Washington, DC (December 21, 2023) – The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) and The Spirits Training Entrepreneurship Program for Underrepresented Professionals (STEPUP Foundation) are proud to announce the third class of interns, mentors, and participating distilleries, along with several new funding partners for the upcoming 2024 class.

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 eight month 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. Now in its third 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 third year, the organization welcomes a host of generous new donations from partners across all tiers of the industry and distillers small and large. Newly added Donors in 2023 include; DuNord Foundation, Sagamore Spirit Distillery, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, Westward Whiskey, and Prestige-Ledroit Distributing Co. at the Bricklayer 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 https://stepupinternship.org/donors/.

Alexcia Pugh
Alexcia Pugh hails from Birmingham, Alabama where she started a career in research and development in the solubility division with a focus in oncology. She is excited to use her unique set of experiences and education acquired from Dillard University, where she obtained her B.S. in chemistry. She is thrilled to use her skillset, passion for formulation, and her wish to add a different outlook to the craft spirits industry to turn her hobbyist interest in spirits into a career.

Erica Paul

Erica’s journey into craft spirits started with a Sensory Evaluation and Urban Planning course at Alabama A&M University. Erica has forged her path making strides in education, internships, and employment opportunities with leading food manufacturers, automotive corporations, and within the agriculture industry. With a plan to merge Agriculture and Food Science with Craft Spirits, she plans to use alternative farming methods, to craft a sustainable spirit that embodies the intricacies of her journey, in every sip.

Melinda Maddox
Melinda Maddox, Production Manager for Old Elk Distillery, has over two decades of management in the hospitality industry under her belt and is working towards a decade of operations and production management. Melinda is currently on the path to becoming Old Elk’s Master Blender. She is second-in-command to Master Distiller Greg Metze, learning his practice and further innovating Old Elk’s liquid. She is quickly making a name for herself having been awarded finalist in the 2023 Women of Whiskey Awards for Production Manager of the Year.

Johnny Jeffery

Formerly a Master Distiller and General Manager at Bently Heritage Estate Distillery & Public House, Johnny is now utilizing his wealth of experience in the spirits industry as an independent consultant with Feiba Peveli LLC. Johnny entered the Food Chemistry program at Michigan State University in 2008 where his advising professor was actively working in spirits. His Master’s degree in Food Chemistry led him down the rabbit hole of spirits production as an economic development tool. The passion that emerged for spirits, particularly distilleries in areas where they could fit nicely into existing agriculture has allowed him to work on distilleries all over the country, from facility design and equipment selection to product design and expansion planning. Johnny is an ex-ACSA board member, Good Deeds co-founder, contributor to the STEPUP curriculum, and a member of the first STEPUP Selection Committee.


Sagamore Spirit Distillery (Baltimore, MD)

Returning once again as a host distillery in 2024, 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 the 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.

Black Button Distilling (Rochester, NY)

Black Button Distilling was founded in 2012 by Master Distiller Jason Barrett and was the first distillery to operate in “The Flour City” since prohibition. As a grain-to-glass craft spirits producer, Black Button is a licensed New York State Farm Distillery and uses nearly 100% New York State-grown ingredients that come from within 50 miles of the distillery. Best known for its Four Grain Straight Bourbon, Bespoke Bourbon Cream and botanical gins like Citrus Forward and seasonal Lilac, Black Button’s spirits are available at its new location at 1344 University Avenue in Rochester, in liquor stores throughout New York State and online at www.blackbuttondistilling.com.


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 their brands and reach their 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, “As we gear up to kick off another 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.”


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 Past 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 Selection Committee members for 2024 are; Denaya “Dee” Jones-Reid of Deestilled, Tracie Franklin of Get Spirited Consulting LLC, Aswaithy Nair, Erika Hopkins, and Julie Townsend of Republic National Distributing Company, Max Hames of Sagamore Spirit Distillery, and Sydney Jones of FEW Spirits.


STEPUP Foundation participants are guided through every facet of operating a distillery, with the 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.

Interns will begin the program at a host distillery, after which they will spend time at up to two 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 third year, the STEPUP Foundation will have two interns matriculate through the program with the expectation to run an increased number of interns in the years to follow.

The STEPUP Foundation is a 501(c)(3). To learn more about the foundation, visit www.stepupinternship.org or contact margie@americancraftspirits.org and alexandra@gatherpr.com.

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.

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