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Whiskey Ambassador Corner: Linda Ruffenach, Whisky Chicks

Whiskey ambassadors come in all different types. Up until now, The Whiskey Wash has brought you stories of whiskey ambassadors who are employed by distilleries and trade groups, but there are plenty of individuals and organizations out there spreading the good word of whiskey in a brand-neutral way. One such organization, The Whisky Chicks from Louisville, Kentucky, focuses on whiskey fun and education.

Whisky Chicks
image via Maggie Kimberl

The Whiskey Wash recently caught up with founder Linda Ruffenach to learn more:

You often say you wanted to create a group where women could get together outside of careers and spouses and just have a fun time. What do you think it is about whisk(e)y that brings people together from all walks of life?

Every whisky has a story. Every member has a story. I love seeing how a glass of whisky can bring people together and get them talking. Regardless of where you are in your life, everyone wants to create memorable experiences and whisky does that for our members. Over the past few years we have seen Kentucky bourbon and whisk(e)y be that common denominator. There is something about sharing a glass of whiskey, taking in the aroma, tasting the flavors, experiencing the finish together that creates a visceral response that results in creating a memorable experience.

If someone has never had whiskey before, particularly if they think they don’t like it, how do you suggest they get started on their whiskey journey?

One of my favorite stories is from a thirty-something young professional woman who recently told me her “Intro-to-Bourbon” story. She had a female boss who exuded character and confidence in everything she did and she admired her tenacity. One evening at an after work event she watched this boss walk up to the bar and order a Four Roses Single Barrel on the rocks and she was totally stunned. That was her “Bourbon Moment” when she knew she wanted to learn how to drink bourbon and her journey began.

For me, when people ask me, “How can you drink bourbon straight???!!” I always tell people you can’t start drinking it straight up, you have to work your way there. I say start with a mixed cocktail that uses flavors you already know you like. If you are a margarita drinker start with a whiskey sour. If you like a cosmopolitan, think about a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned for the wine drinker. When in doubt, add ginger ale. Over time, you can start to wean yourself off the mixers and be ready for bourbon on the rocks. Sampling straight bourbon is still something that not everyone is going to love. Industry experts will advise you to add a drop of water to open the whisk(e)y up which can help mellow out any harshness. No matter how you drink it, it’s meant to be fun, so don’t beat yourself up, just enjoy it!

My favorite introductory whiskies are Old Forester 80 proof, Angel’s Envy Bourbon or Rye, Woodford Reserve, Makers Mark, or Bulleit. Start with a lower proof because it may help make it more palatable.

Lots of people say women have more acute palates than men. Do you see any evidence of this at your tasting events?

I see women using all of their senses to experience the whisk(e)y. They pay attention to the color, the aroma, the taste and the finish. They are very mindful of the complexities introduced at each stage of the experience. Even without prompting they are able to pick up on some of the subtler flavors that are often present, like banana, cherry, baking spices, apricot, rose etc. When we pair food with our tastings it’s always a wild ride. Whisky Chicks love to explore how food and whisk(e)y pair and how the flavors change and evolve. It always makes for great discussion.

The Whisky Chicks do many different types of events, from cocktail parties to Master Distiller meet and greets. What’s your favorite kind of event?

All of them!

It’s like choosing my favorite kid….if I must, the tastings are my favorite. Whether it’s with a Master Distiller or bourbon connoisseur Chris Zaborowski everyone learns something new. Since we started this adventure 2 ½ years ago we have encountered an amazing cast of characters for our tastings including folks like Jim Rutledge, former Master Distiller for Four Roses, whose commitment to quality and love of good whisky is contagious. Caleb Kilburn the young head distiller for Kentucky Peerless who through his “aw shucks” demeanor exudes a passion and a knowledge of making distilled spirits that compares to even the most celebrated master distillers. Esteemed Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell who loves to share good stories about his travels around the world, his wife of 60+ years and the fine whiskey that he and his family have been producing for decades. The list goes on and on and in Kentucky we have the honor and privilege of gaining close access to the “rock stars” of the bourbon whisk(e)y world.

All of our events bring a unique experience, and for me, I love the multi-generational Whisky Chicks who attend our events. We have seen mothers, daughters and grandmothers. At one event we had three generations of women from one family, a mother and her son and a father and his daughter. At each and every event, everyone learns something new regardless of how long they have been drinking whiskey or how much of an expert they think they are.

Tell us a little about upcoming Whisky Chicks events. Anything new on the horizon?

Our next event is geared to the “Bourbon Curious” and will be held at Liquor Barn on June 9th ( This is event is for people who want to start their bourbon journey. We will begin with cocktails working our way to a straight tasting. This intimate experience is limited to 40 tickets and through the generous support of Liquor Barn tickets are just $20 per person.

The team is working on putting together a Whisky Chicks Strut on Saturday, July 23rd where participants will “strut” to multiple downtown bars and restaurants sampling the best bourbon cocktails and small bites Louisville has to offer. Tickets for this event will go on sale June 10th.

Planning is underway for our 3rd Annual Bourbon Mixer. Produced in partnership with the Bourbon Brotherhood, this one of a kind event will take place at The Gillespie in downtown Louisville on Saturday, August 13, 2016. This unique experience will offer guests friendly conversation with bourbon celebrities, delicious southern cuisine, and premium Kentucky bourbon from over 15 different brands. Over the past two years, this annual event has raised over $30,000 for two local charities. This year’s beneficiary will be the Coalition for the Homeless. The Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to prevent and end homelessness in Louisville.

We are working on additional behind the scenes tours of Kentucky’s finest distilleries, additional master distiller meet ups and as always a few other surprises.

Maggie Kimberl

One night during Derby week, I was working in the liquor store while Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge was doing a tasting. I kept trying to make my way over to talk to him, but we were super busy (did I mention it was Derby week?) and I didn't make it in time. Dejected, I went back to the break room and started eating my lunch. The next thing I knew, Rutledge came through the door, saying, "You didn't get to do my tasting!" He sat down and explained how to taste bourbon, the ten recipes of Four Roses, and how it was different than other distilleries. I had liked bourbon before that point, but Jim Rutledge made me care about it. That's the beautiful thing about the bourbon industry- the people love what they do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Now here we are. :)

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