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How to host a heavenly whiskey benefit, plus Angel’s Envy’s Sam Seiller on being a ‘whiskey chick’

I. love. my. job.

Being a spirits journalist involves perks like tasting new products before they officially roll out in the market, going on exploratory trips to native boozy lands, and channeling my inner academic to read all about and geek out on liquor. But what I enjoy the most is sharing my passion for potent potables with other people and encouraging them to embrace a few new finer things they might not know about yet.

So when a friend hired me lead a whiskey tasting for an education benefit at her home a few weeks ago, I was ecstatic! The PTA of Westbrook Elementary in Chevy Chase, a suburb just outside of Washington D.C., hosted the benefit for a less fortunate school, Viers Mill Elementary School (VMES). The money raised from the ticketed event would support field trips and other extracurricular programs that parents of students otherwise could not afford.

I chose to feature Angel’s Envy rye whiskey ($80) and Angel’s Envy bourbon ($50), and the company graciously agreed to sponsor the whole event! I also made two punches that we enjoyed as guests arrived and mingled (the favorite being with rye, Luxardo Sangue Morlacco liqueur, fresh orange and lemon juice, and bitters. Super easy, see recipe below!) Guests then came in waves to a table to taste each of the whiskeys with me and ask any burning whiskey questions.

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Attendees of a recent whiskey tasting fundraiser

Angel’s Envy is especially nostalgic for me. When I went on that serendipitous trip to Kentucky several years ago, which led me to write Booze for Babes, I met Angel’s Envy’s now chief innovation officer Wes Henderson at a Louisville restaurant. His father, Lincoln Henderson, started the brand after having been the master distiller at Brown-Forman (which owns Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s and Old Forester). At the time, Henderson’s new bourbon, which is finished in port wine barrels for several months, was like nothing on the market. I was hooked. The rye, which came later, is finished in Caribbean rum casks that were used for cognac before that. So unlike most other ryes out there, Angel’s Envy is not spicy or peppery. It’s sweet and layered. Bacardi has since bought the brand and it can be found pretty much everywhere.

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Ladies enjoyed Angel’s Envy rye and bourbon with host Nicole Tysvaer (far right)

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Women loving their whiskey in name of a good cause

That doesn’t mean the brand’s entrepreneurial spirit is lost. A few months back I had a nice discussion with Angel’s Envy managing director Sam Seiller (and self-proclaimed “Whiskey Chick”). Though experienced at high levels in the corporate world (Cheflin & Somerset and Brown-Forman), Sam wanted to work with bootstrapping small brands. So she signed on with Tequila Ocho, an artisan tequila, as senior vice president of marketing. Then, four years ago before it officially launched, Sam joined Angel’s Envy, partly out of respect and admiration for founder Lincoln Henderson. 

Sam Seiller back the July 2013 Angel's Envy Distillery Groundbreaking with Lincoln, Wes and Kyle Henderson, and president and CEO Marc Bushala

Sam Seiller back the July 2013 Angel’s Envy Distillery Groundbreaking with Lincoln, Wes and Kyle Henderson, and president and CEO Marc Bushala

Needless to say, over the course of 20 years in the business, Sam has seen the marketing toward female brands change and develop.

“There were very specific brands targeted to men and very specific brands targeted to women and their marketing messages were very clearly that, ‘If you were a woman drinking a man’s product you were quite the rebel,’” Sam says. In fact, when she worked there, only 10 percent of Jack Daniels sales were to women. When Jack Daniels started advertising in women’s magazines, “women didn’t like to targeted that way. They liked being rebels,” Sam says.

Sam Seiller (right) with  one of Angel's Envy's "whiskey guardians, Trina Nishimura

Sam Seiller (right) with one of Angel’s Envy’s “whiskey guardians, Trina Nishimura

PastedGraphic-2But times are a changin’. And women still have more rungs on the ladder to conquer in the male dominated spirits industry. “On the brand and industry side, I am the only woman on the board [at Angel’s Envy], the only woman on board on Altamar Brands [which owns Tequila Ocho and Foursquare Rum], and I was one of two female directors at Beam Global and Brown-Forman. On a senior level, it’s still very much a boys’ club,” Sam says.

Clearly she knows how to navigate it. Cheers to that! 

Drink like Whiskey Chick Sam Seiller

“I always drink my whiskey the same – with club soda in a tall glass with an orange twist and bitters,” Sam says. “Depending on what kind of whiskey you’re drinking, if it’s high proof you will kind of burn your taste buds. Dilute it with water and you’ll get the flavor profiles to come through. And as a whiskey chick that goes to four and five bars in an evening, drinking a lot of water keeps me out of trouble.”

2 ounces Angel’s Envy bourbon

4 ounces sparkling water

1 dash Angostura bitters

Twist of an orange

Pour bourbon in a glass with ice, top with soda water. Add a dash of bitters and garnish with the twist.

Make the Angel’s Envy PTA Punch 

2 parts Angel’s Envy rye whiskey

1/2 part fresh orange juice

1/2 part fresh lemon juice

1/2 part Luxardo Sangue Morlacco cherry liqueur (you can also use the Luxardo classic cherry liqueur)

1/2 part simple syrup

1 dash Angostura bitters

Lemon and orange wheels for garnish

Mix all ingredients together well in a punch bowl. Add a block ice (construct a block of ice by freezing filtered water in a former cardboard orange juice container)

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