ACSA Unveils New DEI Initiative

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 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. inclusive workplace diversity

Together with an Advisory Board, the Board of Directors have 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 has 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 generous 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 [email protected].