Booze, As Made By Women

by Mollie Bensen, Anxo Cidery General Manager

 
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We got a phone call the other day.

“Hi, I’m interested in celebrating my sister’s birthday at ANXO in March and I heard that you’re only serving beverages owned or made by women. Will the drinks be any good?”

The first part of her remark was normal enough; as General Manager I plan events like hers on a daily basis. The second half has also become standard. Awareness of our March drinks list has exponentially increased since we put out a press release. It was her question that was troubling: will the drinks be any good?

The answer, obvious to me, was yes. The drinks will be good. Some will be great — sublime in their complexity, their delicate balance, the elegant roundness in the mouth and the lingering finish where you don’t know how much you crave another sip until you realize you’re visibly salivating. Others will be more straightforward, light and crisp and quaffable because let’s face it, drinking is not always an intellectual pursuit. And there will be everything in between.

ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar is a woman-owned business. We’re owned by men too, but we usually don’t need to clarify that. On International Women’s Day 2018, the restaurant held a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood featuring woman-owned and -made beverages. We received an overwhelmingly positive response from guests and producers alike, multiple thousands of dollars went Planned Parenthood’s way, and we were on such a high that we said to ourselves, “next year we’re going to do it bigger!” So here we are one year later, and during the month of March all beverages ANXO serves — thirty six draft lines, a dozen ciders and wines by the glass, a full bar with all liquors and mixers plus non-alcoholic drinks too — are either owned or made by women. 

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The customer on the phone continued, “Well, like, I’m used to your menu being really great and I just want to make sure that it’ll be as high quality as I remember it.”

Her follow-up was perplexing, and to be honest, disappointing. Why would this woman think that we would sacrifice quality to prove a point? Moreover, why would she think we needed to? Am I staring down one glass ceiling women have yet to shatter?

I have been planning this menu for months. It has not been my only task — far from it! — but rather a job best done little by little and since the middle of last year I have been adding to a compendium of beverages for this project. Along the way we have had to ask ourselves and answer many questions: does a woman need to be the sole proprietor? No, but we prefer principal or majority ownership. Are husbands and wives working together fair game? Yes, as long as there’s an equitable division of labor. Will we carry beer from a brewery primarily staffed by women? Not unless there is a woman in a production management or ownership role. 

Initially I was concerned that we would have only a handful of products to choose from, especially when it came to spirits. How would I make a cohesive menu? As the weeks went by and my reps brought in more and more samples, I realized that fear was completely unfounded. Some of the largest and best established brands are run by women: Lisa Laird Dunn is the ninth generation of her family to run Laird’s, this country’s oldest legal distillery. Joy Spence has been the Master Blender for Appleton since 1997. Nicole Austin took over as distiller for George Dickel last spring. Our neighbors in DC are making some excellent juice as well, and I’m especially enamored of Kat Hamidi’s Capitoline Vermouths and spirits from Republic Restoratives, founded by Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner. Choosing wines, ciders and beers for our list was only a challenge because we had so many options. It turns out woman-made booze is everywhere, all I needed was to look.

So, to address this mystery guest’s fears, our menu is just as diverse and well-rounded as it always has been. I’m not here to denigrate men or disparage their products; rather, ANXO has an opportunity to make a statement with our menu and this month we’re celebrating exceptional women. Will we continue to eschew man-made drinks after March 31st? No, they’ll make their way back on to our list — if we decide they’re a good addition to our program. I’ll probably be more partial to drinks made by women, but then again, I am one. And we make some damn delicious drinks.