Women in Whisky are standing on the shoulders of giants ~ Emily Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett, Bessie Williamson and Sheila Burtles… to name but a few.
We owe a great debt to these forward-thinking independent women. Emily Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett for fighting for our rights as women. Bessie Williamson for leading the way for women in distillery management, being one of the first, if not the first, woman Distillery Managers. She was manager, then in 1954 became the owner of Laphroaig Distillery. Sheila Burtles is one of the pioneers who created the whisky flavour wheel ~ without that concept we would struggle to decipher or describe the notes in our lovely drams.
Today, Whisky for Girls would like to introduce some of the amazing women who continue this pioneering tradition and are working in and around the whisky industry, opening up a traditionally male-dominated arena for the benefit of all.
Without further ado I present…
Joint Founder of the Canadian Scotch Malt Whisky Society http://www.smws.ca/
Where do you live? Calgary, Canada
What do you do? My husband and I are the founders of the Canadian branch of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
Where did your interest in whisky come from? I grew up around whisky as both my parents enjoyed it.
How long have you been drinking whisky? I dabbled in it in University, and always kept a bottle or two around, but it was when Rob and I moved to Scotland for a year in 2004 that my interest and passion really started to take off.
What was your first dram/last/next dram? First dram: probably a Chivas as that was what the folks drank. Last dram: last night, one of my favourite Society bottlings from a few years back, 33.70 “Keith Richards meets Socrates”. Next dram: probably another fabulous Society dram, but which one depends on my mood, the weather, the time of day…
Where do you see yourself going in relation to whisky in the next 10 years? In the next 10 years – I’d like to say early retirement, but realistically we hope to be running a well-established, successful branch of The SMWS and enjoying all the fun things that come with that, like traveling, hosting tastings and meeting great people who love whisky!
When are you coming to see us in Islay? I’ve been to Islay twice – it’s such a neat place! We’ll be in Scotland at the end of August but sadly a trip to Islay isn’t on the cards this time.
What can the industry do to improve things for women? If you mean in terms of getting more women interested in whisky, there’s already been a real shift in the demographics of who’s drinking whisky now. I see it all the time at tastings and festivals we attend where young, curious women are keen to learn about whisky, perhaps because their husbands / boyfriends / fathers / brothers drink it. It’s encouraging! Within the industry, we’re seeing more and more women in significant roles like “distillery manager” and “master blender” which were traditionally held by men. Social media is also playing a part as people like yourself and others share their thoughts through Twitter, Facebook, websites/blogs, etc. Anything that women in the industry can do to alleviate some of the intimidation is key for women who are just starting to learn about whisky!
I think marketing and packaging play a big part too. My husband always teases me because I will often buy wine based on the label design without too much concern for the contents (needless to say, that’s backfired on me more than a few times). But the point is that women are highly visual creatures and certain brands are realizing that the shape of the bottle, for example, can attract curious new buyers. When Glenmorangie redesigned their bottles a few years ago, they made them much more feminine-looking; almost reminiscent of a perfume bottle. Women respond to that. I’m encouraged by the number of women I see showing interest in whisky and I’m sure the trend will continue.
What’s next? A dram, of course! : )
Director of The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival http://www.spiritofspeyside.com/
Where do you live? I live in Speyside in a small village close to the town of Forres.
What do you do? My main role is owning and managing, with my husband, Knockomie Hotel in Forres. We are a small 15-bedroom Inn with a large selection of single malts and blended whiskies stocked in the Malt Library. Being located in the beautiful Speyside region we have over 20 distilleries close by. Many are open to visitors and have great visitor centres that attract tourists and whisky enthusiasts from all over the world. I am also a Director of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. The festival attracts visitors from as far away as Canada, Japan and India as well as visitors from Europe and the United Kingdom. I also write a monthly Whisky Column for The Scots Magazine.
Where did your interest in whisky come from? Having known Gavin, my husband, for over 25 years whisky has always featured in celebrations and over the years through working for two whisky companies and also selling it at Knockomie, I have developed an interest in the water of life.
How long have you been drinking whisky? I have been drinking whisky since my early twenties. When you are living in Edinburgh, it soon becomes apparent that when you are socialising with friends the subject of whisky comes up and everyone has an opinion!
What was your first dram/last/next dram? My first dram was at Hogmanay one year and it was a Bell’s blended whisky. My last dram was a Glenlivet Nadurra, a stunning example of a Speyside Single malt. Nadurra is Gaelic for natural, and this cask strength 16-year-old is matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks, it has a soft fragrant and floral nose with a gentle toffee sweetness and creamy palate and this will be a favourite of mine. For my next whisky, I would like to try Laphroaig Triple Wood, it looks very interesting and so I shall look forward to savouring a dram of it.
Where do you see yourself going in relation to whisky in the next 10 years? Over the next 10 years, I would like to develop my enthusiasm and passion for whisky further by writing more about it. I have written a book, published this year called Distinguished Distilleries, it’s aimed at the whisky enthusiast or tourist and takes you around Scotland giving a short insight into 40 different distilleries. I would also like to introduce more women to whisky and offer more bespoke tastings aimed at women.
When are you coming to see us in Islay? I very much hope to visit Islay this Autumn.
What can the industry do to improve things for women? I think the industry is working hard to capture the female market and there are a number of brand ambassadors who are women and who are actively promoting and introducing women to whisky. Let’s all just keep up the good work!
