Women in the Distilling Industry

Meet Some of the Women In the Distilling Industry

Dr. Kallie Stavros graduated from Clemson University with a BS in chemistry and Vanderbilt University with a Ph.D. in chemical biology. After graduating, she was ready to do something other than work in a traditional laboratory setting. She grew up in Florida, and her mother suggested that she should look into brewing, as Florida was pushing for more women master brewers! After spending 20+ years in school and the master brewing classes being so expensive, she was a little on the fence about this, even though it seemed like a fun way to use her hard-earned degrees. But when the distillery was opening up across the street from where she was living at the time, she took the opportunity to see if she could learn some things about distilling: “I had a lot of experience with separations chemistry and had worked with live cultures, so it seemed to be a great fit. Now I get to work with my giant chemistry set!” Dr. Stavros found that distilling was a great thing to do with her degree, other than just pure research. “Being able to taste and enjoy a final product certainly makes the job more enjoyable.”

Falls Church Distillers has been open for three and a half years, so they are still pretty new. It was opened by Michael and Lorenzo Paluzzi, who wanted to use their Italian heritage and family recipes to share with the public. Dr. Stavros joined them when they opened in 2017. They are the first new distillery in Fairfax County since prohibition and the first distillery in Virginia to have a bar and restaurant. It is a fairly unique place inside the Beltway. “In terms of product specialization, I think we are still determining this. Personally, the gins are my favorite and have won several awards.”

“I love that I make a product that I can taste and other people can enjoy” 

Distilling utilizes her background very well but in a way that she never expected while she was in school. “I do love people’s reactions when I tell them I’m a distiller. Many people have never met one, let alone a female distiller.” She likes that she gets to interact with a wide variety of people– in addition to her help in the DSP, she works with the bartenders, gives tours, and hosts public bottling events that allow her to interact with customers in the distillery- which keeps the job very interesting.

“There can be some mildly sexist assumptions about female distillers and how the stuff I make must be more sweet and fruity,” says Stavros, “I do kind of enjoy adding a female face to the production of our products and trying to dispel this.” Falls Church does have a large female clientele, and many drink whiskey just like the men! Dr. Stavros doesn’t consider herself a “girlie” drinker, nor would she classify what she make as falling into that category. She’s very proud of her work as a distiller and the stereotypes she has overcome within our industry. 

If there is one thing Dr. Stavros wishes she knew before getting into the distilling industry it would definitely be that there is a lot of meticulous bookkeeping involved. Not just alcohol production and sales, but accounting for supplies and other materials as well. It is not a secret that the laws and regulations around the industry can be quite complicated, especially when working in a control state, like Virginia, which adds another layer of complexity.

“It is also a lot of heavy lifting. I probably would have spent a lot more time in grad school working out if I would have known then what I was going to be doing.”

If Dr. Stavros has any advice to other women master distillers trying to start-up a distillery it would definitely be to reach out to other distilleries and become part of a network. It is generally a friendly industry, and other distillers are happy to give advice as it is an industry fraught with red tape. Going to someone with experience for how-tos and getting started can speed up the process. The cost of starting a distillery can be quite overwhelming, too, and there may be ways to get started by working with other distilleries so you don’t need to invest so much capital upfront.