UNTIL THE 1960S, MANY STATES DID not permit a woman without a male escort to sit at a bar, never mind take her seriously as a spirits aficionado. Ironically, women are credited with fermenting grains into beer thousands of years ago, a woman in ancient Egypt is believed to have created the first alembic (pot) still, and the wife of an early Chinese emperor is said to have been the first person to create a distillate from rice.
The topic of women in the liquor industry is one near to my heart because back in 2006, I was one of the few women blogging about mixology. As interest grew, some misguided liquor companies sent me samples of cloying swill with cringeworthy marketing materials stating, “It’s pink, women love it!” I felt the insult not only for myself but for all women who were dismissed as sweet-wine-sipping bubbleheads.
Since then, I’ve co-founded a liqueur, written five cocktail books, taught classes across the nation, and created NM Cocktails & Culture, our state's first mixology festival, in my hometown of Santa Fe. And I’m certainly not the only woman leading the masses to mixology. My inspiration has come from other courageous women forging new paths in the spirits business. In our state, we have many impressive libation-making ladies. Here are a few whose toast-worthy alcohol is making waves here and beyond.
Caley Shoemaker, As Above So Below Distillery
545 Camino de la Familia, Santa Fe
“I LOVE PROBLEM-SOLVING, WORKING WITH interesting and unique materials, and feeling like the work I do is connected to the greater community,” says Caley Shoemaker, who co-founded As Above So Below Distillery with her husband, Jeff Gust. “Making spirits offers all of this, and it has become a career that I find truly fulfilling.” The acclaimed industry leader got her first glimpse of whiskey making during a 2009 tour of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey distillery, in Denver, one of the few craft spirit makers in the nation at the time. That fateful day ignited her passion, and she took a job there while finishing her art degree. In 2015, Shoemaker became head distiller at Hangar 1 Distillery, in California, making her one of a handful of women to break into that role. Always eager to share knowledge, Shoemaker taught distillation techniques at the University of California at Berkeley, and via the American Distilling Institute.
Still, she longed to return to the Rockies. So when she and her husband, a brewer himself, visited Santa Fe for an anniversary trip, they realized it was the perfect launchpad for their own business. “I love how art is woven through this city,” Shoemaker says. “The beauty of the landscape, architecture, and culinary scene is unmatched.”
In 2022, they opened As Above So Below, in the popular Railyard District. At the heart of the space is an impressive pot still they’ve named Lillith, which can be admired through big glass windows in the tasting room’s bar. Pot stills are typically used for distilling brandies and whiskey. A pair of column stills next to Lillith is used for vodka production.
The real magic, though, is in the countless little jars stacked on shelves in a locked room. “I love to learn about medicinal, practical, and ritual uses of different plants, then experiment with them in spirits,” Shoemaker says.
She celebrates New Mexico’s biodiversity in her products and takes inspiration from chefs, perfumers, and herbalists. Her Sigil gin features 14 botanicals, leaning heavily on piñon, juniper, and sage. Her goal was to create a gin “that tastes like the smell of hiking here in New Mexico.” And, because New Mexico allows for direct-to-consumer sales, she can experiment with one-off offerings only available through the on-site bottle shop, a treat for tourists and locals stopping by.
PLAYFUL NAMES SUCH AS PURPLE PEOPLE EATER and El Bombón, along with whimsical labels, immediately alert imbibers that they are taking a deep dive into fun at the 505 Spirits tasting room, in Albuquerque.
Owner Anna Jones’s 25 years in the food industry gave her a strong understanding of scaling recipes, packaging, and maintaining consistency. Head distiller Ashley Smith, who also has a culinary background, runs the copper pot stills and oversees production.
The distillery itself is nestled into the foothills of Placitas, where each of the women lives, overlooking sweeping vistas where wild horses roam. Their products are made in small batches without additives, preservatives, or artificial colorants.
The biggest challenge, initially, was sourcing the best local ingredients. Eventually, they teamed up with farms that helped them gain the New Mexico True certification for their red and green chile liqueurs. “I can tell when people are tasting red or green because they are smelling, smiling, and shaking their heads in disbelief,” Jones says. “It literally is freshly roasted or sun-dried local chiles, plus some spices and herbs, and a touch of organic cane sugar.”
The women pick their own prickly pear fruit at A&J Family Farms, in Lemitar, for the Purple People Eater liqueur. “Ashley and I picked 876 pounds in four hours,” Jones says. “I do it two-handed with two pairs of tongs,” Smith adds. “Tongs are a must.” The labor of prickly love is worth it because Purple People Eater remains their top-selling product. Mixed with sparkling wine, it’s festive for toasting all year round.
Teresa Dahl-Bredine, Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery
200 N. Bullard St., Silver City
TAKE A SIP OF PENDEJO PORTER, POP OPEN A Watermelon Jalapeño Mixed-Up Mule, or indulge in a Biscochito Martini and taste the New Mexican influence throughout Little Toad Creek’s offerings. Teresa Dahl-Bredine’s family moved to Silver City when she was just three years old, and the landscape and culture seeped into her psyche. She met her husband there when they were in fifth grade, and they are passionate about being part of the community.
In 2011, when craft distiller’s licenses became available in New Mexico, Little Toad Creek was the third in the state to win approval. Dahl-Bredine was also ahead of the canned cocktail craze when she created the Mixed-Up Mule open-and-serve cans in 2019, which now represent 80 percent of the company’s distribution. “It was an exciting new product segment with unlimited boundaries as far as flavor and formulation,” she says. “We had fun choosing combinations that would appeal to a variety of taste buds.”
As spirit lovers know, tequila can only be made from the Weber blue agave plant in Mexico. Little Toad Creek, however, was developing agave spirits this side of the border before most other distilleries in New Mexico. “Our Five Ducks agave spirits were inspired by closeness to the Mexican culture and our love of tequila,” Dahl-Bredine says. “Our Café Nocturno is a coffee liqueur with the Mexican influence of chocolate and cinnamon.”
For the last decade, Dahl-Bredine has taken an active role in developing our state’s spirits community. Her taprooms in Silver City and Las Cruces even showcase fellow brewers’ beer and cider. In addition to running production at the brewery, distillery, and pubs, her team also handles distribution of their beers, spirits, and cans.
When head distiller Ashley Smith says that she makes this Spicy Green Chile Margarita with friends for Taco Tuesdays at home, you know it will be a winner in your home-bar repertoire.
Natalie Bovis’s latest book, Drinking with My Dog (Running Press), has tips on everything you need to set up your home bar. Plus, you’ll find recipes for more than 60 delicious cocktails organized into dog-themed chapters, including rescue dogs, famous fur babies, and wild dogs, as well as libations for pawlidays throughout the year. Enjoy canine history, whimsical illustrations, and toast-worthy quotes. Find it at your local bookstore or at nmmag.us/runningpress.