From Wall Street Banker to Pisco Power Player: Meet Dame Hall of Fame's Melanie Asher

Many people are at a table outside, holding up glasses to cheers one another. There's a lot to celebrate at Macchu Pisco, where founder Melanie Asher is working to restore pisco as the liquid ambassador of Peru.

Every year, Tales of the Cocktail inducts hardworking women of the spirits and cocktail industries into the Dame Hall of Fame to celebrate their contributions to the industry. Each of these women has their own story: from their starts, their stumbles, and, finally, their successes. In this series, Tales co-founder Ann Tuennerman highlights some of the past Dame Hall of Fame recipients, and explores the path that led them to where they are today.

Prior to 2006, when Melanie first introduced Macchu Pisco to the North American market, the pisco category was small and little-known to the American consumer. Armed with an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and experience working with large spirits firms, Melanie recognized that the country’s rapidly growing interest in cocktails and the wide world of artisanal spirits set the stage for introducing a pisco that would exemplify her homeland’s national spirit and help launch the category in the U.S. Here, Melanie Asher shares about listening to your intuition and the importance of family.

Where were you born and raised?

From Lima, Peru to Washington, D.C.!

What attracted you to enter the cocktails/spirits industry in the first place?

A childhood dream to create the best Pisco for the World. That is how Macchu Pisco was born.

Was it planned or was it a temporary gig that evolved into a career?

Very much planned!

What and where was your first job in the industry?

A hostess as a freshman at the Duke University Oak Room.

Was there a moment when you decided that the cocktail/spirits industry would be your career path?

Divine intervention at the age of 11.

As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, what did you find most rewarding and most challenging?

As a woman, I think we're taught early that multitasking is an important feminine quality. I have fought that tendency and worked hard to focus on the task at hand. To be in the moment, live the moment, and love the moment. We can't be at our best when our minds are distracted in a million directions at the same time. That has led to perfecting my production methods when I am in Peru making Macchu Pisco. Diving deep into my work, and loving my work, to make the best product for my consumers who rely on our natural goodness is the most rewarding. The fact that it is a male-dominated industry...I don't let it get into my head. This is Melanie's world and my way shines through.

Was your family supportive of your decision?

My father was my first investor. He said he would be damned if he saw others believe in me before he did. He took out savings from his 401(K) and a family business was built! Today my sister Lizzie is my partner in crime. She is the President and keeps the wheels spinning so I can dedicate myself to making the best juice down in Peru, and travel the world spreading the Macchu Pisco love!

Ruth Fertel Pioneer Award 2015 Winner, Melanie Asher, Macchu Pisco Ruth Fertel Pioneer Award 2015 Winner, Melanie Asher, left, and her sister of Macchu Pisco (both in yellow)

How has the role of women in the cocktail/spirits industry changed since you first joined it?

There are many more women bar owners, distillers, bartenders, and writers who have collectively given more leadership roles to other women within our organizations.

For a woman who wants to pursue a career in this industry, what top 3 tips would you offer?

  • Ask for what you want with intent
  • Learn to know the difference between your inner voice and the noise. Let intuition win every time
  • Live just in time...don't let the stress of planning, pressures, ruin the moment. Love every moment of what you are doing

How did you first learn about Tales of the Cocktail?

I am very curious, so when I launched Macchu Pisco, I researched the "Who's Who" of the cocktail world, and Ann Tuennerman came up for organizing the only meeting of the minds for the industry at that time.

Were there any challenges you had to overcome to attend Tales the first time (financial, logistical, etc.)?


Kindly describe your first Tales experience and what it meant to you.

The first Tales experience was 11 years ago. It was incredibly intimate. I took my aunt Rosa with me to see what it was all about. I remember going to the awards dinner when it was held at the Monteleone and sitting at the same table as Dale and Jill DeGroff shooting Pisco tales. Afterwards, we all went to a concert at Fritzel's Jazz Club with David Wondrich sitting in front of us...I had just started my business and I felt embraced by these cocktail rock stars. It was a real family affair!

How did you first hear about the Dame Hall of Fame?

Macchu Pisco was invited by the New York chapter of the Ladies of LUPEC: Lynnette Marrero, Meaghan Dorman, and Francine Cohen to be a part of the first Dame Hall of Fame luncheon.

Were any of its past inductees your mentors or role models?

Misty Kalkofen. I met her in Boston first out of Harvard. Her drive to create a community of sisterhood where we could share the best of ourselves was very inspiring.

What was it like to be inducted into the Dame Hall of Fame?

An incredibly emotional moment. I'm not one to show much emotion but my sister Lizzie's touching speech to introduce me made me cry effusively!

How has it energized your career overall and what opportunities have flowed as a result?

I believe there is much more potential for the award of Dame Hall of Fame to be elevated further. It is just getting started, but it is the gold standard in the industry as an award for women to be celebrated in our industry — so it is a badge of honor for me.

Kindly describe any key professional relationships and friendships that were forged through your induction.

It was a unique opportunity to get to know the other warrior women in my induction class such as Anu, Pam, Kate, and Claire.

Ann Tuennerman Founder of Tales of the Cocktail, Ann Tuennerman is a serial entrepreneur focused on hospitality.

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