Key Industry Leadership Tapped to Steer 501(c)(3) Internship Initiative in Effort to Create a  More Inclusive Industry, With Significant Financial Commitments Already Pledged 

Washington, DC (August 31, 2021) – After more than 18 months of planning, the American Craft  Spirits Association (ACSA) is proud to launch the Spirits Training Entrepreneurship Program for Underrepresented Professionals (STEPUP Foundation), 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 the facilitation of workplace diversity. 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. 

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) will serve 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, Rum Master, Bacardi, and Ingrid  Wetzell, HR Director, Bently Enterprises. These critical liaisons will help identify potential partners, secure financial resources, and develop training materials to ensure the program’s success. 

The STEPUP internship program will be primarily funded through Cornerstone Partners and other major donors. Diageo North America will serve as the first Cornerstone Partner and has made a  $1.2 million commitment over three years. In addition, the company will also hold a seat at the  STEPUP Advisory Board. Donor contributions, of any size, will also be welcome from anyone supporting the mission to open up and embrace diversity in the distilling community. STEPUP has also received significant financial commitments from Young’s Holdings, as well as contributions from other leaders in craft distilling, including Leopold Bros. and Smooth Ambler Spirits. 

STEPUP Foundation participants will be 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. 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 ten or more interns in year three and beyond. 

Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO, ACSA and President, STEPUP Foundation stated, “While we recognize we cannot change our industry landscape overnight, we are pleased to be moving in the right direction and are equally inspired by the unwavering support we’ve seen from the craft community for initiatives like STEPUP. Though we’ve been working behind the scenes for well over  a year, we are excited to formally introduce this program in our ongoing effort to spark as much  change in our industry as we can.” 

Chris Montana, Board of Directors, STEPUP Foundation, CEO and Head Distiller of Du Nord  Social Spirits, and Immediate Past President, ACSA, added, “We are thrilled to be launching this critically important effort. We acknowledge the real lack of diversity in the alcoholic beverage space  and hope to provide all of those interested in the industry, regardless of background, with thorough training and real-life experience.” 

Nicole Austin, General Manager & Distiller of Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., who will serve on the Advisory Board on behalf of Diageo and their Cornerstone Partnership, added, “I look forward to serving on the board of STEPUP and working to continue the important mission of increasing diversity in the alcoholic beverage industry. The community and leadership I found in the American Craft Spirits Association have enriched both my life and career, and I am thrilled  Diageo is supporting ACSA as they provide opportunity, training, and experience to all who are  interested in this space.” 

Chris Underwood, CEO of Young’s Holdings, whose company has also provided a significant financial commitment to fund STEPUP’s launch, added, “The Board is excited to be working to advance STEPUP’s mission to change the face of the industry by creating this unprecedented program. We are proud to put real action around the words of diversity and inclusion.” 

The STEPUP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity with donors able to deduct contributions.                 

To learn more about the foundation or to apply, visit or email:

About ACSA

The American Craft Spirits Association is the only national registered non-profit trade association representing the U.S. craft spirits industry. Its mission is to elevate and advocate for the community of craft spirits producers, and membership in ACSA is open to anyone. 

ACSA is governed by a Board of Directors elected by the eligible voting members of the Association.  Voting members must be independent, licensed distillers (DSPs) annually removing fewer than  750,000 proof gallons from bond (the amount on which a Federal Excise Tax is paid.) For information about ACSA, call 202-669-3661. 

About Diageo North America

Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol with an outstanding collection of brands including  Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Bulleit and Buchanan’s whiskies, Smirnoff, Cîroc, and Ketel One vodkas, Casamigos, DeLeon and Don Julio tequilas, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Tanqueray, and Guinness. 

Diageo is listed on both the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: DEO) and the London Stock Exchange  (LSE: DGE) and their products are sold in more than 180 countries around the world. For more information about Diageo, their people, brands, and performance, visit Visit Diageo’s global responsible drinking resource,, for information, initiatives, and ways to share best practices. Follow at Twitter and Instagram for news and information about Diageo North America: @Diageo_NA.


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