The spirits industry is a $29-billion-dollar industry. The role of women in the industry dates to the prohibition-era women bootleggers. Their untold stories have led Erin Harris & Dia Simms (HANDS) to partner with Saint Liberty Whiskey to celebrate America’s women pioneers in whiskey.
Simms is a former president at Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Combs Enterprises and her partner Harris is the senior vice president there. The two, who have over 30 years’ experience in the spirits and wines industry, are now part owners of Saint Liberty Whiskey, working together to bring to life the untold stories of the Prohibition-era women bootleggers.
Founder and Chief Historian at Saint Liberty Whiskey, Mark SoRelle, told Forbes he is excited to have the power-duo on his team. “We are so thrilled to have HANDS as partners in Saint Liberty Whiskey. With their collective 30+ years’ experience in wine and spirits and disciplined approach to the brand-building they will be an invaluable asset to our team.”
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HANDS, founded by Simms and Harris, is a boutique spirits advisory company that gives strategic guidance and invests in spirit brands. Simms and Harris are adding their voices to other women entrepreneurs in the spirits and wine industry to show their fellow women that there is always a seat at the table for them.
“Women and millennials are the customers in the spirits industry really driving the resurgence and the fast growth of whiskey in the last six years in terms of the fastest growth population. You can’t have an honest, respectful conversation with the customers who are not reflected in your leadership,” Simms told Forbes.
In the 1920s after women had fought for the right to vote, they also had to protest the ban on the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol. The unsung women bootlegger heroes like Bertie Brown, Josephine Doody, Mary Curley, and the likes still managed to thrive in such a tumultuous era with their alcohol trade.
The idea of Saint Liberty Whiskey, now part-owned by Simms and Harris, is to honor each bootlegger with their own whiskey that is “proofed and bottled in the state where each woman originally resided, using the same water source they would have used 100 years ago,” according to PRNewswire.
“We are proud to honor the courage and legacy of these pioneering women bootleggers. The women in the spirits industry today owe a debt to these frontierswomen,” said Simms.
The flagship whiskey, Bertie’s Bear Gulch Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is named after Bertie ‘Birdie’ Brown, a Black homesteader from Montana who was known at the time for making the best moonshine in the country.
According to Simms, it was extremely dangerous for Black women bootleggers at the time but Birdie was resilient. Aside from making her mark with her signature moonshine, Birdie’s hospitality was what made her stand out the most.
“When people went to her place, they felt truly welcomed. Even though she was getting harassed by the law, she was able to forge on.”
According to Harris, she and Simms navigated through the spirit industry for the last three decades with much success because they realized “that the better you treat your customer and the more you know them, the more you get that repeat business.”
Saint Liberty Whiskey seeks to create opportunities for women. Its board of directors is made up of only females, with five percent of its gross profits funding women’s empowerment issues, entrepreneurial and educational efforts.
“Saint Liberty honors women, but the liquid is made for everyone. It is incredible whiskey full of character that is made for discerning Whiskey drinkers. These women represent hustle and spirit. Their stories belong on the forefront of spirits history and the liquid belongs on the backbar of every quality bar. It’s the spirit of revolution,” said Harris.