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At a young age, Hood River woman was spirited away by the science of fermentation

​It may be a unique job, but Caitlin Bartlemay was destined to be a distiller. She's been breaking down barriers for 13 years.

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — A distiller, in short, is someone who takes raw ingredients, ferments them and turns them into some sort of spirit. What does that person look like in your head? A man?

Caitlin Bartlemay, head distiller at Clear Creek Distillery and Hood River Distillers, said she gets that a lot.

"The reactions are all over the place. I have a weird job, it's a weird job," said Bartlemay.

It may be a unique job, but it was one Bartlemay was destined to do it.

"I grew up a wheat rancher in eastern Oregon, and starting at a very young age was working side by side with my dad," said Bartlemay.

Bartlemay's dad started a vineyard and winery when she was in middle school. She said she caught the "fermentation bug," so she got a degree in fermentation and food science at Oregon State University, 

"I was hired the day after my last final and my last term in Oregon State," said Bartlemay.

She's been with Clear Creek Distillery every since. Thirteen years later and she's the head distiller, working with 30 different liquid items, such as fruit brandies, single malt and vodka.

"I didn't think it was anything different to be working in a male-dominated field because I've been doing that my entire life," said Bartlemay.

Luckily, the spirit toward women in the industry is changing.

"Maybe in the last 10 years or so there's been more emphasis on shining a light on the women in the industry. There's over 2,000 craft distilleries in the United States, and 8% of those distilleries are women-owned and growing," said Bartlemay

Working mostly by herself, she said that there's certainly a physicality required to do the job, but nothing a woman can't do in the modern world.

"I know I've heard some breweries are concerned about hiring women because they can't lift full kegs all day," Bartlemay said. "You know what? Nobody should be lifting full kegs all day, I don't care what gender you are, don't care if you're a bodybuilder, that's a terrible idea. We have all this modern equipment, we have forklifts."

While the stigma toward women within the distilling industry is trickling out, there are still misconceptions from those on the outside lingering at the bottom of the barrel.

"I feel like sometimes I still need to prove that I know what I'm doing, to prove my 13 years of experience," said Bartlemay. "I spend a lot of time quietly by myself at the end of tours and my male counterparts will be fielding a lot of questions — and that's a response we get from tours regardless of the gender makeup."

It's not a feeling she bottles up, but she hopes to educate the public so the future generation of women distillers don't think twice about pouring out their knowledge in a room full of people.

"There's more distillers in the spotlight than before and I'm so thankful to see that a representative quantity of those are going to be women."

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