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Interview: Talnua Distillery’s Female Led Team Leads Spirits Making By Example

The story of Talnua Distillery began back in 2011, when founders Meagan and Patrick Miller were on their honeymoon in Ireland.

As they explained, they fell hard for the pot-distilled whiskeys they tasted on that trip and on many subsequent visits to the Emerald Isle. Patrick decided to leave his work as a chemist in the oil and gas industry to learn the art and science of distilling.

After working a few years in the industry, by 2018, he and Meagan took over an industrial space in Arvada, Colorado, that had housed a rum distillery.

On St. Patrick’s Day of 2019, Talnua opened the doors to its tasting room, located in the same space as the production facility, with four spirits in tow: two triple-distilled single pot still whiskeys and two single pot still gins.

Today, Talnua’s female-led team of seven makes several new spirits in the Gaelic single pot still style, from new whiskey and gin expressions to a coffee liqueur based on Meagan’s recipe.

The general manager at Talnua, Maya Oren, was the first team member hired, with Founder Meagan saying “she is the most self-motivated person I know and juggles so much and wears so many hats for our little business.”

And Amy Kingman is the creative director and a vital part of the team bringing the Irish whiskey from the Rocky Mountains to points across the country.

The trio of women leaders at Talnua visited with The Whiskey Wash in a recent interview to discuss the brand and the efforts made toward gender equity in the spirits industry. Note this interview has been edited for time element and clarity.

Talnua Meagan Miller
Talnua’s Meagan Miller (image via Talnua)

The Whiskey Wash: As March is Women’s History Month, can you speak a little about the history of women in spirits and how inspiration at Talnua is drawn from that history?

Founder Meagan Miller:  “Women have been making booze and consuming booze since the beginning of alcohol’s existence, so in essence, we’re just continuing that tradition.”

TWW: Tell us the origin story of Talnua Distillery.

VP Marketing Amy Kingman: “Back in 2011, Meagan and Patrick were on their honeymoon in Galway, Ireland, watching the US vs Ireland in a Rugby World Cup match. A sales rep walked into the pub and greeted the bartender with a case of the very first single pot still whiskey to be released in decades. The bartender eagerly poured them a taste, then shared the history of the nearly extinct style of Single Pot Still whiskey. This taste sparked a lifelong love affair between the couple and the whiskey style. Sadly, at the time, single pot still whiskey was not available in the US. Lead by the tug of their Irish ancestry, the two began to dream about an expression of the incredible whiskey style, using American terroir while honoring gaelic distilling traditions. Patrick began taking distilling classes, got a job at a prominent Colorado distillery, and began developing Talnua’s Single Pot Still recipe with Meagan at home in their spare time.”

What are some of the challenges of starting out in the whiskey business as a female-centric operation? And what are some of the advantages?

Meagan: “Thankfully, I have not had many challenges in this industry strictly for being a woman.  I’ve witnessed consumers treating this industry as a “man’s world,” and have not been taken seriously at times by patrons, but within the industry, we have women across all facets leading the way and working collaboratively to be inclusive as possible. I love watching my boss lady friends build each other up and am so encouraged by these women!”

TWW: How do you set your whiskey apart, what gives it that Irish flair?

Meagan: “We self-regulate using the Irish Technical File to make our American pot still whiskeys in order to follow the standard that our Irish brethren must follow. This sets us apart as really setting a precursor to creating a new category of American Whiskey”.

Distiller Maya Oren: “Talnua is the first distillery outside of Ireland that is fully dedicated to making pot still whiskey, which is a heritage style of Irish whiskey made using a blend of malted and unmalted barley. At the same time, we’re making a distinctly American spirit by producing and aging in the United States and using locally sourced grains, water, and yeast. Our whiskeys really are American whiskeys with an Irish soul.”

TWW: Tell us about all the ways women are part of the process for Talnua.

Meagan: “Women are a part of our process from grain to consumption. Emily Olander at Root Shoot Malting provides our grain. Amy, Maya and I all have some hand in getting the spirit into the bottle, and a recent demographic project showed us that exactly half of our consumers in the tasting room are female. There are so many other small businesses that we rely upon to get our product in the hand of the consumer, and there are women running the show on pretty much every aspect of it.”

TWW: What makes distilling in Colorado unique, how would you describe a Colorado spirit?

Maya: “We have some of the best barley and water in the country, and I think that really sets Colorado spirits apart. Colorado also has huge swings in temperature – both over the course of a few days as well as the year – that help our barrels breathe and impart oak profiles fairly quickly comparatively to other climates. I think the word that best describes and encompasses Colorado spirits is ‘craft.’ The people in Colorado appreciate their local distilleries and breweries more than any other place I’ve ever lived or visited. There are so many unique spirits here; it’s really special!”

TWW: As president of the Colorado Distillers Guild, tell us what’s coming up on the horizon for the spirits industry in the Rocky Mountain State?

Meagan: “In 2018, the Colorado Distillers Guild launched the Colorado Spirits Trail, which was successful in promoting tourism to each of our members’ tasting rooms until 2020 came about.  As with everything else, the pandemic made it hard to promote the Trail in the same capacity.  This year, we will be relaunching the Trail to encourage visits to our tasting rooms once again.  From a legislative perspective, we are encouraged to see other states passing Direct to Consumer (DTC) shipping and hope that Colorado will one day follow suit.”

TWW: Why, besides the obvious, does St. Patrick’s Day have such a deeper meaning for Talnua?

Meagan: “It’s our anniversary, so we just wanted to give people another reason to celebrate!”

TWW: Tell us what makes your flagship whiskey special?

Maya: “I have a hard time talking about just one of our whiskies as a “flagship” because they are all so unique. We currently have six different expressions; at their core, they are all made with a blend of malted and unmalted barley and are triple distilled in pot stills. From there, they are either blended, aged, or finished differently to create a spectrum of really different and beautiful flavor profiles. We [released] our 2022 Olde Saint’s Keep whiskey … and that whiskey is definitely a highlight for me each year. This year’s Olde Saint’s Keep was created from our American Single Pot Still Whiskey aged in former bourbon and port casks, married together, and finished for 10 months in rare Pineau des Charentes Casks from Southwest France.”

TWW: What is coming in the near future from Talnua?

Meagan: “Aside from what Maya said, we are pretty stoked to be getting offices with our expansion!”

Maya: “Big things! Aside from our 2022 Olde Saint’s Keep, we are also releasing our first Bottled in Bond whiskey and the first whiskey in our Aries Experimental Series this year. We are also planning to more than double our production by the end of the year.”

Gary Carter

Gary Carter has been at the helm of metro newspapers, magazines, and television news programs as well as a radio host and marketing manager. He is a writer/editor/photographer/designer by trade, with more than 30 years experience in the publishing and marketing field. Gary enjoys working to build something great, whether that be a novel project, a start-up, an organization, a fresh-face to the journalistic world, or even something as simple as a short story. A native Texan and a Pacific Northwest convert, he is a whiskey enthusiast who cut his teeth on it ... literally!

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