STEPUP Foundation Announces Second Class

The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) and The Spirits Training Entrepreneurship Program for Underrepresented Professionals (STEPUP Foundation) are proud to announce the second class of interns, mentors, and participating distilleries, along with several new funding partners for 2023.

STEPUP Foundation is a diversity initiative that aims to provide underserved and underrepresented individuals with training, encouragement, and opportunities to enter the craft spirits community through a comprehensive year-long, immersive internship program. ACSA has long recognized a lack of diversity in the alcoholic beverage industry and has been working behind the scenes for some time now to develop a comprehensive program aimed at increasing talent through facilitation of workplace diversity. Now in its second year, STEPUP will continue to engage diverse applicants with an interest in the beverage sector and help those of different races, color, national origins, genders, disabilities, and sexual orientations to acquire the skills and experience they need to succeed in the industry.

The STEPUP internship program is primarily funded through Cornerstone Partners and other major donors. As the program gears up for its second year, the organization welcomes a host of generous new donations from partners across all tiers of the industry and distillers small and large. Infinium Spirits has signed on as a Keystone Donor and committed to $300,000 over three years, marking STEPUP’s second Keystone donor behind Beam Suntory, which joined earlier this year and donated $100,000. St. George Spirits has joined as a Foundation Level sponsor with a $40,000 pledge, and Fast Penny Spirits and Sagamore Spirit Distillery have joined at the Bricklayers level. These new contributors join STEPUP’s existing donors like Diageo North America, which serves as a Cornerstone Partner and has made a $1.2 million commitment over three years. To learn more about our tiers of support, visit

2023 STEPUP Interns:

Amy Salter

Amy has been in the restaurant industry since graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in 2007. Her experience includes everything from managing a pizzeria owned and operated by people with hearing loss to consulting with several restaurants and breweries.

Ashley Grayson

A Cicerone Certified Beer Server and Certified Tourism Ambassador, Ashley has been in the hospitality business for 15 years. The Ohio-based based bartender’s affinity for designing and developing menus and signature cocktails led her to STEPUP.

2023 STEPUP Mentors:

Darci Stuhlman

Darci Stuhlman’s career started in a restaurant and ultimately took her on a journey into the world of distilleries that landed her at Copper & Kings Distillery, where she drove marketing and sales strategies, client relations and recruiting. She is passionate about diversity, empowerment and inclusion, which is her focus in her current role at TKT & Associates — a leading provider of diversity management, innovative workforce and outsourcing solutions.

Nicole Shriner

Nicole Shriner brings a unique combination of education and hands-on industry experience with a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering and track record of working with brewery and distillery producers. As a current owner of consulting company Effervescent Solutions in Lansing, MI, she continues to focus on fostering quality and growth in the fermented beverage industry. Her achievements include completing the Master Brewer Program at Siebel Institute of Technology, as well as receiving a grant from the Michigan Craft Beverage Council to fund the start up of a fermented beverage analysis lab at Michigan State University.

2023 Participating Distilleries:

Sagamore Spirit Distillery (Baltimore, MD)

Serving as the program’s host distillery for 2023, Sagamore Spirit is driven to craft the world’s best Rye Whiskey. As a champion of American Rye Whiskey and inspired by Maryland Rye, its mission is to establish Sagamore Spirit as the premier distiller of modern American spirit. Sagamore Spirit’s grain-to-glass process ensures that every single product made establishes a legacy of excellence, while strengthening its collective communities. Sagamore’s award-winning, five-acre waterfront distillery is located in the Baltimore Peninsula neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.

New Riff Distilling (Newport, KY)

Located a stone’s throw from downtown Cincinnati in Newport, KY, New Riff Distilling was founded in 2014. The independent & family-owned distillery is “A New Riff On An Old Tradition.” Focused on Bourbon and Rye Whiskey, New Riff balances traditions like sour-mash Kentucky whiskey-making with inventive riffs on process, design, and recipes, including one of the most robust single barrel programs in the industry. New Riff’s mission is simple, to one day be counted as one of the great small distilleries of the world.

Glacier Distilling (Coram, MT)

Glacier Distilling Company was conceived during a snowstorm; In the Montana ethos of preparedness and self-reliance in the winter of 2009/10, a group of friends gathered around the fireplace wondering where they would get their whiskey come Armageddon. As a result, one of them started a distillery. Glacier Distilling Company first released an un-aged rye whiskey that could be produced and sold in a matter of months, instead of years. North Fork, Bad Rock Rye and Wheatfish soon followed and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

2023 Participating Distributor:

Republic National Distributing Company

As a top wine and spirits distributor in the nation, Republic National Distributing Company’s (RNDC) national reach helps suppliers by building strategic relationships with on- and off-premise customers to elevate its brands and reach its target consumers. RNDC currently operates in 38 states and the District of Columbia.

STEPUP Leadership:

STEPUP’s Board of Directors has created an immersive internship program for underrepresented individuals in the alcoholic beverage industry. Margie A.S. Lehrman (CEO, ACSA) serves as the organization’s president, working together with Secretary Rebecca Harris (Head Distiller and Co-founder, Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. and President, ACSA) and Treasurer Julie Kinch (CEO/Founder, JK Leadership Advisors, LLC). They are joined by a seasoned Board of Directors, including Chris Montana (CEO and Head Distiller, Du Nord Social Spirits), Chris Underwood (CEO, Young’s Holdings), David Cid (Owner, Silver Sun Group), and Ingrid Wetzell (HR Director, Bently Enterprises). The organization also has the support of Advisory Board member Nicole Austin (General Manager and Distiller, Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.). These critical liaisons help identify potential partners, secure financial resources and develop training materials to ensure the program’s success. The program design was initially crafted by a committed group of volunteers, now serving as members of the STEPUP selection committee: Paul Hletko (Few Spirits), Rob Masters (The Family Jones), Jake Holshue (Rogue Ales and Spirits), Tracie Franklin (Head Distiller Apprentice NJAI), and Lucy Farber (St. George Spirits, Inc.).

Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO, ACSA and President, STEPUP Foundation stated, “As we gear up to kick off our second year with a group of promising interns, seasoned mentors, host distilleries, and wholesale partners, we continue to be humbled by the generous contributions across all tiers of the industry — from the largest of global spirits producers to the very smallest distilleries. Together, we are united on an imperative cause: recruiting and welcoming more diverse perspectives and talent into the world of drinks.”

Internship Curriculum:

STEPUP Foundation participants are guided through every facet of operating a distillery, with the added bonus of an immersive internship opportunity with a wholesaler. Interns will experience hands-on training in and job exposure to several facets of the alcoholic beverage industry, including distillation production, safety, sales and marketing, business and finance, tasting room operations, and distribution.

In its second year, the internship program will have a revised and updated curriculum design.

Interns will begin the program at a host distillery, after which they will spend time at up to three additional distilleries, and then return to their host distillery to complete a final capstone project. Interns will begin the journey in January. In an effort to remove any financial impediments that may limit applicants, the internship will also include a living stipend, travel expenses, and lodging. In its second year, the STEPUP Foundation will run an additional two candidates through the program with the expectation to run an increased number of interns in year three. 

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