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Steamboat Magazine

An American Spirit

08/19/2021 10:38AM ● By Rachel Miller
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO – When Steamboat Springs local John Lupori’s daughter, Caroline, died in a backcountry skiing crash in Montana last year, his founding of American Woman Whiskey took on a much deeper meaning. “We made American Woman Whiskey to honor her and women who want to go into the arts. She was into that,” he says.

"Women are breaking into the bourbon space more and more the last five years, but there are still not as many bourbons made by and for them,” John adds. “That’s how we came up with One Percent for Women.” With women’s empowerment in mind, American Woman Whiskey pledges 1% of proceeds to the Caroline Lupori Outstanding Woman Award, which supports the efforts of female artists and entrepreneurs. John’s daughter, Ellese, spearheaded this charity portion of the company, and his son, Jack, represents the company through merchandising and networking. John and his team American Woman Whiskey hope to create a scholarship for women in the arts. “One of our goals is to have local artists take these bottles and start painting them, to auction them off for charity,” John says.

John has traveled on mission trips to Mexico to fix cleft palates in children twice a year for the last 20 years, using his extensive experience as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy and his work as a private practitioner for over 25 years. It was this mission work that originally gave him the inspiration for the whiskey company. On one trip to Mexico, John spotted a custom sculptured Damiana liqueur bottle that inspired him to start his own brand of bourbon.

The process of creating the business began with the bottle, designed by California-based artist Paul McTaggart. The shape of a woman is meant to depict freedom, liberty, life and art, based on the sculptural styles of the Renaissance and the ancient Greeks. Creating an artistically pleasing bottle that is also structurally stable turned out to be an arduous endeavor, involving a 92-point weakness test that would restart the design process from square one if it failed at any point. “It’s really hard to make the bottle structurally stable, especially with the amount of curves it has,” John says. “There are many custom bottles out there, but not many like this one.” Finally, two years ago, they finalized the bottle design and were awarded a U.S. design patent.

John knew that the design would potentially draw mixed responses. “It’s not supposed to be exploitative – it’s meant to empower women,” he says. “The definition of art is based around starting a conversation. That’s what art should do, and that’s what this bottle does.”

After the bottle was finalized, it was time to create the whiskey itself, working closely with distiller Paul Dunning. “We wanted to make straight bourbon – no additives – true, American bourbon,” John says. To classify as straight bourbon, a whiskey has to conform to all the guidelines for regular bourbon – made in the U.S., aged in a new oak container, and made of at least 51% corn – in addition to being aged in a charred oak container for at least two years. American Woman Whiskey consists of a distinctively high-corn blend: 98% corn and 2% barley. “It’s a unique mash bill,” John says. “It’s one of the best high-corn whiskeys in the world.” This high amount of corn makes for a sweeter bourbon.

While the mash bill is important, John is quick to explain that it’s the container that makes excellent whiskey. “We take the best distillate from Kentucky, but I think what we do after is what makes it great,” he says. The distillate ages in four different barrels of varying size and char percentage, spending 2-3 years in each. “There’s a lot of work that goes into aging it,” John explains. Distillers then take that distillate from each barrel and mix it together in the company’s own proprietary proportions. “It took a lot of trial and error to get those proportions right,” John says. As a result, American Woman Whiskey’s cask strength and 92-proof straight bourbons won seven awards prior to their release.

As American Woman Whiskey grows, John Lupori and his family continue to see the dreams of his daughter live on. To learn more about American Woman Whiskey, visit