Partial Transcript: Hello, my name is Sharah Kling and as a student in Dr. Fernheimer's Bourbon Oral History course in Spring of 2021, I am conducting this interview as part of my work for that class and the Women in Bourbon Oral History Project. Today is April 22, 2021, and it's my great honor and pleasure to be interviewing Linda Ruffenach using TheirStory here in Lexington, Kentucky. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Segment Synopsis: Kling describes the nature of the interview and introduces Ruffenach.
Keywords: Bourbon; Lexington (Ky.); Oral history; Women; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: What is your earliest memory or encounter with bourbon?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach shares her family legend about her first encounter with bourbon. The story goes that when three-year-old Ruffenach discovered an unattended frozen whiskey sour at a family party, she drank the whole glass.
Keywords: Bourbon; Frozen whiskey sours
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Families.; Whiskey.
Partial Transcript: So, uh, with that first job, when you went out to Texas, can you tell me about that and how you landed that job?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach describes her work history, beginning with sorting bingo cards for the local American Legion chapter. She also recalls her first job during college, which was contingent upon finishing her degree.
Keywords: American Legion; Bellarmine University; Bingo; Careers; Jobs; Western Kentucky University (WKU); Work
Subjects: Bowling Green (Ky.); Dallas (Tex.); Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 32.779167, -96.808889
GPS: Western Kentucky University (WKU)
Map Coordinates: 36.986111, -86.455556
GPS: Bellarmine University
Map Coordinates: 38.2198, -85.703
Partial Transcript: Great. Now I know, um, at some point, in '94 I believe it was, 1994, that you started working for ACCENT Marketing. Um, can you tell me a little bit about your job there?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach recalls working at ACCENT Marketing when the company first started. After 19 years, she held many roles such as a developer, account manager, running call centers, the CFO, and the CEO.
Keywords: ACCENT Marketing; Chief Executive Officer (CEO); Chief Marketing Officer (CFO)
Map Coordinates: 38.2948903, -85.7507914
Partial Transcript: What was it like being a woman in a marketing company in the '90s and the early 2000s?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach describes what is was like as a woman working in a marketing company in the 1990s and early 2000s. She mentions that she was the only woman on the executive team.
Keywords: Women in marketing
Partial Transcript: That actually goes right into where I was gonna ask you about, uh, the company that you started in May of 2014.
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach explains why she founded Execuity in 2014. Execuity provides a trusted advisor that guides clients through the process of exit planning, but where the client wants it to go.
Keywords: Execuity LLC; Strategic planning
Subjects: Consulting contracts
Partial Transcript: Well, talk about going forward. In December of 2020 you also started a podcast called, "Wealth Empowerment State of Mind." Tell me a little bit about that.
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach shares why she started the "Wealth Empowerment State of Mind" podcast. She realized there was a wealth gap for minorities and women and wanted to educate people on ways to close the gap. The podcast tells the stories of women and minorities who are successful in the industry.
Keywords: Podcasts; Wealth Empowerment State of Mind (Podcast)
Subjects: African Americans in the whiskey industry; Consulting contracts; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: So, when you did first become interested in being part of the bourbon industry?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach shares the experiences that brought her into the bourbon industry. After attending a bourbon event, she was astounded with the welcoming people within the bourbon industry and decided to enter it herself. Additionally, Ruffenach wanted to meet other women who were interested in bourbon and founded Whisky Chicks.
Keywords: Bourbon; Craft beer; Horses; Kentucky; Kentucky bourbon; Wine
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: How hard was it to get Whisky Chicks up and running back then?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach describes starting Whisky Chicks in 2014. The first meeting coincided with an ice storm, but after some unexpected public relations, 35 women attended the meeting. Ruffenach goes on to share how Whisky Chicks has grown over the years.
Keywords: Bourbon; Public relations (PR); Whisky Chicks; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Well, we also, in the background there, have your book.
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach shares what inspired her to write "How to Be a Bourbon Badass." After a publisher approached her with the idea, Ruffenach wrote the book as a beginner's guide for bourbon. While writing, she discovered she loved the project and it became a labor of love.
Keywords: Bourbon; How to Be a Bourbon Badass (Book); Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey.; Women authors, American.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Well actually, talking about the Bourbon Suppa Club. Um, can you tell me a little more about, like, being a part that and how that process started?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach shares what is was like to join the Bourbon Suppa Club. This club included 8 women who met once a month and would host a dinner where every dish contained bourbon.
Keywords: Bourbon; Dinners; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Maker’s Mark Distillery; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Well, going back into your marketing background. What do you think has helped broaden the audience of bourbon to include women, from that marketing perspective?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach shares her marketing perspective on broadening the bourbon audience to include more women. She believes that the best marketing strategy toward women is not having a marketing strategy.
Keywords: Bourbon; Bourbon Women Association; Bourbon industry; Women; Women in bourbon
Subjects: Bourbon whiskey; Marketing.; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: How has the role of women changed in the last 10 or 15 years, do you think, in the bourbon industry?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach describes how she has seen the role of women change in the bourbon industry over the last several years. She sees more recognition for the women who have always been in the industry. Ruffenach also shares inspiring stories of women currently working in the whiskey industry.
Keywords: Bourbon; Bourbon industry; Master Distillers; Women; Women in bourbon
Subjects: African Americans in the whiskey industry; Bourbon whiskey; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whiskey industry
Partial Transcript: Um, what do you hope your bourbon legacy will be?
Segment Synopsis: Ruffenach shares what she hopes her bourbon legacy will be. She hopes to have helped others step out of their comfort zone and experience bourbon in their own way. She wants people to drink bourbon the way they want and to enjoy the experience.
Keywords: Bourbon; Bourbon industry; Drinking bourbon; Old fashioned (Cocktail); Whiskey; Women in bourbon
Subjects: African Americans in the whiskey industry; Bourbon whiskey; Cocktails.; Whiskey industry; Whiskey.; Women in the whisky industry
KLING: Hello. My name is Sharah Kling, and as a student in Dr. Fernheimer'sBourbon Oral History course in spring of 2021, I am conducting this interview as part of my work for that class in the Women in Bourbon Oral History Project. Today is April 22, 2021, and it's my great honor and pleasure to be interviewing Linda Ruffenach, using TheirStory here in Lexington, Kentucky. Thank you so much for joining me today.
RUFFENACH: Thank you so much for having me.
KLING: For the official record, please state your name at birth.
RUFFENACH: Linda Ravenacker-- and now it's Ruffenach.
KLING: So I'm curious. Was, was there a change for a reason in, in the spelling?Or was it just that uh you got married and it was just similar?
RUFFENACH: I got married and it was just similar. So uh I went from00:01:00Ravenacker to Ruffenach. I lost one syllable in the whole process.
KLING: Wow. (laughs) That's interesting. Okay, we're going to start out talkingabout your childhood and family a little bit. When and where were you born?
RUFFENACH: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky.
KLING: Okay. Tell me a little about your family background.
RUFFENACH: All right. So, I am one--I'm the youngest of four children. Um, I,you know, kind of grew up in that average, middle class kind of family neighborhood. Uh my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad worked for the um--well, it was South Central Bell, and ended up going and working for BellSouth and AT&T. I have, um, two older brothers, and the eldest,
um--and then I have a, a sister, who is the oldest of all of us. So bookend withtwo girls and two boys in the middle. Um, and I grew up in Louisville 00:02:00and, you know right in the Hikes
Point area. And, uh you know, it was an average childhood. You know, it was, itwas good and had great parents. And it was uh you now--looking back, we were very lucky to have had what we had.
KLING: Wonderful. Tell me a little bit about your family now, your, your husbandand children.
RUFFENACH: So I am married to Fred Ruffenach, um, who is part of my inspirationfor getting into bourbon, which we can touch upon that later. Um, and we have two boys, um, that are--right now, my oldest will be turning sixteen next week, um, and then I also have a thirteen year old.
KLING: Okay. Let's see. Tell me about your experiences growing up in Kentuckyin--I'm believing it was in the seventies and eighties timeframe.
RUFFENACH: Yeah. So yeah, it was um--I grew up in Kentucky. I, you know, was,
um-- we lived on a dead-end street where we had--I think at one time00:03:00on our dead-end street there was a hundred kids on that street. It wasn't a very big street. But I was the youngest of all of them. And so um--and there weren't very many girls my age, so I hung out with a lot of the boys and played with them and tried to keep up with my brothers' friends. So I won't say I was tomboy because I liked wearing dresses and all that kind of stuff. But I could always hang with the boys. And I think that's something that was kind of carried into, to who I am as an adult because I can--you know, I can hang with pretty much anyone, um, and feel comfortable. Um, you know, we were a Catholic family. And, you know, when I, when I talk about my history with bourbon and that type of thing, I always refer back to when I was a child. And, um, you know, my, my father was the--he, he was the, was the epitome of a great host, you know? Anybody that
would come by or that would--you know, even I remember the garbage man when wewere kids coming by, and he would always offer him a beer. And back 00:04:00then, it was okay to offer him a beer. Um, but, you know, he--people came by. It would be a beer or like a cocktail. You want something to eat? All that kind of stuff. And so, we learned as kids that, you know, hosting people and being friendly to people and, and doing those things to give were really important.
And, and it also taught me how to make a really good highball, um, because atsix years old that was the option. You know, you could have--not for me, but for our guests, that you could either have a beer or my dad would make you a highball. Um, and if you relented and said no, you finally said yes because he would not let, let up on, like, do you want a cocktail? Do you want a beer? Do you want a cocktail? Do you want something to eat? And until you said yes, he would never stop.
KLING: (laughing) That's, that's funny. What is your earliest memory orencounter with bourbon?
RUFFENACH: Well, the earliest encounter, as my family legend goes, was that itwas when I was about three years old and, um, you know my 00:05:00grandparents--my dad's side of the family (clears throat) would have these elaborate holiday parties. And uh just to kind of paint a picture for you is that I, I was very young when my grandmother on my dad's side passed away, my Meemaw. My Meemaw passed away. But Meemaw--only thing I remember from her was that she was small in stature. She had this beautiful white hair and always had a mink stole on and a Kentucky cluster ring, which was the, the diamond. It's a white diamond ring, um, and bright red nails. And then my grandfather, which was Peepaw, was a very tall um--just a tall, put together man. Actually, my brother looks just like him, you know, where he's bald, got thick eyebrows and a mustache, and, and that kind of stuff. So I remember Peepaw being just this really tall man. And my grandmother, Meemaw, would always have these cocktails in her hand that were these frozen whiskey sours. That was like the 00:06:00cocktail of the house were these frozen whiskey sours with a bright red cherry in them. And, um, my brother likes to tell about one time when I was about three where I just basically walked up to one of those whiskey sours, and I took a sip, and then I decided to drink the whole thing down. Um, and apparently, I became the entertainment for the evening as I stumbled around at three years old, you know, you know getting, getting a little liquored up when I was that young. So that's my first memory and my first encounter with bourbon. Now, none of that is politically correct today. But that's the way it was in the sixties and the seventies.
KLING: (laughs) There you go. (laughs) What did you want to be when you grow upwhen you were little? Wha-What'd you think of?
