Story by Dave Eckert
My two articles this month focus on women in the metro who have forged brilliant careers in areas dominated by men. In Indulgences, you’ll meet a barbecue pit master, a sausage maker, and a rancher-butcher, all of whom have risen to the top of their games despite stereotypes, prejudice, and narrow-minded thinking. Here in SIPS, I shine the light on another group of talented ladies carving out their careers in the realm of adult beverages. I’ll start with my personal favorite adult beverage-wine, and a woman making a mark in the metro.
Photo courtesy of Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery
Shriti Plimpton is the owner of Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery in Excelsior Springs-a lovely property featuring a bevy of delicious wines. Plimpton told me she had long been curious about wine, which eventually led to her opening Fence Stile. “I wanted to learn about pairings, tastings, etc., and that interest grew into making wine, which, in turn, led to trying my hand at crafting wines others weren’t making in the state. For example, we were the first Missouri Winery to make a Piquette and a late-harvest Orange wine,” Plimpton shared.
Beyond winemaking, Plimpton says she enjoys interacting with the public and sharing her story and her wines. “I personally give tours of the winery and wine caves where I explain our growing and winemaking philosophy, the care we take in making the wine, and the passion of the entire team. Wine is a food, meant to be shared and enjoyed with the people you love. I enjoy being part of that experience,” Plimpton emphasized.
Photo courtesy of Restless Spirits Distilling Company
On the spirits side of the area’s alcohol-based businesses, you will find Benay Shannon, a science teacher-turned distiller and the co-founder and co-owner of Restless Spirits Distilling Company in North Kansas City. I asked Shannon how, when, and why she first became interested in distillation? “About 12 years ago, my husband and I first discovered the world of craft distilling. At the time, we were fresh empty nesters, and it seemed like a fun way to connect as a couple. His background is in brand development and mine in science. We like to say that I create the magic inside the bottle, and he has reign over the outside! A perfect pair,” Shannon recalled.
Shannon says she first started toying with distillation for fun. It soon became much more serious. “I found the entire process, grain to barrel to bottle to glass, extremely fascinating. I became passionate about learning the art, and admittedly, I think I stuck with it just to prove that I was capable,” Shannon shared.
Shannon says she was never discouraged from pursuing distillation as a profession but admits there was some trepidation. “My insecurities as a woman caused a level of perfectionism that I couldn’t avoid as I attempted to justify my role, both to myself and to others. I felt like I had to be this strange combination of sexy booze babe, whiskey-making badass, and den mother! I fell for the image of the world that a lot of women fall into, and we just can’t be all of it!” Shannon stated. Over time, she says she’s gained a confidence that allows her to be who she is and not someone’s pre-conceived notion of who she should be. “Looking back, I wish I had found this confidence as a woman earlier in my life, but it’s better late than never!”
Photo courtesy of Servaes Brewing Company
Finally, a woman brewing up a storm in the area’s craft beer industry – Courtney Servaes of Servaes Brewing Company in Shawnee, Kansas. Servaes told me she started brewing in 2012 after a friend invited her to a meeting of the Lawrence Brewer’s Guild. “I saw all of these passionate homebrewers sharing their craft with each other. I decided to give a few of the beers a try, and before long, I was hooked. I had to know more,” Servaes recalled.
From the beginning, Servaes says there were questions about her being a female brewer. And, she says things haven’t changed much even though she now owns her own brewery. “There are a lot of perceptions about brewing and what it takes to be a brewer. Most center around masculinity and strength. I haven’t found anything in the brewing process that a woman can’t do if she puts her mind to it. In fact, for the last six months, I’ve been brewing and operating a microbrewery while pregnant – talk about an interesting juxtaposition of gender roles. Fortunately, I own the brewery, so I can be a pregnant woman brewing beer without anyone questioning my ability. But, if I were just a brewer somewhere, I’m not sure that pregnancy would go over well in the back of the house even if there has been very little that I haven’t been able to do while pregnant,” Servaes shared.
Preconceptions and gender roles aside, Servaes, like Plimpton and Shannon before her, says she loves what she does and wouldn’t change a thing about it. “The thing I enjoy most about owning and operating a microbrewery is that feeling I get every time I walk out into the taproom and see it packed full of people who are drinking and talking about my beer. It still amazes me that I get paid to do this, that people pay to drink my beer,” Servaes smiled.