STEPUP Foundation Announces Inaugural Interns, Mentors and Distilleries


Following two years of planning, the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) and The Spirits Training Entrepreneurship Program for Underrepresented Professionals (STEPUP Foundation) are proud to announce their 2022 Inaugural Class of interns, mentors, and participating distilleries. Recipients were honored at ACSA’s Annual Distillers’ Convention and Vendor Trade Show last night in Louisville, which attracted just under 1,200 members of the beverage trade.

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. In its inaugural year and beyond, STEPUP will engage diverse applicants with an interest in the beverage sector and help those of different races, color, national origins, genders, and sexual orientations to acquire the skills and experience they need to succeed in the industry.

Yakntoro “Yaki” Udoumoh
Yaki, a Maryland native and Howard University alum, is currently a bartender at the revered Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. Yaki has enjoyed a career in hospitality, which has led him to the doorsteps of the craft spirits industry.

Erin Lee
This Canadian transplant to Brooklyn will transition into the distilling industry from a career in fashion. Her most recent endeavors have expanded her skills in tasting by becoming a Certified TAC Tea Sommelier through the Academy of Tea and Tea and Herbal Association of Canada.

Chris Underwood
STEPUP Board Member Chris Underwood has dedicated his career working for Young’s Market Company (a subsidiary of Young’s Holdings), one of the largest wine and spirits distributors in the U.S. Starting in the Los Angeles warehouse in 1996, he went on to become the Chief Executive Officer starting in 2011. Chris is also Chairman of the Board of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) of San Diego, and serves on the OM Foundation Board of Directors.

Sailor Guevara 
With over 20 years in the craft spirits industry, Sailor Guevara has developed an “encyclopedic knowledge of whiskey,” as noted by American Whiskey Magazine. Her recent accolades include a distinction as a 2020 Icons of Whisky winner. In addition to writing, creating content, and podcasting, she is also the acting Founder & CEO of Guevara Spirits based out of Stuart, Florida.

Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., TN
Based in Tullahoma, Tenn., Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. has made its brand, George Dickel, a symbol of quality for over 130 years. Renowned for its smooth and mellow taste, Cascade Hollow continues to produce the very best in Whiskey, Bourbon, and Rye.

Westward Whiskey, OR
Based in Portland, Ore., Westward Whiskey has been a leading voice in craft distilling since 2004. Its distinctive reimagined, elevated American Single Malts are inspired by the American Northwest and the culture, climate, and abundant natural resources that have earned the region such reverence and renown.

Eight Oaks Distillery, PA
A veteran-owned and family-run, located in the rolling farmlands of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. In addition to running a restaurant on-site, Eight Oaks grows all of its own grains to craft a wide range of award-winning, farm-to-bottle spirits, like Bourbon, Rye Whiskey, Vodka, and Gin.

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 the District of Columbia and 37 states across the United States, with the expected addition of the New York market in 2022.

Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO, ACSA and President
, STEPUP Foundation stated, “We are thrilled to recognize this incredible talent pool of internship candidates and are truly honored that so many of you, our community of craft distillers, ‘stepped up’ to join this effort as hosting distilleries and mentors. We have been working tirelessly behind the scenes for two years now on this comprehensive initiative, so it was truly a surreal moment to formally kick off our program and honor our very first class in person and on stage this week in Louisville.”

Together with an Advisory Board, the 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. 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: Johnny Jeffery, Bently Heritage Estate Distillery; Paul Hletko, Few Spirits; Rob Masters, The Family Jones; Bryan Schaifer, Samson & Surrey; and Jake Holshue, Rogue Ales and Spirits.

The STEPUP internship program is primarily funded through Cornerstone Partners and other major donors. Diageo North America serves as the first Cornerstone Partner and has made a $1.2 million commitment over three years. In addition, the company holds a seat on the STEPUP Advisory Board. A donor program is under development to allow contributions from anyone supporting the mission to open up and embrace diversity in the distilling community.

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 and job exposure to several facets of the alcoholic beverage industry, including distillation production and safety, sales and marketing, business and finance, tasting rooms operations, and distribution. Each intern will rotate through all three distilleries and wholesaler for a period of 8-12 weeks in each location. The interns will begin the journey beginning in early January with a graduation ceremony anticipated upon conclusion of the inaugural year. In an effort to remove any financial impediments that may limit applicants, the internship will also include a stipend, travel expenses, and room and board. In its inaugural year, the STEPUP Foundation will run two candidates through the program with the expectation to run another six interns in its second year and 10 or more interns in year three.
The STEPUP Foundation is a 501(c)(3). To learn more about the foundation, or apply with applications for the 2023 cycle opening in early summer 2022, visit or contact and

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