RUFFENACH: Well, you know, it's funny. I don't know that I had a set specificcareer plan. Um, I remember being in my, you know--being in our room. My sister and I shared a room, and we would play school. Um, we'd play office. 00:07:00My dad would bring us home, like, leftover office paperwork and, you know, just stacks of stuff and files. And we'd just sit there and play with it and, like, okay, I've got my little office, and be doing that kind of stuff. Um, but we also played, you know--I played nurse and other things. And when I actually went to college, um, I originally went with the intent of nursing and I'm like, eh, that's not it. And then I switched to computer science, which is a big part of what I did in a lot of my college career. I had an interesting college career. It took me eight years to get through college. Um, but it was three years at Western Kentucky and I had one heck of a good time at Western Kentucky for three years.
And that would be part of the reason why it took me five more to get throughcollege. Um,but, um, I majored in computer science. Um,but when I left Western, I really had more of a bent towards business, and I went to Bellarmine for a couple years, got offered a job in Texas, moved to Dallas, and 00:08:00that's where I completed my degree in uhm business with a minor in computer science.
KLING: That goes right into where I was going to lead you, which was starttalking about your adult life and education. So you kind of covered--I was looking and saw that you had a couple of different colleges, and you explained that really well for us. So uh with that first job when you went out to Texas, can you tell me about that and how you landed that job?
RUFFENACH: Well, I'll backtrack because that really technically wasn't my firstreal--well, I had lots of first jobs. So I started working when I was thirteen years old. Actually, you know what? It was even younger than thirteen. We used to sort bingo cards for the local legion. So, you know, the American Legion, they'd have these--they had these paper cards that were all colored, and we had to sort them and put them in the right direction. We'd get these big liquor boxes, um, that would--that we'd have to do. And it was myself and my 00:09:00siblings. We'd sort through them, and we got paid like six dollars a box or something like that, which wasn't--back then in that age, that was a lot of money to get six dollars a box. But it was also--I hated doing it because it reeked with cigarette smoke and it was just, it was dirty and, and then it was, it was one of the things--like, when you're a kid, you don't want to sit in the basement sorting bingo cards when the weather's nice outside, right? So we would try to find our way to get out of that. And sometimes the bingo cards might disappear, um, and we got really creative on how we'd get rid of the bingo cards. I'd put them in a bag, and sometimes they'd end up in the garbage. My
parents caught on to that one. Um,so we started stashing them in the basement.And just a, a funny story around that is that, you know, my mother passed away a few years ago. We still found bingo cards down in the basement stuffed and hidden in strange places. But that was kind of the first job. My parents believed--had a very strong work ethic. And so, I went from that to 00:10:00cleaning our family physician's doctor's office, um, to then working at Hardee's. I worked the whole entire time I was in college. The transition from Western to going to Bellarmine was--I had come home for the summer from Western and I started working for a local real estate, um, company, um, a development company. And I was loving what I was doing. I was kind of doing an assistant for one of the guys, and I loved the whole atmosphere, and I loved helping work with them. And, um, he offered me a job. I said I didn't want to go back, and he--the only way he would hire me is if I promised I would continue to go to college. He was like, "You cannot take this job and I will not hire you unless you keep going to college." So I went to school at Bellarmine and worked for them full time. And during that time, I became kind of an expert on this one piece of software that we used, um, to support some of their investment, um, transactions. And then that's what got me the job in Dallas was that 00:11:00someone had heard about how good I was with the system. And so, they came and offered me a job and I moved to Dallas. And then three months later, bank shut down.
KLING: Oh my gosh. (laughs) So what did you do then?
RUFFENACH: So, um, by the way, in this whole process, my dad was not thrilledthat I packed up and moved. You know, my mom was like, "We're going to support her. We're going to do it." And he's like--yeah, he was not happy that--you know, I basically decided within two weeks that I was packing up and moving to Dallas. Um, and when I moved to Dallas, it was--you know, it
was a big adventure. And, and one of the things I always encouraged, like myfriends with their kids, the best thing you can do for your kids is send them away someplace without you. Um,it's kind of anti-intuitive, but I will tell you that whole experience helped me discover who I was , who Linda was, 00:12:00without all the preconceived notions, right, and without all of the, the things that come with your family being around you all the time. Now, it wasn't easy. It was tough. Um,but I moved there and I liked my independence. And so when the job was gone, I was like, Oh my gosh, what am I going to do? And, but I ended up going and working temporary for a comp--several different companies, um, and, and then I ended up staying. I, I eventually ended up getting a full-time job working for PepsiCo. But it was funny. My brothers and my, my brothers in particular kept trying to get me to come home. And um--but at the same time, they called me every single day, and my parents called me to make sure I was okay, how things going, all that kind of stuff. And it reiterated for me the importance of family, that even- you know-back then, you didn't have the internet or anything like that. But those phone calls and those
touch-bases, um, you could still do that and feel supported. But I00:13:00ended up staying in
Dallas for almost five years before moving back to Louisville.
KLING: Great. Now, I know, um, at some point in '94, I believe it was, 1994,that you started working for Accent Marketing. Um,can you tell me a little bit about your job there? You were there through 2014. So--
KLING: Maybe the different positions that you had too.
RUFFENACH: Yeah, that was an unexpected career thing for me. So I--like Imentioned, I moved back to Louisville. And once again, I moved back without having a job. Um,my dad had
had an accident that, um, I, that had kind of woken--woke me up to the fact thatmy parents were vulnerable and, um, that it was important to be back home, and that they were getting older and that type of thing. So I moved back. Didn't have a job. Once again, dad thought I was crazy. Um, and I moved in with my parents. That lasted all of about four weeks because I had been on my 00:14:00own for so long and like, all right, I got to get out of here. And just like I did in Dallas, I started working temporary. I'm not one, from a work standpoint--I cannot sit around and do nothing. And even though it was a, you know, a third of what I was maybe making or was capable of making, I just--I had to work. I couldn't not work. Um,and so, I did that, and then I answered an ad in a newspaper. And that same week, I got interview--two interviews. One was with a very conservative bank, which was very much in line with the skillset that I had,
which--um I did a lot of financial reporting and analysis and did a lot of theprogramming for that. And, um, very stable, secure company. And then I had this other company that I responded to an ad. I didn't even know what they did. It just--like, it's interesting so I'll just respond to it, right? I get called in for an interview, and it was just a--it was just a different experience all around, you know? I remember sitting in the lobby. It looked like a lawyer's office, which I thought, okay, this doesn't feel like a start-up to 00:15:00me. It was a lawyer's office. And, um, some of the characters walking by--I remember the first impression. Like there was a woman sitting at the front desk, who ended up becoming a really good friend of mine, um, just this picture perfect blonde uhm with long hair and had these big old eighties bangs. And, and this was the nineties still. But it was eighties bangs and all that kind of stuff. And then there was one gentleman, walked by, who was just--had slicked back hair, had a gold chain, and a little,
small--shorter in statute, and I'm thinking, "What kind of place is this?" Like,I don't--you know,
your first impressions, right? Um,and I thought this is a waste of my time. ButI ended up going in and meeting with the guy and, um, just was amazed with the way that this company worked, and the work ethic, and the other things. It was fairly new. And, um, so, long story short, they--I got offered a job. Both places offered me a job within a day or two of each other. And the one at the more conservative company paid a lot more than this one. And um--but 00:16:00for some reason, I chose the riskier one. Um,and you know and I kind of looked back and I said some
of--there's some patterns in here that I tend to have, which is I take some ofthese risks. Um,but it was like, in those risks it helps me get to where I am. But I started working there. I was doing, um, computer programming. I was doing some data conversion work. Then, um, we evolved into doing operational hum--doing a lot of stuff on customer engagement. And it wasn't customer engagement back then, but it was customer experience, um, and customer service. And I found a real passion for some of that and really a passion for running the operations. So over the nineteen years that I was there, um, I went from being a, a developer to very quickly becoming an account manager, then eventually going into operations running a call center. And then I took over all 00:17:00of the call centers. We started to grow and add call centers and customer care. And so, I ended up taking that over and was the president of the division for a while. Um,but I--one of the things, since I was running the operations, I got really frustrated with finance because I was being held accountable to a P&L [profit and loss], but I wasn't getting the information I needed. So when the CFO left, I'm just like, I want that job. And everybody thought I was crazy. Like, why would you and why would I move you--I mean, I don't have an accounting degree. I'm not a finance person. But at the time, I wasn't. Um,but I ended up moving into the CFO position
and--because I wanted to figure out how to get the numbers in the most efficientway possible so
that we could run the operations better. So I did that for several years, um,and then I ended up going back to operations and eventually became CEO over that--running it the last couple years that I was there.
KLING: Wow. Interesting progress through that, that company. What was00:18:00it like being a woman in a marketing company in the nineties and the early two thousands?
RUFFENACH: Well, I was definitely the only woman on the executive team, um,other than, you know,--we had a couple of HR people that the chief people officer was a woman. But, but that wasn't always the case. Um, you know, it's funny. I just was who I, who I am. You know,
I--looking back, there were moments that being a woman worked against meand--but during the time, I just had blinders on, you know? I was always going to do the job that I was hired to do.
And I'm also--I'm not afraid to confront issues and basically say, okay, I don'tknow if it's politically correct or not but that's not right. You know, that that, what you're doing over there, that's not going to work. Um, that actually happened to me early in my career when I was living in Dallas, I was 00:19:00working for one company and almost got fired for speaking up when a project was going to fail. And I was the only one that spoke up, even though half the people around the table knew that it was going to fail. You know I was all of twenty-five years old, and, um, I'm like, okay, like, that train's going off the tracks. Do you guys not see the train's going off the track? Like, I know you see what I see. But it was almost like the emperor with no clothes. No one was brave enough to say the emperor had no clothes. I'm the first one to point out, like, dude, that--that dude ain't wearing anything, right? Um, but that hel--that helped me, I think, with working with all of the, the men because I just went in, did the best job that I could. Um, and um, I didn't make being a woman a factor. Now, was it looking back? Absolutely. There
were moments I can reflect on that said, yeah that played against me. Um, but Inever let it affect who I am and how I approached it. Does that answer your question?
KLING: It does, quite well. Th--I--and I think that, that is a big00:20:00quality, having been in different roles myself, I can see how that would work for you. Uh, how would you describe your management style?
RUFFENACH: (laughs) Evolving. Um.
RUFFENACH: You know, what's so funny is that I reflect back and because of my,directness and ability to identify things and address things. Um, when I was there and I started when I was much younger, I can get a lot of stuff done, and, and I would move at a very fast pace. I was blessed with some wonderful skills that then provided by you know s--from someone up above. And um--but sometimes, that didn't work working with people, and I had to learn over time, with maturity, with experience around how to work with people. And I'm, I'm--I feel really good about where I am and, you know, where I evolved. You know, it took me a few years in my career you know, when I was young, I was like go 00:21:00get them. Let me just run everybody over and we'll get stuff done. Um, but I learned, managing people, that's just not how it works. And um, running the operations of a call center, which is, you know, um, mostly an hourly workforce, at the time, making minimum wage, um, very different group of individuals.
