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We Owe It All to Women: Women in the Missouri Craft Industry

Sep 28, 2021 03:10PM ● By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin


According to Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey, “Nearly four thousand years before whiskey was first distilled, Sumerian women invented beer.” In addition, Egyptian women designed the first alembic still around 3 AD, another tidbit from Minnick’s book. In Missouri, there are many women forging careers in the craft food and beverage industry. Sherry Wohlgemuth, Andi Russell, Stefanie Thomasma, Benay Shannon, Joleen Senter Durham, and Danielle Shimeall are blazing trails and offering career advice for the next generation of ceiling crashers. 

Sherry Wohlgemuth, Executive Director of the Missouri Craft Beer Guild, is a not-for-profit sector veteran with more than 12 years at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. Using her background in journalism and advertising, love of craft beer, and nonprofit management skill set, she promotes the entire industry across the state. “I believe any person who has the passion, drive, and creativity can be successful in the craft beer industry. Historically, women were the first brewers, so I think it’s about time that women are back in the spotlight when it comes to making great beer.” 

Distiller Andi Russell, with J. Rieger & Company in Kansas City, took a roundabout course to her career in craft spirits. She started as a chemical engineer aiming to be a brewmaster. After working in oil and gas for ten years, she navigated to J. Rieger through networking. Her best advice is, “You’re not expected to know everything, and feigning knowledge will not help you.” Andi continues, “It’d be great to see more women on the production side of the distilling industry. It’s a physical job. I go home tired and dirty almost every day, but I love it.” 

Just A Taste is a veritable craft-a-torium with various cocktails, wines, vittles, and venues. General Manager Stefanie Thomasma says “It feels like a good time to be a woman in the industry since there is a real movement to support and empower women in the workforce.” She intentionally embarked on a food and beverage career after college and has been in the industry for about eight years. Stefanie advises, “Cut yourself some slack and build a team that will help get things done.” Sound advice that transcends all professions. 

Former science teacher turned distiller Benay Shannon of Restless Spirits Distilling Company in Kansas City and her husband began distilling spirits to honor their ancestors. “In the process, I discovered I have a gift for producing delicious products using stills and barrels!” Since 2014, Restless Spirits has been crafting gin, whiskey, vodka, and poitin with the rogue attitude of their forefathers who emigrated to America from Ireland in 1853. Benay says, “Do [distilling] if you love it. Not if you’re trying to prove something.” She continues, “Be willing to ask for help, input, advice. Try not to take mistakes personally.” 

The Future Is Now 

“I think a woman talking to other women about craft beer is very welcoming,” said Joleen Senter Durham at Piney River Brewing Company in Bucyrus, Missouri. Joleen’s marketing career was an asset when she and her husband opened the brewery in 2010. She applied what she knows to what she loves—beer. It’s crucial to cultivate opportunities in brewing for other women. One hundred percent of her beertenders are female. It is less intimidating to learn about the nuances of craft flavor from other women. “I love looking around my taproom and … seeing more women than men enjoying the atmosphere and a handcrafted beverage.” 

Relatively new to the industry, Danielle Shimeall has been in the field for about four years. Danielle is co-owner, general manager, event coordinator, and marketing maven at Springfield’s 4 By 4 Brewing Company. She wears many hats—a skill women have developed over the years no matter what industry they serve. “We have hired so many people who have zero experience in a brewery, but we have been able to teach them from the ground up all they need to know. If you have the passion for it, you can learn it fast!” 


Sumerians, Egyptians, and Missourians, Oh My! 

Sumerians and Egyptians unwittingly laid the foundation, not only for the craft industry of today but for strong, professional women like Sherry, Andi, Stefanie, Benay, Joleen, and Danielle. Attack your career with passion, ask for help if you need it, rely on your team, don’t beat yourself up—everyone makes mistakes—do what you love. These six women are paving the way forward in Missouri’s food and beverage industry and the nation.  

PO Box 7713 
Columbia, MO 
(573) 824-2935


2700 Guinotte Ave 
Kansas City, MO 


105 S. Main 
Webb City, MO 
(417) 673-9463


200 N. Jefferson 
Saint James, MO 


109 E 18th Ave 
North Kansas City, MO 
(816) 492-6868


15194 Walnut Grove Dr 
Bucyrus, MO 
(417) 967-4001


2811 E Galloway St 
Springfield, MO 
(417) 861-6400