the shelves that we’re all going to try to enjoy, ”she said.

Thanks to the program, Udoumoh will spend 2022 in distilleries across the country learning how to make whiskey and other spirits, but more importantly, how to run his own business.

“I really want to come from an entrepreneurial aspect and really come and build in my local community, focusing on local farming with heirloom grains and things like that,” he said. “I am standing on the shoulders of giants and I want to continue with this legacy,” he said.

He hopes to one day open the first distillery in his hometown of Prince George.

“No chance like the present to pursue your dreams,” Udoumoh said.


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