You--it was very important that you had to treat them as individuals and you hadto treat them as people. We learned that the hard way. Um, but that really stuck with me. And so, since then, I've always made sure that, in every decision I make within business, there's always balanced out between the employees, the clients, and then the financials. And um, and so my approach really
is--has tried to be very down to earth and very approachable. And that's reallymy management style now. I'm direct, but I'm not cruel, and very approachable, and I also try to break things down in a simple way for people to 00:22:00understand them.
KLING: Great. Um, in that--talking about that, how did you mentor your employeesto achieve their own goals and help them grow in their profession?
RUFFENACH: Um, you know, one of the interesting things about the culture ofAccent was you were generally thrown in the deep end and someone would throw you a life raft if you needed it. Um,and so, a lot of it would be--I would be that life raft. You know, if you needed me, I'm here. Um, I will push you and I will push you to go beyond where you think you are when you're sitting there going, "I can't do that. I can't do that." I'm like, "Give it a try. Go push." You know, or "What are you worried about?" "Well, let's talk about that. Let's unpack that a little bit. Can you get beyond that?" Um,and helping, you know, to make the decisions, and also to where you can see the possibilities that you have in yourself. And that's one of the things that I think, you know, as humans, we tend to struggle. We don't see our possibilities. 00:23:00Um,others may look at it and even others may not see those possibilities either. But if you take the time to reflect and identify the strengths that you really do bring to the table, and you figure out how to harvest those in and direct them in the right direction, um, you can achieve anything you want.
But it takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot of, um, self-learning to getthere. But that's always
been part of my mission in everything that I do, particularly in the lastseveral years, which is, um, trying to instill this sense of empowerment, um, and letting people--and giving them the chance to fail. Honestly, give them a chance to fail because whenever you fail you're moving forward. A lot of people feel like, when you fail you move backwards. My belief is that every failure is two
steps forward, um, because you're learning something and you're going to do itthat much better the next time.
KLING: Wonderful. In that, who were your mentors while you were00:24:00working there at Accent? And what was some of the best advice that they gave you?
RUFFENACH: I had several mentors that I worked with. You know, um, (laughs) tothis day, I have become anal retentive when it comes to presentations and this is how I did everything speaks and I give credit for that to, um, the founder of our company, Tom Hansen. Um, I remember one time, actually doing a PowerPoint for him, we were--like, he threw this at me. I'm like I'd never done a presentation before. And he was like, "No, here, go put this presentation together for a new client." Okay. Um, and the amount of red that came back on that presentation when I handed it to him--and it came back just bloody red. All right. So I went and did it again. Comes back again, bloody red. I mean, I made every change he had--he made, but it still was just not good enough. I went through this four different times. And at the--and we were working over the weekend, trying to get this done. Um, and finally, the fifth time, it 00:25:00almost came back to the way that it originally was, and it pissed me off. (laughs) Um, but he taught me two things. One, he actually was really tough on me, and he was just, like--he was under stress, and he was really tough on me and really hard on me. And I'm like--I was not happy. But he called me from the airport--on the way to the airport going to this, this client meeting and apologized for his behavior. And here's the owner of the company apologizing to me for, you know, putting me through that. Um, the, the other thing--so, one, he taught me how to make presentations really good. He taught me to be humble and the fact that, as a leader, it's okay to come back and say I'm sorry that I didn't do things right. Um, the third thing was he came back to me when he
came back from his trip. He actually--and I still have it. Um, I don't think Ihave it out. But, um, he brought me back this little cartoon scene 00:26:00from the Disney Store, and it's, um, Tweety and Sylvester, and it just says, "Just one more, and I'll quit." And, um, that's always been a prized possession to me because, once again, it goes back to that humbleness and then also the gratefulness to your team and them doing things for you. And so, he's been a big mentor of mine as I've kind of--when I went through that stage. And then through the years, I've had different mentors, you know? I, I will tell you, the best piece I ever received, um, and I use it to this day with my clients is, in life you can choose to take passengers or hostages, and passengers are a lot more fun to travel with. And as I made different major decisions in my career, I was very mindful of that and the fact that um, if my husband was not on board, there's no sense in even trying to push or you know, go down that path because it's not right, you know, for us and our relationship. He has to be on board with where we're going. And he actually was the impetus for me leaving Accent 00:27:00when I came home one day and he looked at me and said, "You've had enough." And I'm like, "Okay. Now, I can, I can do this. I can leave this thing that I've been at for 19 years." Was like my child. Um, I could leave it and walk away.
KLING: That actually goes right into where I was going to ask you about, uh, thecompany that
you started in May of 2014, and I'm, I'm hoping to say it right, Excuity?
KLING: Thank you. (laughs) Uh, tell me a little bit about the mission and, and--of the company and why you started it.
RUFFENACH: Okay, so execution--I'll explain the word first of Execuity. It's amade-up word that I made up and it's trademarked. Um, and it's execution with strategic acuity. And it stems
from the fact that there was a lot of people out there, and there still is a lotof consultants out there that'll help you do strategic planning. Um, 00:28:00and they do a wonderful job doing strategic planning. But I also found in my own experience that, that planning isn't worth anything unless you execute on it. And so, my big mission was to be able to provide a service that would allow you to build those strategic plans, but also had a built-in cadence of accountability so that the plan went from being a plan to actually being action and really having an impact. Um, it also came from the fact that, you know, when I was CEO, it was a very tough job to have. Um,that old adage that it's lonely at the top couldn't have been more true when I had that role. I had a fantastic leadership team that worked with me. I mean, you couldn't have asked for a better executive team. Um, and I actually, we were owned by a company out of, um--it was originally out of Canada, but out of New York, that was our managing--you know I'd work with the managing partners up there and I was held accountable, I reported in to the board. And um--but there were times when I got stuck, and I didn't know who to go to because I couldn't talk 00:29:00to my team because, you know, there was some stuff I just couldn't talk to them about. I couldn't talk to my managing director because I wanted to make sure that, you know, I
wasn't--uh, while he was fantastic and he was a fantastic mentor, there was justtimes I couldn't
talk to him. And I sought outside guidance and I found some good people to guideme. Um, but there's certain things about that that I didn't like, which is I had people telling me what to do versus helping me discover what to do. Um,I also had others that um, um, basically were like, "Here, you stand down. I'll take care of this." and I'm like, no, that's not going to work for me either. Um, and then I had others that used the cookie cutter solutions and that wasn't working for me. And so, when I started Execuity I was determined to provide that service that I wanted for
other CEOs and other business owners, which is, you know, a trusted advisor whoguided you through the process, um, but it was your process and it 00:30:00was based upon where you wanted to go, not where somebody else wanted to go and, that's where we kind of came up with the tagline of, you know, I help my clients achieve total world domination, um, which is for a business owner, a CEO, or whatever, which is everyone has a vision of what total world domination looks like for them. They may not have articulated it, and your version is going to be completely different than mine. And so, my goal and mission has been to help those business owners figure out how to get there. Um, since then, my business has shifted to where I focus a lot on exit planning, and I work with business owners to help with their transition at the--you know, prepare for that eventual transition of their business. Because that--at that point, they are much closer to achieving their vision of total world domination and it's trying to figure out how do you get the means, you know, get the time, the money, and the freedom to be able to go and pursue, you know, passions you might have outside of your business? So that's kind of my mission today. 00:31:00
KLING: Okay. What are the biggest challenges and the most rewarding experiences associated
RUFFENACH: Biggest challenges, business development. Um,you know, it's um--I'vealways shied away from sales. But now, as I've gotten a little older I reflect on the fact, you know what? I'm not that bad at it, and that, that really I'm leaning in, especially in this last year, into that relationship building side of it, and recognizing that um, that's a good way to sell is relationship building. And I have worked really hard this last year to work my network. And as a result, I get a lot of referrals, and I usually, when I get referrals, I can close them. But that was a big
challenge for me to get there. Um, one of the biggest things that I love is whenI see the light go on, you know, when I'm sitting there and I've got a CEO or a business owner who's completely stressed out. They're not 00:32:00seeing--they're just not seeing the light. They're not seeing clarity in it. And then we start to move the pieces around, and all the sudden what's been this scattered puzzle piece, we're able to start to put it together and they start to see the picture of where it's going. And they feel much more confident in being able to identify how they're going to get to that vision. And um, and then in the exit planning side, uhm I'm right in the middle of one opportunity right now that, you know, has the opportunity to double the value of their business and actually sell it this year. And if and when that happens, which I believe it will by the end of the year, that one is going to be really fulfilling, um, because of where we started and where we've been able to get her business um, and actually turn that into, like, much bigger uhm than she ever expected it to be, and frankly, much bigger than I ever expected it to be.
KLING: (laughs) What it's-- what is it like to be a female entrepreneur?00:33:00
RUFFENACH: Um, as I mentioned earlier, when I was working in um--at Accent, Ijust put blinders on. I didn't worry about it, right? Um, I just was who I was. But I, I was almost a little bit um--had a little bit of culture shock, when I came out and started working in the entrepreneurial bu--world, where, you know, I want to be very positive about it because I think Kentucky and Louisville has a fantastic entrepreneurial community. Um, you've got a lot of people that are vested in making other businesses successful that have worked really hard. Um. but there are, there are some cliques within that group, and it was very hard to kind of get into those cliques, particularly as a woman. Um, and--using my same typical style, which is, "Okay, fine. If you don't want to play with me, that's fine. That's your problem. I'm going to find my way
to play without you." Um,and it's taken me a few years to get there.00:34:00And, um, COVID actually has helped a lot in that. It's kind of ironic, in the fact that I stopped worrying about what anybody else around here thought, and I started working networks outside of here. And um, and, and being the Whisky Chick, having a book about bourbon, it kind of was funny the cachet that I could bring to the table when I'm talking about business and the number of conversations I could have. Particularly with men, and the fact that--like, I almost got this instant credibility from the
f--standpoint that I was not afraid to call myself a bourbon badass. Um,and--and it allowed me to expand my networks, and through that, you know, most of my clients are outside of Kentucky. Um,and right now, all of my prospects are within Kentucky, it's sort of like I pulled outside, went outside, and now my dance card's a lot more interesting now that I've got other people 00:35:00I'm dancing with, right? Um, which--you know, we'll see where this journey takes me. Let me just put it that way. And it's been fun to come back and really start to finally get a little bit of that credit for what I believe I bring to the table. And a lot of that had to do with me, had a lot to do with me and, and my confidence and, and things and, you know, I, I think it's--and this is conversations I have with several women, you know? I know there's some out there that look at me with, like, wow. She's done this and she's done that, and da, da, da, da. But we all have insecurities, and there's moments I feel like I'm faking it. There's moments that I'm like, Okay, I'm not good enough. I'm not adequate enough. And I think as I get older, the more I'm leaning into, you know what? I am good. I am good at what I do, and I could have an impact. And it's a privilege for me to be able to work with people. And as long as I kind of keep that focus, I feel like that's what's going to continue to drive me going forward.
KLING: Well, talk about going forward. In December of 2020, you also00:36:00started a podcast called Wealth Empowerment State of Mind. Tell me a little bit about that, which we've got a little poster behind you about that too.
