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Breaking the Barrel Ceiling - Alice Pearson

In celebration of International Women's Day, we're honoured to share a compelling conversation with Alice Pearson, Distillery Manager at Cotswolds Distillery. As one of the youngest individuals to hold this position in the UK, Alice offers unique insights into her experiences within the whisky industry. This interview is part of a series and are ongoing commitment to highlight women within the industry. 

As one of the youngest distillery managers in the country, what challenges have you faced in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and how have you overcome them? 

"The majority of challenges have been more from a lack of belief in myself, than from others. There have been times where I have been accidentally overlooked in favour of a male colleague when arriving somewhere to participate or talk at an event, but I put this down to people making their best guesses and I don’t take it to heart. I’m usually quite amused by it more than anything."

Who have been your role models or mentors in the industry, and how have they shaped your journey?

I’ve been lucky to be mentored by a number of great people in the industry, as well as spend time with some industry legends during the matching process for our new distillery new make. I was paired up with a mentor through the IBD Diploma bursary, Annabel Meikle, who beyond mentoring me on the whisky industry, also became a great personal mentor. She also put me in touch with Georgie Crawford, who was amazing technical support (and comic relief!) during stressful times mid-commissioning.

Alice Pearson

What advice would you give to young women looking to enter the distilling or wider spirits industry?

Get stuck in and start in any position you can, show an interest and do the theory later. Practical skills and experience are the best way to get started, you can pick up theory and study for that as you go. It’ll come with some boring jobs at first, I have peeled more limes and grapefruits than one should in a lifetime, but it was well worth it…

How do you see the role of women evolving in the whisky industry over the next decade, and what changes would you like to see to foster a more inclusive environment?

We are already seeing an increase in female-lead distilleries, as well as women taking up high level positions in the more established global brands. I hope this will only continue. I strongly believe all big change happens best in a ‘trickle down’ effect. The leadership levels need to reflect the diversity of the rest of the business and their consumers.

International Women's Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women. What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career so far?

I’m very proud of my involvement with the OurWhisky foundation recently, having blended and donated a bottle representing the female distillers at the Cotswolds. It felt like such a nice full-circle moment to acknowledge their contributions so specifically, especially as we enter our 10th year of whisky production. I am also very proud to have recently passed my IBD Diploma in Distilling, I sacrificed a huge amount of evenings and weekends to studying, something which does not come naturally to me.

What do you think are the biggest barriers to achieving full inclusion for women in the spirits industry, and how can these be addressed?

Continued support and representation of women in STEM can go a long way for the production side. Beyond that, distilleries being open to hiring & training those with good transferrable practical skills rather than distilling specific theory. Some of the best distillers we've had over the years have been from hospitality, food and other manufacturing backgrounds. When hiring for distillers, I look for the right mindset and a willingness to learn first, and any distilling theory someone already has is just a bonus.

How has working in such an inclusive and forward-thinking environment at Cotswolds Distillery contributed to your personal and professional growth?

I think the Cotswolds has been pivotal to my development so far, they have always supported me in my somewhat relentless desire to learn new things. I have been able to follow my interests and gain a really wide variety of skills far beyond just distilling, it never gets boring!

As we celebrate International Women's Day, what message of hope or inspiration would you like to share with women striving to make their mark in their respective fields?

I think it's good to take the day to acknowledge that showing up for people, working hard and always learning is enough to cement your right to be wherever you are. You have to be the one to give yourself a pat on the back first, always!


Alice's narrative at Cotswolds Distillery serves as a clear indicator of an evolving industry norms and the increasingly prominent role women play in shaping the future of whisky. As we celebrate International Women's Day, her story reminds us of the strides we've made and the work still ahead in ensuring the whisky world, like many other sectors, becomes more accessible and equitable for everyone.