The Women of Bourbon

Eve Theatre Company co-founder Susan McNeese Lynch has written a new production, “Bourbon Babes of the Bluegrass.” The Brown-Forman sponsored show about women in bourbon history runs March 5-8 at the Bard’s Town theatre. Optional tastings are offered, Thursday through Saturday, before each performance.

How is this one-hour production structured?
“Bourbon Babes of the Bluegrass” is a compilation of seven monologues that outline the lives of seven different women who figured prominently in the bourbon and whiskey business. The monologues are woven together with a series of short scenes and songs that we call “mixers.” The “mixers” focus more on the contemporary scene and feature recipes, cold remedies, funny stories and some unusual facts and figures. The show is designed to gently inform while entertaining.

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

How did you get the idea for this show?
As a co-founder of Eve Theatre Company, I am always on the lookout for a good story to tell. But believe it or not, the idea for “Bourbon Babes” came to me while I was at the Kentucky Derby last year, I still have the notes and ideas that I scribbled in my program. I was looking at the ads for bourbon and other distilled spirits, and many of them were clearly talking to women. I wondered why we didn’t have any bourbon heroines. I started asking around after that, and I was pointed toward several books including “Illegal Odyssey: 200 Years of Kentucky Moonshine,” by Betty Boles Ellison; “Kentucky Women: Two Centuries of Indomitable Spirit and Wisdom,” by Eugenia Potter and “Whiskey Women,” by Fred Minnick. All of these books helped, particularly in identifying who might be good subjects for a play.

Which women have been especially inspirational to you?
Each of these Kentucky women have important stories to tell, but my favorites tend toward the ones that operated a little out of the mainstream, like Maggie Bailey, who was a highly successful bootlegger in Eastern Kentucky; Carrie Nation, who carried out many a “Hatchetation” as she swung her temperance message through the Midwest; and Mary Murphy Dowling, who fought against Prohibition by moving her entire operation to Mexico. These were all strong and smart women who made a difference. The other women portrayed in the show are Mary Myers Beam, Elmer Lucille Allen, Catherine Spears Frye Carpenter and Marge Samuels.

Is the industry more gender-balanced today?
I am no expert, but I would have to say that the industry is definitely more gender-balanced today. For one thing, women consume more bourbon, and that makes them more interested in working in the industry. We have a growing number of female Master Distillers and Master Tasters, and this is all a good thing!

Tell me about how you set up the tastings, and how you recruited the masters.
We are so pleased to be able to offer pre-show bourbon tastings for each of our evening shows and even more pleased that we can offer the experienced tasting skills of Carla Carlton, the original Bourbon Babe blogger (who generously let us use the term “Bourbon Babes”) on Thursday; Susan Reigler, award-winning bourbon and travel writer, on Friday; and Marianne Butler, former Master Taster at Brown-Forman, who just recently took a leadership position with the Old Taylor distillery, on Saturday. Each of these experts selected their choices of three bourbons to taste, and the service will be provided by our host, The Bard’s Town.

September is Bourbon Heritage Month. Will you revive this production then?
We would love to! We are already scheduled to perform the show at the Bourbon Women Association’s Taste Affair at the Governor’s Mansion in June, and we have been approached about doing the show at various sites around the state. The show was designed to be pretty flexible so that we can take advantage of these kinds of opportunities. VT