RUFFENACH: Well, it's so funny because that whole thing that I just described iswhat inspired Wealth Empowerment State of Mind. So as I started getting into this whole thing of exit planning and started really understanding the market out there, there was a couple things that just--that just, facts and numbers that astound me. First of all, you know, um, when a business owner sells their business, three out of four business owners regret selling their business a year later, like profoundly regret. And there's two big reasons for it. One is, um, they didn't get the money they thought they should have. And second of all, they didn't know what they were going
to do after they sold it you know. That they sold the company and then theyrealized, oh, life on a beach isn't life on a beach, you know, the life on a beach can get boring after the second week.
And they had never thought beyond that. Um, in particular, also00:37:00discovering that women business owners, um, kind of hold themselves back sometimes and don't always value--and they don't have any idea what the value is, and they, in some ways--and I've been
guilty of this. I've had it mansplained to me on, you know, how to do things.And so, sometimes, when you're insecure and you're unknown and you don't have the knowledge or the experience, you kind of fall into that trap of mansplaining's okay. Or it doesn't even have to be a man. It's just somebody else doing it for you. Um, I linked some of this all back to some of the work I did with Whisky Chicks, where I found that when you have knowledge and experience, you get a sense of empowerment. Um, and leaning into that and recognizing, particularly when it comes to wealth, you know--when you go look at wealth for a man, every dollar a man has in savings, a woman
has, like, sixty-five cents. And it may be as low as thirty-five cents. But theone that stood out to me is that African American women have eight cents for every dollar a man has in savings. And that wealth gap has got to 00:38:00change. Um, and so, I kind of took it on as part of my mission to figure out how do you change that wealth gap, and how do you inform and educate business owners, particularly women and minority-owned businesses, where and how to get this information to feel comfortable, you know, in that, that process. And um, so my approach has been let's figure out how to get through it. Let's figure out how to get your resources. Um, but I also thought it was important for women to hear exactly what I reflected on, we all don't have it together. You know, there's some things that we all have in common. And I'm looking at a board over here that I have, which is, you know, when it comes to running a business, the biggest challenges, you know, many businesses have is they have--they don't know how to manage their cash, they have limited access to funding. But add on to that, from a woman's perspective, the issue of being taken seriously because it's true. Whether you want to admit it or not, women are not always taken serious. That's why a lot of all of the investment money goes to men, 00:39:00men start--male start-ups versus women start-ups. Um, and our support network and the network you need to move your business forward--there's very few that look like you. Um, and, you know, it's--and I don't think it's intentional, but you, you learn to hang with the people that you're most comfortable with. And so, men are comfortable with men, and so they're going to hang with men and they're going to help support men. Um, we're also handling and balancing a lot of responsibilities at the same time. You know, we've got a lot of stuff going on in our life. And to overlay all of that, we all have this fear of failure and this, this thing that we have to do it all, right? So that all kind of--you bring all of those pieces together. But we don't tell anybody about
that. We think it's just us. And so, Wealth Empowerment State of Mind is apodcast that tells the story of different business women and different, um, industry experts, and reveals and lets them tell their story, their relationships with money, the things that they've learned through 00:40:00their lives and through their careers on the things they didn't get right. And my goal is in that, that by hearing those stories and recognizing that everybody else has those challenges, you can hear a little bit about how they overcome those challenges but you also can embrace the challenges that you have um, and feel empowered to take those over. You know, once again, knowledge and experience breeds confidence, which then leads to empowerment.
KLING: And that kind of leads into my next question, uh, talking about all thethings that especially women, balance. Um, work-life balance is one that we talk about a lot, and I personally know how it can be hard to balance it. So how do you define a good work-life balance?
RUFFENACH: Whatever it is for you. Um, you know, it's funny becauseI've--there's lots of books in there about--that talk about work-life balance. And I've gone back and forth on that, and I believe it's a personal 00:41:00choice. You know, my definition of work-life balance may be very different than your definition of work-life balance. And what's important to you in your life is different than what's important to me in my life. They may have some common threads together. But, you know, when I left Accent there were a couple reasons that went behind it. One of them was my boys and the fact that I was traveling all the time. And my boys were at an age where I wanted to spend time with them. And I was very fortunate of the fact that when I left, you know, I had one year to figure out what I wanted to do, you know, that I had a package that I was able to leave and I had a year. And I spent that time really hanging out and getting to know
my kids. And um, for me that was really important. I also have an amazinghusband who has been nothing but supportive for me over the years. Um, I've been the breadwinner of our family. Um, he has taken care of our kids. And, you know, our oldest son has had some challenges in school and that type of thing. He managed that. He dealt with that, , um, and he allowed me to do the 00:42:00work but still not necessarily take on the full burden of some of the things that had to be taken care of um. Even from when our oldest was a baby, he couldn't stay in a daycare and so, my husband basically had--was ready to start a--restart his career after moving here, and he had to put the whole thing on hold um, to stay at home and raise our youngest son and then our second son. So, that part's really important from a balance standpoint. And um--but I've learned to take time to breathe a little bit. Now, COVID's been difficult because we've not been able to leave the house. So a lot of those things that I really like to do that would be like part of that work-life balance, like going out to dinner and traveling and all that stuff just doesn't happen.
Um, but I, I still go back to it's an individual choice about work-life balancesand it changes over
time. Like, right now, I probably have more balance on work than I do--(coughs),um, it's probably shifted. It's not, like, big shift. But it's, you 00:43:00know, probably, like, sixty-forty because I'm at a place in my career and in my business that I'm really pushing to grow and expand, um, but I never want that to get completely out of tilt to where it's, you know,
eighty-twenty. Um, but that's my choice of work-life balance.
KLING: So it sounds like maybe your advice would kind of go along the lines ofyou need to find out what is important to you for your work-life balance. Would you give any other advice to somebody, especially younger women coming into a career field?
RUFFENACH: Um--well, a couple things. One, I think it's okay to be ambitious.(laughs) It's like, you know, it shouldn't be--even though it is different, it shouldn't be different for men and women. Um, and I do see in the younger generation, and I look at it with my boys, um, they're not seeing the things I saw when I was younger. You know, my mom was a 00:44:00
stay-at-home mom and um, my dad was a full-time worker and um, it was just theway that it was, right? And even my mom--you know, my mom went back to college when I was in high school because she never got to when she got married. And um, and she had this dream of becoming--you know, working in a museum someday, and that's kind of where she was headed until, you know, my father retired and kind of took it off the, the skids a little bit. Um, but I saw what that generation was like and so, that led a little bit into those notions but my mom also has told me, "Never let a man be the reason you do anything." You know, that, that you know as you grow--you be you, and you learn to be you, uhm and then you worry about the rest of it. And that's part of the reason I didn't get married until I was in my mid-thirties, um, partly because I wanted to live my life, and I really had a good time living my life. And you know I'm an older 00:45:00parent now, but I don't think I would do it any other way. So, I think, you know,
one--but when I reflect back on the generations, I think this generation is alot more like it doesn't matter as much. The, the notions of women versus men are starting to break down. Um, but it's still always going to be a challenge. You know, when um--what's the one book? The, The Handmaiden's Tale, or The Maiden's Tale, or whatever that is. Um, that came out around the same time that Hidden Figures came out. And I remember reflecting on those two things and recognizing that it wasn't that long ago that these things were taking place. And I remember having a conversation with my mom and recognizing, you know what? That wasn't, like, a
hundred years ago. That was, like, thirty, forty years ago. And--how00:46:00scary it would be to go back to that place where women were, you know, not, um, able to control who they are and the, the things that happened. And I think this generation is determined not to let that go back and not to change, particularly when it comes to a lot of different issues. Um, but I think we all have to be mindful as women and others that it wasn't that long ago. And so, my role, I feel like in my generation, is to be those examples of, yes, you can do it. You can be there. You can be who you are. Um,and this next generation is really about holding on to that place and to continuing to, um, make their mark. And, you know, it's exciting to see where women are coming in all of this. Um,but I have to say, I'm a little bit--I struggle sometimes because I'm a mom of two white boys, and um, where do they stand in the world and for them not 00:47:00to feel like they're outcast. Um,you know, the ideal world is that we don't--it doesn't matter. But I think we're far away from that. So pardon my rambling. I'm just thinking through that question as you asked it. So--(laughs)
KLING: No, no, that's great. We-- that's, that's how we all figure things out isthinking through
it like that. We're going to now kind of go into a little more about bourbonitself. So when did you first become interested in being part of the bourbon industry?
RUFFENACH: So it's kind of funny, is that um, I didn't drink bourbon a lot. And,you know, I was a wine drinker. I loved wine and, um, love the complexities of wine. Um, I also enjoyed beer. I loved craft beer. And, and a lot of it was I liked the different flavors and the profiles and all that kind of stuff. Well, my husband is from Philadelphia, and I always like to share this story about my husband from Philadelphia, who um--when he moved to Kentucky, um, he 00:48:00decided he needed to be all things Kentucky. And so, all things Kentucky first meant he went out and
bought a pick-up truck. So we had a Ford F-150. Um,the second thing was um, weinvested in um, horses and we had racehorses that we invested in. Noth--something I do not recommend you do because there's no money to be made in it. It really was more about the prestige of having a horse, you know? Um, yeah, don't recommend that one. Um,and then the third thing was he was determined to learn about bourbon. Well, when he first moved here, I remember going to an event um, down at the Louisville Slugger Field. Um, I think it was the derby--Taste of Derby or whatever it was with him. And he'd never had bourbon. He was a gin and tonic drinker and drank wine and stuff like that. And we go down there and we go by the Maker's Mark booth. And, you know, here I am. I've had bourbon, you know? I've grown up around it. It doesn't--you 00:49:00know, there's, there's, there's a--a place of, um, familiarity and kind of comfort in a glass of bourbon and the smell of bourbon for me. But he took a sip of this bourbon, and he, he kind of took it back really quick, you know? A lot of those uneducated people that come to Kentucky and think you got to shoot it, right? Um. so he decided to take it back, and all the sudden he started hiccupping really bad. His face turned red, and I really thought he was going to spit it across the room. And, um, he's like, "Oh, my God. Oh, oh God." And, and then I'm like, "Well, first of all, you didn't drink that right." And um--but I thought that's the last time he's ever going to drink bourbon. But he ended up taking that experience and really decided, you know what?
