Peggy Noe Stevens is a trailblazer for women in the whiskey world. Having worked in the bourbon industry since the ‘80s, she is the world’s first female Master Bourbon Taster, founded The Bourbon Women Association in 2011, created her own company, has been inducted into several Halls of Fame, and even taught Julia Child a thing or two about that liquid of life.
While she has a familial connection to the industry (her cousins are Jim Beam distillers Booker Noe and Fred Noe), Stevens forged her own way, getting her start in the Kentucky hotel world. As an event planner hosting meetings and conventions for beverage companies, she had to learn about all the different types of wines and spirits and keep up with the important names and brands.
Showing her prowess and dedication (not to mention aptitude), in the early 1990s she was headhunted by beverage giant Brown-Forman and became their Global Event Planner, in charge of managing over 100 large-scale events per year around the world. It was her time at Brown-Forman she credits for where the real training began. While she’s most well known in the whiskey world, she got a thorough education in wine, as well, learning firsthand from sommelier, author, and independent consultant Bob Lipinski. Her bourbon tutoring came from Lincoln Henderson, a former master distiller who created brands such as Woodford Reserve, Gentleman Jack, and his independent masterpiece, Angel’s Envy.
Having conducted tastings the world over, she noticed a prime opportunity to reach the female demographic. There were women at the tastings she held, but the events and interactions were primarily dominated by men. Her idea to create The Bourbon Women Association, whereby bourbon events and information could be shared in a more comfortable (re: less domineered) environment for women, was an inspired one; one that has seen great success, with over 600 members in 22 states.
After 17 years with Brown-Forman, Stevens fulfilled a long time dream when she started her own company, Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates, in 2008. PNSA is a brand and image consulting company, working with individuals and brands around the world to Discover, Design, and Develop their ideas into reality – from operational processes and training to physical space design and project management.
In 2019 she was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, and in 2020 the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame.
Also in 2020, Stevens co-authored a book with Susan Reigler (President of Bourbon Women, author of 6 books on Bourbon, and a former food critic), Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon?, which takes a look at bourbon and food pairings, presentations, and events.
In her lengthy and illustrious career, one of the highlights was giving Julia Child a private tasting – she remarked how enthusiastic and curious Julia was to learn about bourbon.
As a woman who is just starting out in the wide world of whiskey, I find Peggy Noe Stevens’ story inspiring and exciting, and a good reminder that life is a long and winding journey with many appealing ventures waiting to be explored.