We don't have a product yet, we only have a story. But it's a great story.
Esther Clark Whiskey. It’s not about novelty or notoriety—it’s about claiming our own place on the shelf.
People, traditions, and whiskey
Everything starts with a good story. Esther Clark Whiskey is about embracing the history of working women who seized the opportunity to better their lives by making and selling whiskey during Prohibition and carrying that entrepreneurial spirit forward.
Our whiskey story starts with finding the confluence between three narratives. Rebecca Fitzsimmons, Jen Grovdahl, and Esther Clark.
Drinking good bourbon is a truly enriching experience, and the underpinning of many great—and sometimes life changing—conversations. As it happened, I was talking about women, whiskey, and Prohibition with my friend Jen, a Kansas native, who mentioned that the state had a rich history of prohibition law and an even richer history of defying it. With that in mind, we started to think about the long history of working women seizing opportunities to make whiskey and how they became some of the best bootleggers around. That’s where our quest for Esther Clark and a vision of starting a distillery and naming the first whiskey after a woman began to converge. With countless women bootleggers scattered throughout history, Jen and I thought it was time to make a little space on the shelves for a whiskey named after one of them.
Who was Esther Clark and why whiskey?
Esther Clark is the perfect name. The “Henhouse” bootlegger, she sounds like a brash prohibition era criminal—one of those women who defied the law, owned her social position, and teased everyone while doing it. But she's not that easy to find, apart from a passing newspaper reference to her arrest for making and selling whiskey, which she hid in her chicken coop.
When we started to really look for Esther Clark we began to see that her legend was just one of many stories about ordinary women who often used their invisibility to get things done. We decided that Esther would be the inspiration and namesake for the bourbon we’re developing. There’s a lot of Esther Clarks in the world and this one joins the ranks of the countless women who saw opportunities through the lens of Prohibition and took them. They used their invisibility, and often spirit, knowledge, and drive, to make a place for themselves in a world we often think of as owned by men. They, like a lot of other working women, hid in plain sight. Even in an era when other women were rebelling, stepping unapologetically into the social sphere, embracing speakeasies and fashion and unabashed fun, there was always another side of that world, where secrecy, ingenuity, and anonymity were key.
Esther Clark. We’re celebrating her legacy and that of the countless other women working in any field who haven’t had much of the limelight. They didn’t need it, but we owe it to them.
Environment, sustainability, history—these are everything
We are planning to create one of the most unique distilleries in the world in rural Kansas. The building will be visible for miles across the plains, out in the openness of the wheat-covered Kansas landscape. Apart from the distillery and rick houses, the tasting room will emulate speakeasies of the past with hidden rooms and nooks. And because we care about history, we are also planning to have an onsite exhibit space dedicated to the history of whiskey, bootlegging, and working women.
Bourbon County, Kansas was named after it’s better-known counterpart in Kentucky and has an almost identical environment. And anyone who knows bourbon knows that environment is everything to the aging process. All the nuance of flavor comes from aging, and we’re setting up in Bourbon, Kansas, precisely because that environment is perfect for creating depth.
We’re getting back to our roots—to rural Kansas, to Bourbon County, to hardworking traditions, to ingenuity, to experimenting, and to creating something great. We value nuance and creativity. We value quality and tradition and quiet perfection. But a little notoriety never hurt either, and we want the novelty of women as namesakes to change. It’s about clearing a place for their legacy on the shelves. Here’s looking to the past, and to the future.
What's our total vision and what are we trying to do now?
In essential entrepreneurial fashion and the true spirit of kickstarter, we're starting from the beginning.
We have extensively researched the idea, the stages, the business plan, the costs, the challenges, the time investment, the history, the trends, the distribution, the geographic area, the processes involved in distilling, the immense possibilities of different flavor profiles, the design, the environment—everything. We've spent a lot of time studying mash bills and talking to bartenders about what characteristics they favor in a bourbon when creating a variety of different cocktails. We want to create a bourbon that's both a pleasure to sip and can also hold its own in a mixed drink. Hands down, research ability, excellent taste (never underestimate that), and technical understanding are some of our biggest strengths. We have a creative direction and an experienced distiller ready to help us get up and running. And while we're anxious to get going we also look forward to the hard work and time investment it will take to age an amazing bourbon and build an incredible space.
So, for this first stage we are raising money to secure our property in Bourbon County Kansas and get our distilling equipment and barrel storage in place. Once that's started we can move on to building out a truly unique tasting room and display space to showcase the history of bootlegging because if there's one thing Rebecca has learned from her previous career in museum work, it's that people love having a few cocktails around an amazing collection of artifacts. Besides, the point of Esther Clark is as much to embrace a historical legacy as it is to craft an amazing whiskey.
Beyond our flagship Esther Clark bourbon, one of our next steps is to explore other small batch whiskeys to add to our offerings. We are excited about the process of developing a rye next and eventually experimenting with the idea of portable rick houses and using our spent bourbon barrels to create aged bourbon honey—and eventually small batch honey bourbon—from Jen's apiary pursuits.
But first things first, we're ready to start building!