There's more, there's, there's more to be learned about the bourbon industry.And, even without
me really recognizing it and realizing it, he started to become an expert on thebourbon industry, far more than I am in a lot of ways. Um, you know, 00:50:00he's the one I refer to from a history standpoint. He's the one I go back to and say, "Okay, what about this one over this one? What's different about that?" He can tell you more about the brands than I personally can. Um,
but he, he started getting into it. And I just remember that around Christmastime I was asked to go find this one bottle, and it was just like--you know, it was this bottle. It was a hundred dollars. And at the time, I'm thinking, a hundred dollars for a bottle of bourbon? Are you crazy? You know, because we lived with, you know, the, the big gallon jug up underneath the, the, the kitchen sink, right? And um, Very Old Barton was what the house brand was. And so, he started buying these bourbons. And--but at Christmas, I would go out, and he's like, "If you could find this and this, that would be great." So, I remember going to a liqu--local liquor store back then, and just say, "Hey, do you have this on the back? You know, do you have Pappy Van Winkle or do you have any of the Pappy stuff?" And he's like, "What?" And he, oh, he goes, "You know what? I think I got a bottle back here." And then back in the back in 00:51:00this dusty shelf, he pulled off a bottle of Pappy's, and I paid him seventy-five bucks or eighty bucks for it. No problem at all, right? Now, if you did that, it'd be like you felt like you won the lottery. But he started collecting before it was cool to collect. Well, we went to an event that was with one of the local bourbon associations. And I looked around the room, and there weren't a lot of women there, unless they were there with their spouse. And there was one woman who worked for--who basically was the founder of Art Eatables. Um, and her name is Kelly, and Kelly and I really hit it off and I loved what she knew about bourbon and all this knowledge that she had and I had no idea. And at the same event, I remember sitting down because I had high heels on, and I sat down to kind of take a break. And um, this older gentleman comes up or, you know, him and his wife sat down next to me, and they were the loveliest couple um, in the world and just--we just started talking and, and all this stuff and 00:52:00just sharing about their life in Loretto and, and just--or maybe it wasn't Loretto, maybe that was her name. Um, I'm getting that wrong
but--so we just started talking. And they--you could just tell these two,they're in their, their--at the time, probably their eighties, and they just loved each other. I mean, you could just sit there and visibly see this couple that's been in love since they were in, you know, grade school or however young they were when they first met. And it was such a pleasant conversation. Well, I got up and I walk away and my husband goes--I said--do you--he goes, "Do you know who you were sitting with?" And I was like, "Yeah, some guy named Jimmy and his wife, and she was just absolutely amazing." And he goes, "No, do you know who you were sitting with?" I'm like, "Like I said, Jimmy." And he goes, "No, that's Jimmy Russell." I said, "Yeah that's, yeah, that's his name." Um,he's, like, the king of bourbon and he's, like, the God in bourbon world, right? And I'm like, "Oh, well he was just Jimmy." you know, and it was like, to me it kind of epitomized what that whole industry is about. That, like, he sat 00:53:00down and we talked like we were neighbors or we talked like we went to church together and hung out, and that's the way the whole industry was. So it pulled me in. It started to pull me in a lot. And then I
realized--and this is around the time I was considering leaving Accent, so I wasin that process of
transitioning, and I realized my network was very limited in Kentucky becausemost of my clients were outside of there, and I was having drinks with a friend. I'm like, "You know what? I want to meet other women who have nothing to do with my work, my spouse, or my kids." And, and we thought, Well, what better way to do that than over a glass of bourbon? And that's kind of where the Whisky Chicks were founded. Then from there, that's really what got me pulled back into the whole bourbon thing because I looked around and there was good information out there. But it was so hard if you didn't already know the answers, you know, that--and, and feeling like you were a little bit the outside looking in. And so, when I started Whisky Chicks, I 00:54:00
really wanted to find a place to where everybody was included, everybody feltwelcomed, and we all could learn together because by no means was I an expert of any kind whatsoever. And I still will say that I'm not an expert on bourbon. I'm an expert on my journey. But when I was doing this and starting out, that, you know--there was a lot to learn. A lot to learn.
KLING: How hard was it to get Whisky Chicks up and running back then?
RUFFENACH: (laughs) This was the funny part. So, you know, I had plenty of timeon my hands. I'm like Ah, so I just started thinking about, well, what's this look like? What's the
experience look like? And, and my, my background in customer care and customerexperience helped a lot. I wanted to center around experience. But honestly, the first event I'm like, all right. We'll plan it and figure out how to get this out there. Um, and so, I hosted the first event and it was January of 00:55:002014. And we had this big ice storm that have kind of come through Kentucky that same week. And I don't know whether that helped or hurt the event, but all I know is that after three days the kids being off from school, um, and it being six degrees outside, I'm thinking to myself I'm going to be lucky if five of my best friends show up, right, that I've begged and pleaded please come to this because of this. And um--but we ended up getting this unplanned PR from um--at the time, it was Do502, and also, Insider Louisville picked it up about this event for women and bourbon. Well, I had thirty-five women show up that first night on that first event. And I'm looking around like--it blew me away. And once again, got to put that context, it was colder than heck out there. I mean, it was just freezing. And--but they came out and there was this huge support, and I thought, wow. There really is interest in that. 00:56:00
And so, that's where it started to go and where it started to build up. I never,ever, ever--I'd like to
think I was smart enough, but I really wasn't. Did I ever foresee where thisthing has gone or it's
taken me and the experiences that it brought to me? Um,I'd like to say it wasintentional but it wasn't. It was just um, letting things happen one thing after another and being very blessed in the whole experience.
KLING: Well, in that, what doors has it opened for you?
RUFFENACH: Wow. Well, as I shared with you, the bourbon industry is probably oneof the most friendliest industries out there. Now, I've been in business for years and, you know, obviously over more than twenty years. And I had never, ever witnessed, in any type of industry where--that embraces this whole idea of all boats rise. Where you actually have this distiller down the street, if a piece of equipment breaks, the distiller down the other side will 00:57:00actually take it off of his, his line and bring it down to the other one so they can produce liquor. Um,you know, when Heaven Hill burnt down, um, the--all the other different distilleries donated some of their spirits, they actually donated time on their stills. They, they would do all these things to help a competitor, a pretty sizable competitor. It blew me away. But that same feeling that I had when I met Jimmy Russell, I got that when I would go and do these experiences with these different places. And, you know, to be able to um, sit down with--you know, do a
one-on-one tour with Jim Rutledge at Four Roses, who was the original masterdistiller at Four Roses, um, and then from there to be able to get to know Brent Elliott, who's there, and Al Young, who--God love him. Bless his soul. Um, was probably one of the kindest, most gentlest men in this whole industry, and just--you know, I'd get calls from Al every once in a while, and he'd be like, "Linda? You know, what, what are you going to do for this event? We 00:58:00need to get something going for this event." But you're talking Al Young that's sitting here calling me to kind of help plan these events. And I experienced that with so many of the other distilleries to
where it's, it's truly been an honor and a privilege to be able to get to knowum, these entrepreneurs, these family-owned businesses, these um, creative minds by which they've built--this whole industry is built upon. And the science and the art that goes into making
bourbon has been so amazing, and being able to do that has, has been a trueprivilege. Um, and, and people are so warm and welcoming, and ready to share. And um, and for them to share that with me and to share that with our members uhm has been a blessing. And we've had some incredible experiences. I mean, some absolutely incredible things that once again, I wished I was smart enough to plan this, but I wasn't, you know, to where they would open up the 00:59:00doors. And keep in mind, when I started this women drinking bourbon was not a big thing. It was a place that women wanted to go, but just like in business they weren't sure where to go. They weren't sure how to fit in. And I was bound and determined to make it approachable and fun, that we never take anything too serious. And very quickly, we came up with our tagline, which is, "We're libation liberators, whisky educators, and friendship facilitators." Um, and it really has played out in so many different ways over the years.
KLING: In that, what would you say is maybe your most memorable experience withWhisky Chicks?
RUFFENACH: Oh, gosh. That's like picking my favorite child. Just like don't askme what my favorite bourbon is, please. (Kling laughs) There've been those moments--like, like I mentioned the one-on-one tour with Jim Rutledge was probably the coolest. That was, like, early on, and I'm like, really? 01:00:00I wanted to--so I go up to Four Roses. Um, the events marketing person at the time had become a really good friend of mine um, invited me up there. And I'm thinking I'm just taking a tour of the facility, right? Next thing you know, Jim Rutledge--they're like,
"Well, here. This is Jim Rutledge. He's the master distiller. He's going to takeyou on the tour." Really? Um, then the best part was, at the end of it, you know, they got their little tasting room, right? So Jim had his own little bar off to the side that was kind of his to use, right? And so, we had the regular tastings. And then he started pulling stuff out from underneath, you know? And I'm thinking to myself, I drove up here. Um, I got to be able to get home. And um--but man, could you walk away from the fact that Jim's pulling out all this stuff, and he's like, "Tell me.
Here. Drink this. Tell me what proof you think it is." And I'm drinking thiswhisky, and it's the smoothest, sweetest whiskey, and it was just 01:01:00absolutely amazing. And--no burn.
Completely smooth. And he tells me it's like 122 proof. And I'm like, "Youserious?" I'm like, "How do you get a bottle of that?" And he goes, "Well, you can't." I'm like, "You just teased me on some of this stuff. Like, that's just not right." So that one was really cool. I think the other one was um--actually, I was able with Churchill Downs and their Turf Club um--this was the year after--I still had a Turf Club membership, which carried over from my Accent days. Um, and so, Turf Club asked me to go and pick out, um, Woodford Reserve where they were going to do a barrel or a mixed--you know, a small batch from Woodford Reserve. (coughs) And we got to sit, and there was only six of us there sitting around the table with Chris Morris mixing up whiskeys. And the education learning behind that of how you can have two whiskeys sitting next to each other that are completely different, and neither one of them taste very 01:02:00good on their own. And then you blend them together, and all of a sudden you got this magical concoction that is just absolutely amazing. Um,and you recognize the artistry that goes into being a master blender in that, and the work that goes into that. And being able to have that experience, that's been pretty cool. Um, the events we've had with the Whisky Chicks. I mean, that's been fabulous.
And the fact that I've seen women go from having no knowledge, no experience, tonow being probably--it could be considered aficionados in bourbon who can tell you everything there is to know about bourbon. And the confidence that comes along with that, that it's like, it's like yeah, I know this. You know, this is stuff that I'm good at, and I can, I can hold on to this. I'm not sure if we've got a bandwidth issue or not, so--
KLING: Uh uh. So far, on my end, it still looks good.
RUFFENACH: Okay, good.
KLING: Okay. Um, so with Whisky Chicks, I saw that you've raised over01:03:00160,000 dollars for charity. What charities have you raised money for, and why was that important to you?
RUFFENACH: So when I first started Whisky Chicks, there was another organizationin town that got started called Bourbon Brotherhood. Had no idea. We didn't--neither one of us knew each other existed. And ironically, we started within a month of each other. And, um, I met a gentleman who shared this with me, and he introduced me to the founder. But the one thing that was about both of us is we wanted to have a charitable contri--charitable portion of the, the community that we built. And so, through this introduction I sat down with him and we,
like--well, how can we do something maybe together that we can give back tocharity? And so, we came up with the Bourbon Mixer. And the Bourbon Mixer is something we held every year and it's a fundraiser. Now, we alternated back and forth between a couple charities, but we now um--all of it now goes 01:04:00to the Coalition for the Homeless. Um, part of that is I was on the board for the Coalition for the Homeless. I felt really passionate about it. They're a great group to work with. And they cover--they kind of have, you know, impacts on all different
parts of the community. And when you can solve homelessness, you can solve a lotof other issues within the community. Um,so we've been working with them for the last several years. And, um, we're able to put together these amazing silent auctions, um, and these events that we work really hard to make sure they don't feel like fundraiser events. Um,and we're like the anti-fundraiser event. And the, the experiences we've been able to create have been so
phenomenal. And all of the distilleries have been incredibly supportive of it.You know, the first year was one distillery. The next year, I think we got up to maybe seven or eight. Um, now we've done--barring COVID, I think we did twenty-two different distilleries at our events, and tasting probably 01:05:00eighty different types of whiskeys, um, that was available, um, for you to taste. And we just create some fun, exciting experiences. You know, this last year with COVID was a tough year because we had already set a date aside. But, um, there was a team, uh one woman in particular, Katie Ricksman, who had never been to the Bourbon Mixer, but has become an intricate part of the Whisky Chicks. Uhm, she helped us coordinate a series of virtual events where the distilleries came together and we would--they would take us on virtual tours, and they would do virtual experiences, have master tasters, master blenders on there, um, that would kind of bring things to the members and to people outside of there. And once again, we had the silent auction and raised more money than we ever imagined. We actually did better on that one than any event that we had done before. Um,I think we raised sixty thousand dollars for that one. And I'm not sure what our number really is up to after that event but it's a decent-sized number. But this year, we're going to be 01:06:00repeating--we're actually working on an
in-person event, but we'll also have a virtual auction. Um, and we're realexcited because we
believe we've secured a complete set of Pappy Van Winkle for this one, um, thatwe're going to be
auction--that we're going to be raffling off, which hopefully that in itselfcould raise almost a hundred thousand dollars. Um, so it's been a fun journey, and um, Bruce Corwin with Bourbon Brotherhood has been a great partner on that with me.
