Elizabeth McCall and the Future of Woodford Reserve

Apr. 16, 2018

Elizabeth McCall Article Header

Elizabeth McCall was recently promoted to the role of Assistant Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve, elevating her to a position working directly with Master Distiller Chris Morris and fueling speculation that McCall is next in line for the top distiller spot at one of America’s most beloved bourbon brands. Not bad for someone who started at the company less than ten years ago with a master’s degree in psychology and zero experience in the bourbon or the wider world of beverage alcohol.

Golden Brown Bottle of Woodford Reserve perched on table with a white splash background

Today, McCall is among the emerging class of young leaders, many of them women, poised to shape the direction of the industry for years to come. Working directly with the newly named Master Distiller, McCall will help to develop new products within Woodford Reserve’s portfolio, helping to define the brand for years to come. While her appointment to this critical role is newsworthy, owing in part to her age and rapid rise through the company, McCall herself does not appear surprised. "It's unique that I am a woman in this role, just given the history of the titles in the industry," McCall said in a statement announcing her promotion, "But at Brown-Forman, I've always been surrounded by women. ... It's never been weird for a woman to have a seat at the table and to voice her opinions."

Bourbon in the Blood

At 33, McCall is already a trailblazer, following in the steps of her own mother, who also works in the bourbon category. “My mom worked in production for another distiller … in their quality department and some of the sensory area,” McCall told Flood magazine in 2016. “The alcohol industry is in my blood.” Like her mother before her, McCall went to work in the sensory department, taking a position at Brown-Forman before focusing specifically on Woodford Reserve. McCall called her relationship with the brand “love at first sensory experience,” adding, “Bourbon is my life. I love it, so it never really feels like I’m working. I’m very fortunate to be in this situation.”

Elizabeth McCall lecturing a class on bourbon

Regarding her new, elevated position at the company, McCall told USA TODAY, "It feels like a huge amount of responsibility." Responsibility, it seems, McCall is prepared to handle. "But I also have so much pride and understanding of the big picture of it all,” she said, “I'm extremely honored and humbled to be taking on this role. I almost don't have the words to really describe it. It's very surreal. I get choked up and emotional thinking about what lies ahead." Much like a brand ambassador, McCall said that she sees sharing Woodford Reserve’s story as part of her job, and she hopes her visibility as a woman in this role will serve to encourage other women to see distilling as an attainable career.

McCall told Beverage Dynamics “I am so proud to be part of the growing presence of women in the whiskey industry. What makes me most proud is the significant impact it has on all the little girls and young women out there dreaming of what they will be one day. Now they will see women in distilling roles almost as a norm and will be encouraged to step into these types of roles.”

Elizabeth McCall Beauty Shot

What’s Next: 6 Questions with Elizabeth McCall

We sat down with McCall to get her take on the current state of the category, where it’s going, and what she sees as her role in the future of Woodford Reserve.

1) Breakthru: How do you see Woodford Reserve's portfolio changing in the near future?

Elizabeth McCall: Our portfolio will be growing. We just released a new Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, Batch Proof. This will be a regular spring Master’s Collection release. We will continue to have our fall Master’s Collection release, which is a change up on one of the five sources of flavor. We will also introduce Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey this summer. We are very excited for our Woodford fans to taste this new expression; it is a totally different take on malt whiskey, one that I believe will please. At Woodford Reserve we always have innovative whiskies in the pipeline.

2) What excites you about your new role?

Everything! I am so excited for all that lies ahead. In this new role I plan to continue my learning and growing my skill set. Our industry is an ever expanding one. I will be able to focus more attention on trends, dive deeper into our great history, create my own Master’s Collection’s and help keep this great momentum moving forward for this brand. I was thinking about how special Woodford Reserve is while walking my dog; it is like a person, a living, breathing thing that is to be cherished. Woodford Reserve is a brand that was built out of pure passion, every person who touched it was united in building it into something great. It’s all the pieces that make Woodford so unique and special, from the liquid to the bottle, our home place, Woodford County, and all the people that touch it. I am so fortunate to be a part of this brand and to help it grow in the future.

3) What's next for the bourbon category?

Global expansion. Bourbon is thriving in the United States, but there are still many untapped markets globally. We have only gotten our toes wet.

4) Outside of distilling, what do you see as the most important part of your job?

Building lasting and authentic relationships. Our liquid and package can be spot-on with quality and flavor, but if our story, and my story, are not authentic, then our consumers will see right through it. Woodford Reserve is a product meant to enrich the experience of life with sophistication, style and great-tasting bourbon. You can’t have those things without strong relationships. It’s important to me that I know all of my team members from our cleaning crew all the way up to our brand leaders. All roles are important to the success of Woodford. I also love building relationships with our devoted consumers and those that haven’t experienced Woodford Reserve yet. This part of my job energizes me and helps remind me why the long hours and attention to detail are necessary.

5) What do you want your legacy at Woodford Reserve to be?

This is a big question. I think my answer will probably change over time, but for this moment I want people to remember me for my passion for Woodford Reserve and my dedication to putting out a high-quality product. Also, that I never compromised the flavor of our product to cut cost or produce bigger numbers. [Master Distiller] Chris Morris has taught me a lot over the years and he will continue to teach me more. He said that maintaining the elements of what Woodford Reserve was built on is key to this brand’s success. I plan to do just that.

6) What should businesses be doing differently to build their bourbon sales?

Don’t jeopardize quality. Know the core values of your brand and don’t compromise them. Be clear about your brand strategy. And carry that out in all messaging with your brand, and be strategic about your pricing.

Woodford Reserve distillery grey stone building with leafy frame

Learn More

Breakthru Beverage is proud to partner with Woodford Reserve and Brown-Forman, and to bring these beloved brands to businesses throughout the United States. Talk to your Breakthru Sales Consultant today to find out more about the Brown-Forman family of brands and how they can help your business to grow today and in the future.

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