Spirit of St. Michaels flying high

Jaime Windon loads a car with free produce on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Volunteers came together to hand out free produce to Mid-Shore residents in need at the event, which took place at the parking lot behind the old Acme in St. Michaels.

If there’s one thing Jaime Windon can’t resist, it’s taking chances on new adventures.

“I have a perpetual habit of saying ‘yes’ to crazy ideas that I’m not always prepared for, and it leads me into some wonderful places,” she said.

Her travels have taken her to South America, Europe, Asia and Africa — where she was before returning to the U.S. and settling in St. Michaels. After graduating with a degree in journalism, Windon began her career as a writer and photographer. She’s always been interested in both the arts and hospitality spaces.

“I’d been working in hotels, bars and restaurants since I was in high school,” Windon said. “The arts — whether that was writing or photography and now what I like to call the spirits arts — is where I kind of found myself. I’ve always been driven by the desire to learn, to create and to take care of people.”

Getting into the art of distilling was driven by Windon’s desire to forge new paths.

“I have a natural inclination to want to do something that nobody else is doing around me. I think that explains my desire to learn, and being able to pave your own way is quite exciting,” she said. “There wasn’t always a plan to start a distillery in St. Michaels, the distillery was just what was needed. There was a brewery, a winery, tons of restaurants, but no one was making spirits — no one in Maryland had distilled rum or whiskey in over 40 years.”

Windon began distilling spirits eight years ago, right at the beginning of a resurgence in the industry.

“We had no idea that the industry would grow so fast, and we were on the forefront of this tidal wave of craft distilling that was about to revive,” she said. “We’ve just kind of found ourselves, as Lyon Rum, being a leader in the Maryland alcohol space, and the rest is history.”

As the craft distilling industry began to rise in popularity, Windon found herself saying “yes” to becoming a founding member of the Maryland Distillers Guild and serving as its president for the last six years.

“I have been very proud to help run the organization and grow the industry; we now have nearly 40 distilleries in the state,” she said. “We have changed many laws. I have spent countless hours testifying for better alcohol legislation for both manufacturers and consumers. One of the things I’m most proud of are the advances we’ve made in Maryland to make it a better place to do business as a spirits manufacturer.”

Between creating and growing her own business and helping distillers throughout the state to grow their businesses, Windon found the time to say “yes” to the opportunity to serve the residents of St. Michaels as well.

“I had no plans to be involved in politics,” she said. “I had recently moved to St. Michaels. There was a situation where they had two spots open and only one person running, so the then-president of the Commissioners of the Town of St. Michaels approached me and said, ‘You should run. You’re young, you’re a woman, you’re a business owner. You would provide an excellent perspective.’”

She threw her hat in the ring seven years ago and has enjoyed the opportunities to help the residents of St. Michaels.

“I spent four years learning everything about local politics and how to effectively work with four other commissioners to run a government and make budget decisions and listen to the residents,” Windon said. “That’s what I like the most. I don’t like being in charge as much as I like being a conduit for people who have concerns and need to be heard.”

Not content to rest comfortably on her laurels, Windon’s excited about the future. Among her many projects, she’s working on limiting the distillery’s environmental impact.

“I am learning, studying and working with distilleries that are doing sustainable manufacturing,” Windon said. “It’s impossible to be a perfect manufacturer, the essence of what we do is create waste. So finding ways to go above and beyond what is required of us, and to be very environmentally friendly and sustainable, is important.”

She and the staff at Windon Distilling Company are continuing to increase their footprint in the craft spirits world. They participated in a “Habitat Build Challenge” in the spring of 2020, and Windon is looking forward to increasing their philanthropic footprint as well.

“We’ve done a number of projects that directly financially benefit nonprofits and organizations that we care about,” she said. “Using our spirits company to also amplify the work and voices of people in our community that are doing great things is very important.”

She was recently appointed to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Craft Advisory Council, where they’re working to address national issues affecting small distilleries, including interstate commerce. She’s also involved with organizations that are mentoring and empowering women in the industry, and she’s committed to helping other entrepreneurs through Salisbury University’s entrepreneurship program.

“I’m just saying ‘yes’ to everyone that needs anything I can offer,” she said. “Being involved and saying ‘yes’ is very fulfilling for me.”

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