KLING: Wow. Well, talking how you have a little bit of a kinship with anothergroup, also just with, like, Bourbon Women Association, can you tell me about the relationship that you might have with them as well?
RUFFENACH: Yeah. I mean, the Bourbon Women Association--we have very similarmissions, right? And it's a-- it's, it's all around the same thing, which is making--you know, really introducing it to women, and making women feel very comfortable in it. Um, we do things a little bit differently. I--Bourbon Women, is probably more of a networking organization. Um, you know, we're 01:07:00probably the--we, we a, probably take it a little less seriously. Um, but I think there's places for both organizations out there, and that, you know, we share a mission. I, I share their events, I promote their events because I think they do some really fantastic work. And, um, you know, we've got members that are shared between the two of us, and you know once again, we provide very different experiences. But I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Peggy Noe and what she's created. And, um, you know, once again, I believe in all boats rise. So if we can help each other out and we introduce more women to bourbon, then we introduce more women to bourbon.
KLING: Wonderful. Well, we also in the background there have your book, and you mentioned
earlier about How to Be a Bourbon Badass. Um, for this class, we actually had itassigned as a textbook, so how did that feel when you found out that? 01:08:00
RUFFENACH: Well, I have to tell you, when you told me that I was very humbled byit from the standpoint of, like, really? You know, because the irony is I wrote it in a way to where it'd never feel like a textbook, right? Because it was meant to be, you know--once again, it's, it's got facts, it's got information in it. But it's written in such a way--once again, the way we hold our events is to make it very approachable and make it fun. So thinking about it being a textbook kind of blew me away. But then I was obviously very honored by it and the fact that it was. So um, I think it's pretty cool.
KLING: Well, we enjoyed reading it, so it was great. When and why did you decideto write that?
RUFFENACH: Well, a lot of classically trained writers and authors out there aregoing to not like my answer, which is--so I in the back of my mind had thought about writing a book, and I kind of had it kind of thought out about what it would look like and what it would be. But, you know, it was one of those things you had off on the table and you're like, I'll get to it when I can. 01:09:00But I had a publisher actually come to me and ask for it, and um, you know, that says, "You know, we really would like to have"--they had a new division they were starting. Um,this was up at IU Press. They had a new division starting. And um, they wanted uh, wanted to see if I was interested in writing a book. And I'm like, "Yeah, sure." And then I started--then once I got into it, you know, I just dug in and I just built the outline and I laid out what I wanted and all that kind of stuff. And it became such a fun project and a labor of love to create that. Um, you know, when I started thinking about it was--there was--there are and still are amazing books out there on the market that talk about bourbon and uhm a lot of inform--information um. But at the time, very few were at a level that someone starting out could really understand, 01:10:00
unless you really focused and understood, you know that they were--theinformation was there, and it was good information. It was, you know, very useful information. But if I'm just dipping my toe into it, it may've been a little overwhelming for me. So the intent of this book was really to, once again, make it approachable, make it fun, make it to where somebody who didn't know anything about it could pick up this book, um, and learn the basics for them, and so they could feel confident and they can actually now start to ask more questions because they got the basics covered. You know, I kind of imagined it as that person who, who everybody thinks should know. Like, in Kentucky, that was the great part of the point in Kentucky, and, you know, I'm sure you've experienced this as well. If you're from Kentucky, people just expect you to know bourbon, right? Like, "Oh, you're from Kentucky. You must drink bourbon." And I kept running into people that go, "People ask me that, but I have no idea what to tell them." And so, that was the other part, which is I wanted that to be the book that you could sit on your couch and one day read. Now, 01:11:00you can go, Oh, now I can answer that question kind of thing. So it was fun. It was a good time to put together.
KLING: Great. What would you say was the most challenging part of it?
RUFFENACH: Sitting down and writing it, um, and being disciplined to write it.But, it's--you know, it's so funny because I've been working on a second book not related to bourbon, and it's so hard because, I don't have it clearly laid out--I kind of do, but this book was not that difficult to write, from the standpoint--it took time. It took a lot of effort. Don't get me wrong. Um, but it was sort of like--I've had conversations with authors, and it's sort of like comparing pregnancies. You know, that um--because it does sometimes feel like you're giving birth. But just like my pregnancies, they were easy. I 01:12:00know you--you know, you bloated. You did this. You
did that. I didn't have any problem. I mean, I, I like to pretend that it wasreally hard. Um, but it still had its moments of discomfort, right? And, that kind of was the experience for me, um, writing this book. Um, I had so much fun doing it, particularly at the time, and it's in the book, is--I was part of a group called Bourbon Supper Club, and we would meet every month and, um, we would basically do these bourbon themed dinners. And they really were a big inspiration and a big help and created many of the recipes that are in there. They were taken from our experiences and, um, and you know, tweaked a little bit to create these wonderful recipes and these different things that you would never think about putting bourbon, you know--that, that bourbon goes in that? That's actually pretty darn good.
KLING: Um,well, actually, talking about the Bourbon Supper Club, um, can youtell me a little more about, like, being a part of that and how that process started? 01:13:00
RUFFENACH: Yeah. So o--on one of our event--one of our tours, I was--I rememberit clearly. We were uh--I went--we had a whole group of us that went to Maker's Mark. And on the bus, there was this fabulous woman who--I still laugh that she was full of sparkle and glitter. And
she--cause she had, like, this sparkly shirt, I think she had some leopard thingon or something else like that. And I'm a very conservative dresser in, in some things, but she's gotten me to put on leopard now, so that's just the crazy part. But um, her name was Velma Watkins, and she today has become one of my very best friends. But I remember talking to her and her energy and stuff. And she shared this thing of, like, yeah, I got a group of women and we get together every month and we have this bourbon thing. And I'm like, Dang, I want to be part of that. And, um, so, about two months later, out of the blue, she called me and said, "You know, someone dropped out. Would you like to be part of it?" Now, what I found out later is that normally, bringing in
new members, they all voted on and all that kind of stuff. But apparently, I wasthe only one that was invited without going to vote, and it kind of 01:14:00created a little controversy within the group that they quickly got over. But, you know, it was kind of like, Oh, I didn't mean to stir things up. Um, but, um, it's--what we would do is we'd meet once a month. There were eight of us that would get together and the hostess would decide on the menu items. And they would put together the menu. It could be a theme or something like that, but the--you know, the biggest requirement is every dish had to have bourbon in it. And um, the host would usually--or the hostess would usually make the entrée of some kind and then each one of us would take a side dish. And usually, in that, it included two cocktails, so we had, we had a cocktail at the beginning and a cocktail at the evening we had--at the end. We had you know, a salad, a dessert, you know, a side, you know, whatever it took to make up eight. And those events were something I looked forward to every single month. They were so much fun because--and had such a wide variety of women in there. And I think 01:15:00that exemplifies that--the same thing that I've discovered in this whole whisky bourbon thing, is it brings people together that you may not have anything in common whatsoever and you can share these experiences that are absolutely amazing. Um, but we would get together and, and we would share. We would, we would basically eat but we would also share what we did when we prepared it, and that was half the fun of it. Um,there is one woman that's in there that--Melissa, who just--God love her. She is, like, a podcast, reality show waiting to happen. That--she's from Tennessee, and she'll be like--can I cuss on this? Because I'm not sure I'm allowed to.
KLING: I think we're okay. (laughs)
RUFFENACH: Okay. She would be like, "Oh, like, what did you--I tell you what, Imade this thing, and it turned out looking like shit." And, and then, I mean, the way she would tell the story, and she goes, "I put this thing together, and all the sudden it went from here to here, and I'm trying to find this bullshit thing there and this there." And you get to the night, and especially 01:16:00after you've had a cocktail, we're all, like, rolling around, pissing our pants laughing so hard because of some of this stuff. And then we would all start to tell, and there was always something that was, like, a disaster. Like, don't ever ask me to make bourbon balls. I
am--I'm a--I consider myself a pretty decent cook. I love to bake. I love to doall kinds of stuff. Confectionery is not for me. That was the hardest dish I've ever had to make. And it tasted good but, pardon me, it literally did look like--it looked like poo sitting on the, on the, on the plate.
And I'm so embarrassed to give it, and everyone's like, "Oh, these are good."And I'm, (sigh) like, mortified. But I will never, ever make a bourbon ball again. Now, ladie-- ladies and people listening to this, bourbon balls for others are really easy to do. It just didn't work for me. So, so we would tell our stories and kind of share the food, and um, it was always just a lot of fun. And, you know, I miss those because since COVID and everything, it's 01:17:00just all kind of fallen apart and we haven't had them in over a year and a half and a couple people left town. So, I'm hoping in the next year to be able to restart that and have a group of us getting together again on a regular basis.
KLING: I, I bet. And, and I'll have to say, in--going back to your book a littlebit, one thing that I liked a lot is you had some of those stories about the different experiences and meeting different people through bourbon. Is there a story that is in that book that you'd like to share?
