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Enough with the cosmos. The lady likes bourbon.

Bringing women and whiskey together

Peggy Noe Stevens plans to launch a Boston chapter of Bourbon Women.

Peggy Noe Stevens is on a crusade of sorts to empower women. It started in the late ’80s when Stevens, a Kentucky native, lived in Chicago. When she went out, her friends would order wine spritzers. She’d order her regular: bourbon on the rocks.

“People would turn their heads — including the bartender. People never turn their heads when a woman orders a cosmo,” she said. “Sometimes there’s an element of surprise because men don’t equate whiskey to women.”

With her new organization, Bourbon Women, she hopes to change that. Stevens comes to Boston April 26 to launch a Boston chapter. The group aims to dismantle stereotypes and cultivate savvy female bourbon drinkers.

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Stevens’s career path meandered from the hotel industry to the Kentucky bourbon industry. She worked in distilleries and trained as a master taster, leading bourbon education classes. In 2008, when she launched Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates, an image consulting company, she continued bourbon tastings for clients. She noticed a pattern.

“I’d teach about how bourbon’s made, how one differs from the next, how to dissect the aroma, palate, and finish, and how to taste. Women in the audience wouldn’t raise their hands in a large group, but afterward they’d come and ask me questions,” she says. “They’d tell me, ‘I never knew I liked bourbon, but it’s got such a great flavor.’ Nobody had taught them how to appreciate it.”

Stevens credits women’s interest in whiskey to several factors: the return of cocktail culture, the growth of premium products, and bourbon’s more sophisticated reputation.

“I think that there’s been an assumption that is whiskey is a man’s drink. Part of it is who you see in advertising,” said Renee Richardson Gosline, assistant professor of management science and marketing at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “It’s such a bold taste profile. It’s complex: It’s not vodka . . . which is presented as chic to women. It’s an introspective, thoughtful product.”

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If Stevens has her way, women will be thinking about it plenty. “We hope Bourbon Women will work as a catalyst,” she said. “There’s a whole other side of the population that loves bourbon, too.”

For more information visit www.bourbonwomen.org.


Liza Weisstuch can be reached at liza.weisstuch@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @livingtheproof