RUFFENACH: I don't know it's so much as a story, but one of the area--one of theindividuals I highlighted is Caleb Kilburn down at Peerless um, Kentucky Peerless Distillery. So going back a little bit, so Kentucky Peerless is a small family-owned distillery in Louisville that's located on Main Street. Um, the owner of the company and the family is--you know, Caleb and Corky , 01:18:00um, are abs--not Caleb, but--not Corky. It's Corky and Carson. Carson. There's all these C names by the way. There's a trend. Um, but um, you know, father, son own this business. And so, I had met them, and they had invited me down there to come taste something or sample something and do a tour. So I go down there and we take a tour, and I--you know, there's this young gentleman working there that is kind of their new distiller, not master distiller. They made sure he was not called master distiller because he had not earned the title yet and very adamant about that he was not a master distiller. And this was this young, energetic, just warm, genuine individual named Caleb. And I remember meeting him. And keep in mind, this was actually--it's funny I share this story. This was actually, like, about three weeks after I had spent time with Jim Rutledge, right? And so, Jim Rutledge was the epitome of-- you know, he was bourbon at the 01:19:00time. And um, he was a rock star. And, you know, you, you don't realize living in Kentucky that you're surrounded by these rock stars of bourbon that people outside of here are like, "Oh my God. You got to know him? You spend time with him?" Um, so I meet Caleb, and I instantly think, oh my God. This kid is going to be a rock star. I'm just like--and I told him. I'm like--of course, his ego--he still loves me because of that. He was like, "Oh, Linda, you're just so nice." And he's from Eastern Kentucky, and he just talks like this, and "Oh, Miss Linda, you're just--" blah, blah. And I remember meeting him, and I'm like, "I have to have my picture taken with you." And he's like, "No one's ever asked to have their picture taken with me." And I'm like,
"No, I want to have my picture taken with you because I guarantee you're goingto be a rock star someday." Um, so I had my picture taken with him and then started following up, and, and through that experience was very lucky because they were still--at the time, they were selling moonshine and they were--their bourbon and their rye was not quite ready. But I would get invited down there on a regular basis to come taste their bourbon and their rye while it 01:20:00was kind of maturing. Um, and come to find out, as I got to know Caleb, Caleb was absolutely--is absolutely brilliant. He, um, I--just--I think he had--when I got to know him, he, like--don't quote me on this. It's in the book, so that has it right, which is, like, I think he
had--when he graduated from college, he had a degree in physics and chemistryand agriculture or something like that. I don't know. He'd tell me all these wild stories about things he did as a kid, like, some of which I can't put on here. Um,that things that he would build that maybe weren't the most, you know--one of those things that a ten, twelve-year-old boy shouldn't be building, um, but he built very successfully. Um,but he, he has since then become--he's since earned the title master distiller and is having--has had such a tremendous mark on this industry and just an amazing individual. And he's someone that if you do come to Kentucky and you're wanting to know more, I mean, 01:21:00just going down there and getting to know him, he is that next generation of rock stars that are coming out of the industry, and just the most humble, wonderful guy you'll ever meet in your life. And once again, that epitomizes what this industry is about is, you know, those with huge egos have not really--there's some out there that have their huge egos, but they don't play very well in this space because it's not about ego, it's about the craft, um, and it's about making things and being very proud of that.
KLING: Wonderful. I, I know, having talked to you a little before, that you haddone a, a food pairing with bourbon with a, Carla Hall for the James Beard House. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
RUFFENACH: Yeah. Okay, that would be another one of those really cool momentsthat I never expected. So when Bourbon and Beyond first came to Louisville, which is a big concert, you know, a big thing that they started 01:22:00several years ago, um, we, the Whisky Chicks, had the honor of being the hostess for the tent--the chicken and waffles brunch tent. And the way that that was set up was that they would have different chefs that come in to actually do chicken and waffles and serving them up. And what we did is we created the cocktails. And so, we, we created cocktails using um--we had to use Angry Orchard in them, which was an interesting challenge. Um,and then we also used bourbon, and I'm not going to quote the bourbon because I'll probably get it wrong um, and I don't want to offend the sponsors. But we made these cocktails and we made--there was all these varieties of Old Fashioneds used in this Angry Orchard and it was so much fun to do, and it was just fantastic, um, experience. Well, out of that, I ended up meeting Chef Carla Hall, and more importantly I actually met her assistant. And we had stayed in touch a little bit, and so out of the blue, she sent a message saying, "Hey, Carla's going to be going to the James Beard House, and she wants to pair bourbon with her dessert. 01:23:00Her dessert's banana pudding." I'm like--and she said, "Would you help us with this and would you do that?" And I'm like, "Sure, I'd be honored to." And um, so I'm thinking banana pudding. That's going to be easy to pair with bourbon because you think about a lot of bourbons have a little bit of that banana, bananas foster, caramel-y taste to it. I'm thinking, God. First thing came to mind was Old Forester. I mean, that's just like, okay, that banana, that caramel, all that
kind of stuff. Because when I make--like, if I make bananas fosters, I usuallymake it with Old Forester. Like, that's perfect. So I made up this uh, banana pudding, which by the way, was the most amazing banana pudding I had but also one of the most complicated. But it was really, really good. And so, (laughs) I made that, and I still have pictures of it. My husband actually--he and I sat down. And so, we were tasting pairings. And the first thing is I bought, like--I brought, like, four or five bottles out on the table. Let's just figure out what goes best with this. 01:24:00
We paired it with the Old Forester, and it took two positives and made them anegative. Um,the--and what I've found with food pairings--and whisky--like, wine pairings are a little more
predictable. When you're doing whisky pairings, you're never sure what you'regoing to get. Um, but in this case, you had two things that were too much alike that they contradicted each other, and you ended up with this bitter taste in your mouth, um, when you brought them together. So I'm like, "Oh my gosh. That's going to be hard." So then, we started going through a couple different ones, and you know, and before we knew it, we had, like, twenty fi--twenty-five bottles of bourbon out there and we're sipping and tasting. At this time and point, I'm starting to get sick of banana pudding. Um,and then we narrowed it down to a couple of them, and then we ended up settling on Four Roses Small Batch is what I think we ended up doing was Four Roses Small Batch, um, that paired perfectly with this banana pudding, and it would basically bring the flavors completely alive. Um, and so, it was really cool. Um, I got 01:25:00to go to New York. I got to go to the James Beard House and--um which by the way, if you ever go to the James Beard House, it's the most difficult place to find in the world because you're on this street and it literally has a sign about this big that says The James Beard House. And that's the only marking of what this place is. And it was snowing hard. It was, like, this big, hard snow came out of nowhere in
New York City, and I'm walking down this dimly lit street trying to find thisplace while the snow's coming down and um--but we finally found it and it was a wonderful experience. And the fact that, at that, I actually was able to sit next to a couple of different chefs. Um,and there was another woman who was uh, the founder of Le Escoffier--I'm going to get that wrong--which is a--an organization that's been around for, like, fifty plus years that brings together women
in the culinary industry. And I'm sitting there talking to the01:26:00founder of it, who was this most amazing woman who had these tales from all over the world and yeah, that one was the cool--one of the cool experiences to come out of this.
KLING: Wow. I know that you have the Stave and Thief Executive Bourbon StewardCertificate. So can you tell me a little bit about the program and why you wanted to obtain it?
RUFFENACH: So um, it all comes out of Moonshine University. And um, theExecutive Bourbon Steward Stave and Thief Certification is one that was created many years ago to help with the hospitality industry. So if you go back probably six years ago, um, you know, bourbon was really starting to take off. And you had a lot of people in the industry that were serving bourbon, and a lot of people coming in from out of town. But they didn't know what they were talking about. And so, there was a group of people in the hospitality industry that came together, um, um, like the woman who owned Lily's, and you 01:27:00had Chris Zaborowski from Westport Whiskey and Wine. You had the group from Moonshine University and a couple other--there was a lot of people involved in this. Um, put together this program to teach the
basics of bourbon, um, so that when you had guests from out of town, you couldbasically explain and really understand the nuances of bourbon, the history of bourbon, what makes bourbon bourbon, what makes it different from all the other whiskeys out there, all that kind of stuff. So,
um, as Whisky Chicks started to grow, it was real important that I kind ofcontinue my education. Once again, not an expert but, you know, needed to continue my journey to learn as much as I could. Um, so I went down and took the all-day class. It um--that same all-day class is there, and I highly recommend it to anybody that is a, a bourbon fan. Um, it was really cool because Moonshine University is part of Flavorman, which--Flavorman does all these 01:28:00different flavorings and also work with the brands to create the brands and, and that kind of stuff. Um, but we actually went into their sensory lab and they have this sensory kit. And you would actually go and start to figure out the nuances of whisky when you're tasting it, when you're smelling it. Um, it was just a full immensive--intensive sensory experience that something's really cool for somebody that's not been through that. So, highly recommend it. Um, but there's also shorter versions of it that you can do. It's just become a certified executive bourbon steward. Um, and that's another option, which--actually, I offer courses once a quarter on becoming an executive bourbon steward. Um, this takes, like--it's a two-hour course versus an all-day course. But you still get your little pin. You still become part of the society. And um, it's a lot of fun.
KLING: Great. Well, going back into your marketing background, what01:29:00do you
think has helped broaden the audience of bourbon to include women from thatmarketing perspective?
RUFFENACH: You know, it's funny. When I first started Whisky Chicks, there wereseveral ads that were still coming out that were so--geared towards men and so offensive to women, and they didn't even realize it, you know? There's one brand in particular, but I'm not going to name it. Um, did this whole campaign trying to attract women, but all it did was offend women. It was just sort of like, okay. And as I started this, I would get phone calls sometimes from people
wanting to start brands that they wanted to know how to market to women. And mywhole thing is you don't. And they're like, "What do you mean you don't?" I said, "You don't." Because when you--women don't want a different experience. They want the same experience. You just got to make it to where they feel comfortable in that experience, and that it's not 01:30:00
about--don't--you know, I like the old adage, don't pink it, shrink it, sweetenit, and price it up. Um, that's not the way to market to women. And it took the industry a little while to figure that out. But once they did--and I think there's groups like mine and Bourbon Women Association that have really helped with that and a lot of others out there. There's been more women in the industry that I think have begun to--that have really kind of led the charge on that. Is--at the end of the day, women don't want something different. We want, we want to be treated equally. Um, we want experiences. Experiences are important to women. Um, but don't make it a woman experience, if you kind of get what I'm saying is that I just want an experience. I don't want you to talk down to me. I don't want you to, you know, pat me on the head and say, "Oh, honey, you can't handle this.", um, or, "You know what? Here's your sweet drink and here's mine." I will tell you, I've done, I've done tons of tastings, and I've 01:31:00done--led them. I've been part of them, all that kind of stuff. It's so funny. The men like the sweet drinks better than the women do. Um,and it just--I don't know. There's this--once again, I don't think there's a specific marketing strategy other than don't have a marketing strategy.
KLING: (laughs) How has the role of women changed in the last ten or fifteenyears, do you
think, in the bourbon industry?
RUFFENACH: Well, not coming with the last ten or fifteen years, but the lastseveral years since I've been involved, um, you know, women have been there. They have been there. Um,
they've been behind the scenes. And um, you know, there's several that have beenout there working this for years and years and didn't get the recognition until much later even though they were an intricate part of it. But you're also seeing women that are emerging that are taking a more active role both in 01:32:00owning distilleries and being master distillers, um, to leading, you know, the strategies and the development of a lot of new products and all that kind of stuff. And I think that's evolved to where they've got more of a seat at the table than they ever had before. And um, and I think it's a positive change. I will tell you, you know, one of the, the women in this industry that I am so amazed with and so impressed with is Fawn Weaver. So Fawn Weaver is an African American woman who started Uncle Nearest Distillery. Um, and for those who aren't familiar, Uncle Nearest um, the brand itself, was built out of telling the story of Uncle Nearest who actually was the one who created the um, the--oh, God, what is it? It's not the Tennessee method, but the--God, I'm not going to remember it right now. But it was basically Jack Daniel's. Uncle Nearest created Jack Daniel's. And in fact, um, Jack Daniel was a mentor--was a 01:33:00mentee of Uncle Nearest. But somehow, over the years, Uncle Nearest got written out of the history, and he was probably one of the most prominent, influential--oh, sorry, it's the Lincoln County Process. He created the Lincoln County Process, which is where you charcoal filter the whisky up front before you put it into the barrels, and it does have an impact on flavor and, that's what Jack Daniel's is all about. Um,but he was pretty much written out of history
and--even though he played such a tremendous part. So Fawn Weaver made it hermission to
bring this back. Um,but what she's accomplished with that brand in such a shorttime is nothing less than amazing. She decided she wasn't going to follow the rules that everybody else was following. You know, there's these standards or this is the way everybody else does it. Um,and,
and she's like, "Well, why should I do it that way?" You know, for--I thinkwithin the first year, if not the first eighteen months, they had Uncle Nearest in every state in the U.S. and several countries outside of here, 01:34:00which is unheard of because every state is very difficult to get into. And, you know, had this distribution, the number of cases that they did and everything like that and then they turned that into that they're getting ready to open this amazing distillery in,
um--near um--I want to say it's Franklin. It's not Franklin, Tennessee. I don'tknow the location, but it's in southern--it's in Tennessee outside of--way outside of Nashville. But what she's created and what she's done has kind of flipped this industry a bit, you know, not only from the standpoint of becoming a very prominent woman, but also a very prominent African American woman in an industry that does not and has not had very many African Americans as part of it.
Um, she's really breaking a lot of ground and is probably--and not only that,but the first time I met her it was one of those things like, you know, you can have a girl crush, and that would be my girl crush because she's just the coolest person you'll ever meet too and so down to earth. Once again, 01:35:00epitomizing that thing that just, this industry is all about. Um,but she's accomplished some pretty, pretty incredible things.
KLING: Wow. Well, with that, what challenges do you think still re--remain forwomen in bourbon?
RUFFENACH: Um, I mean, it's kind of the same things we talked about from abusiness standpoint. It's still--there's still a lot of good old boy network. Um, there's still times--so what's so funny is that I actually do private tastings for different businesses occasionally. And um, it's great to see, in those, a lot of times it's all men that I'm doing the tastings for. But at the same time, I think there's this respect for the fact that there's a woman doing these tastings versus a
man and that that's okay. Um, but I love it when I'm also doing a lot oftastings for women groups that are just--they're not part of Whisky Chicks or anything like--but they're women's groups. And um, I don't know. I 01:36:00think it's going to be the same with business, which is continuing to take our place and continuing to go out there and be part of it. Um,women--you know, it's so funny. I kind of compare it to investing. So when it comes to investing, women are the less likely to--they, they don't save very well. They keep all their stuff in cash. Um, but when they do invest, they outperform men by, like, this tremendous percentage. And the same thing in bourbon, which is women have more sophisticated palettes. You have more taste buds. You are able to taste and pick up on things that men do not. And so, the experience for you is very different than it is for a man. And so, I believe as women continue to kind of lean in and embrace who they are, and take that piece and, you know, kind of that confidence component, that I think you're going to see more women engaging, and I think you're going to see more women involved. You know, I'm--you know, in professional circles, I'm seeing a lot more women that are drinking 01:37:00whisky on a regular basis, which I think is--you know, I think it's a positive move in the right direction.
KLING: Great. Well, we're going to start kind of going towards the end of ourinterview now.
And with everything that you've talked about that you've accomplished, who doyou look up to in the bourbon industry?
RUFFENACH: Gosh, there's so many. So many. Um, gosh, it's hard to--now, I'mgoing to offend some people. Um, but I'm going to tell you the people that have really touched me in the whole thing. So Corky Taylor with Kentucky Peerless is probably one of the most amazing people you'll ever meet. He li--he was part of Wall Street for many years. He was a big
investment banker, um, but is the most down to earth gentleman and is the mostloving and caring individual that I've met. And, and part of this is--they actually have--it's truly-- it's not necessarily all family, but it 01:38:00is a family business. Um,and the way he treats his people--the cultures he created along with his son, Carson, uhm just incredible, incredible individuals. You know, there's some unsung heroes. I mean, I shared some of the unsung heroes in my book of the people that I've ran into. And there's, you know, Casey Gray, who is part of the brand ambassador team for Brown Forman. Um, she's amazing. She's, like, one of the coolest people you'll ever meet, and she just um--she puts together these wonderful experiences and works so hard for this industry and is so passionate about it. Um,and those frontline ambassadors don't always get the respect or the credit that they deserve. But they're the ones that are bringing the, the taste to the people. And um, you know, she's pretty cool. There's also--I mean, there's just so many different--Jackie Zykan with Old Forester. Um,you know, she's um--first of all, she's a phenomenal 01:39:00mixologist, but now she does a lot of the work with Old Forester and putting together the bottles and the blends and all that kind of stuff. Um, she's pretty amazing. And once again, it's that down to earth-ness that you know she--she's one tough cookie, but she's also, like, one of the most nice people that you'll--one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Um, I'm trying to think. Is there anybody--I mean, there's a lot of people. I mean, there's just--I mean, I could go distillery by distillery and tell you stories about each one and the people that I like there. So, um, you know, Wes Henderson with Angel's Envy, what um, he's created and the uniqueness of what they've done down there. I have a lot of respect for him. So um--and those of you that I left out, don't take it personal because there's so many of you. So, sorry. (laughs)
KLING: That is a hard question to answer, so--(laughs). What do you hope yourbourbon legacy will be? 01:40:00
RUFFENACH: You know, I think the bourbon legacy that I want is that I helpedothers step out of their comfort zone and, um, experience bourbon, and experience bourbon in their own way, not the way everybody else is telling you to. But to try it, experience it, see it, um, and not just--you know, it's so funny that there's a lot of people that I meet that are like, "Oh, the only way to drink bourbon is to drink it straight. And you're not serious about bourbon unless you drink it straight." Well, I do think drinking it straight is a great experience. But I hope that I'm able to show others that there's so many different ways to experience that bourbon, not just by drinking it straight.
You know, there are--can you drink it with, you know, one drop of water? Trythat one at home. Just one drop of water will just distinctly change the whole entire flavor of bourbon, you know? Make it in an Old Fashioned. Make 01:41:00it in an Old Fashioned where you're very light on the sugar, and then slowly add it up. Make it in a cocktail, other cocktails. One of the ones that was introduced to me, which I was--I admittedly was a little bit of a snot about when I was asked about it. So I was up in Lexington and uh we had just finished an event up there and went to one of the local bars and the bartender said, "Oh, would you like a twist of orange in it?" You know, I'd ordered something neat. And I looked at her like, what do you think? You know, like, are you kidding me? Is it just because I'm a woman you're asking me for, for--do I want a twist of orange? I got really kind of offended. Then I walked away and I'm like, damn, that was really snotty of me. And um, I'm like, I, I can't be that way. So I went up and I apologized to the bartender. I said, "I'm sorry the way that I reacted to that." And she's like, "No, no, no. It's okay." I said, "Well, you know, I'm going to try it with the orange." That is probably one of my favorite ways to drink
whisky straight now, which is to take, take it straight and take a little, um,orange rind, and put the oils on it, around the rim, and put it in 01:42:00there. And it's like--it will bring out so many different flavors and components of whisky and bourbon that you've ever had. So, I guess my legacy is I want people to drink it the way they want it, try it different ways, experience it, and that neat is not the only option for experiencing really good bourbon.
KLING: Well, that is definitely a great takeaway. Um, as we can tell, we'redoing this virtually because we're still at the end, hopefully, of the COVID pandemic. But we would kind of be remiss not to address that a little bit before we end the interview. So uhm for you, how has COVID impacted your life? How are you doing?
RUFFENACH: Um, well, thank you for asking that question. Um, you know, this yearhas not been easy. But it's, it's actually moved my career, my life, 01:43:00my business in the right direction. Um, it provided me time to really step out of the day to day and reflect on where I was going and what I wanted to get done. Um, it's the whole reason why I shifted much harder and leaned more into the exit planning side of my business and, um, has really opened up far more doors than I ever intended. Um,it's--I've, I've gotten more narrow in my focus and the type of services and work that I provide. From a Whisky Chicks standpoint, um, we mastered the virtual event, um, and we've actually been able to create these party in a box every month. And it's expanded the business from the standpoint we now ship out each month about thirty boxes outside of Kentucky, um, and sell an equal amount or more inside of Kentucky. And, you know, unfortunately, we can't ship the liquor with them. But we've got people that are wanting the experiences, and it's just kind of like a just 01:44:00add bourbon box. And um, it's been fun because we've brought women together from all different places, all different backgrounds to
kind of come together and share that experience of bourbon and Kentucky. And,um, that part's been a lot of fun. So you know what? In some ways, 2020 was a true blessing um, for myself and for my family. We're fortunate none of us got sick. I've been double vaccinated, and so I feel good about that. I just need to get my kids taken care of, and then we're going to start to breathe a little better. Um,but no, it's been, it's been a good year. And, you know, I'm not sure everyone will look back at it that way, but I think we've been very fortunate in the fact that we're able to say that we got through it.
KLING: You had mentioned a little bit about with Whisky Chicks and how COVIDimpacted that. How do you think uh, it's impacted the bourbon industry? And, and maybe what changes for the good might come out of this for it? 01:45:00
RUFFENACH: Well, I think a lot of people drink a lot more bourbon than thebeginning. Um, I think there was a little more bourbon drinking. Um, you know what's funny? Um, I think there was obviously an impact to the tourism industry where, you know, a lot of dip in, in that piece of it. But I will tell you, you know, I talk to a lot of people all over the country and, you know, they know that I'm from Kentucky and they're like, "Oh, man, I'm planning a trip there very soon, um, and I definitely want to go to bourbon country." or "I went before, and I definitely want to come back." So I think you're going to see a resurgence once everybody feels more comfortable with traveling and that kind of thing. Um,I think it's--I think there's an opportunity to, um, further enhance that guest experience. I do think there's a lot of smaller distilleries that really suffered, and I think the craft distillery industry's probably going to take a step back. Um, I've not stayed that close to that side of it, but I have to believe that's been a very difficult situation for those smaller distilleries who relied on foot traffic coming in to sell their product. Um, 01:46:00because, you know, when people go out and buy bourbon on the natio--on the national market, if they've not heard of you, they're not going to buy you. Um,and if you don't--you're not a prominent place on the shelf, it's hard to get the distributors to, to really pay attention to you as well.
KLING: That makes sense. So lastly, what will you look forward to the most oncewe're out of COVID and we return to normal, essentially?
RUFFENACH: I'm going to look forward to traveling, having in-person events withother individuals, and being able to go back to doing distillery tours.
KLING: That makes sense. Is there anything else that you would like to add ormake sure is on the official record?
RUFFENACH: You know what? I'm going to lean in to the--just kind of finish onthe note that my belief is that everybody can be a bourbon badass. And a bourbon badass does not mean that you have to be an expert in bourbon. It means you got to be an expert in your journey. And a lot of that comes from 01:47:00experience, it comes from knowledge and confidence, and that's going to allow you to really embrace your inner badass and give yourself permission to do that.
KLING: Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with me. It's been a pleasure.
RUFFENACH: Thank you. I appreciate it.
KLING: It takes a second for it to work. (laughs)
KLING: It looks like it officially stopped.
[End of interview.]