What’s next? For me, I will continue to run Knockomie and wherever I can I will learn more about our national drink and promote it to new and existing enthusiasts. I am intending to speak and do a whisky tasting at a Whisky Club in the North West of England, I hope this will be the first of many.
FEMKE TIJTSMA SIJTSMA
Where do you live? The Netherlands, in a small town in the north, called Hallum. Here it’s famous for its cookies and rusk.
What do you do? I run an online administration office in combination with cloud tools. My partner has his own company which I make part of. My job is to take care of the administration and marketing.
Where did your interest in whisky come from? When I was 18, I fell in love with whisky. I was staying at a friend’s place. He just returned from Scotland and he brought some bottles home with him. We had a nice evening, chatting about his journey and there came the glass of whisky. As you may know, I’m curious, then and now. From the first sip of the golden drink I was hooked. There was something that a seed has been planted and something was growing… a grow of whisky interest. I never tasted anything like it. All I know is, that this particular whisky came from Scotland.
How long have you been drinking whisky? Since I was 18. I’m 33 now… so around 15 years. My interest in whisky has never left me. But in a few years, the interest became bigger. I visit the Whisky Festival in Leiden ( now Den Haag) and I was amazed by the range of whisky, I tasted whisky, which I didn’t know existed. I met someone who had a stand there. He told me about a whisky forum (hetwhiskyforum.nl) and there was a need for women. My whisky interest has been pulled into a new dimension. When I got home, I went to the website and became a member. I’ve met a lot of interesting people.
What was your first dram/last/next dram? I can’t remember my first one, unfortunately …. All I know is it was fantastic and never tasted anything like it again. Maybe that’s the drive to go on this whisky adventure. My last one was at the North Sea Jazz festival. I had the Highland park 12-year-old at the Famous Grouse Bar. And my next? Visit my website…
Where do you see yourself going in relation to whisky in the next 10 years? I hope my website and my name are known everywhere. When you say whiskygirl, no explanation is needed. Within a year or two I’d like to be part of a Whisky Festival. Sometimes I’m joking about having my own whisky distillery and launching my own whisky… you never know. I’m working on a business plan. I’ve got lots of ideas for the next 10 years.
When are you coming to see us in Islay? Between now and a year, I hope... I’m planning a trip, but that takes time.
What can the industry do to improve things for women? Playing with the design of the bottles. Other free things to go with it.. not only man things. We women are upcoming in the whisky market. And we like it a little bit differently than most men. I’m not saying, it has to be pink. But more sweet, sexy, and smooth. Make room for a new image, to attract more women. Now we haven’t got a very nice image… just picture google on Whisky and woman… It’s a shame. For example. Just look at the washing advertising on tv. Where are all the men who are washing their clothes? Slowly there is a change in this image. So also in the whisky and women combination.
What’s next? Just keep an eye on whiskygirl. I may surprise you!
Miss Whisky http://misswhisky.com/ Photo: imageRevolver
Where do you live? London, England
What do you do? Freelance Journalist and Blogger
Where did your interest in whisky come from? I went to a tasting about four and a half years ago at a small whisky shop called Milroy’s in London. I thought I hated whisky as I’d had bad experiences when I was younger with horrid cheap blends, but that night my eyes were opened to the beauty of single malts.
How long have you been drinking whisky? Since February 2008! A well-remembered evening!
What was your first dram/last/next dram? Unfortunately, I don’t remember my first dram. My last was a secret one from Islay which I don’t know the name of as I am a judge in some whisky awards, so they don’t label the drams. My next one will almost certainly be another random Islay whisky – I’ve still got 23 to go!
Where do you see yourself going in relation to whisky in the next 10 years? I hope to keep exploring the world of whisky, learning about new countries emerging onto the whisky scene and furthering the fact that we ladies enjoy a dram as much as the fellas do! But 10 years? Gosh, that’s a while yet. I’ve only been drinking it for less than five, so I can only hope to double my exposure in that time. Fingers crossed!
When are you coming to see us in Islay? Oooo good question! I hope to get up there this autumn (maybe September?) if I can as I’ve still only driven through rather than properly visited Islay so it’s a big one on my list!
What can the industry do to improve things for women? That’s a tricky one. I know so many amazing women who work in this industry who really love what they do and don’t see any difference between how they are treated and how the men are. Yes, there are loads more men working in the whisky world, but I think that is slowly changing. On the note of women who drink whisky and may be trying to get more into it – I think that will only develop over time. The whisky world is a slow-moving one but we’re seeing huge step changes in how it’s marketed and advertised and I think that will only increase the number of females, and younger (ie: below 35-year-olds) who drink drams.
What’s next? I hope to just keep encouraging more people to discover whisky, whether female, male, young or old. I’m constantly doing this in my inner circles of friends and family, but hope Miss Whisky (my website) will encourage more women to get into it. Equally, I love hearing people’s stories, especially those of the women in the industry, and can’t wait to keep sharing those with the wider audience.
Co-founder of The Whisky Lounge http://www.thewhiskylounge.com/
Where do you live? York
What do you do? I organise the festival side of The Whisky Lounge and I am the Commercial Director of The Great Whisky Company which specialises in distributing interesting whiskies to the on and off trade exclusively. Our first client is Berry Brothers and Rudd
Where did your interest in whisky come from? My Daddy and my husband.
How long have you been drinking whisky? 6 months
What was your first dram/last/next dram? Bushmills Black Bush, Jameson’s Select Reserve and Berry Brothers 1980 Caol Ila.
Where do you see yourself going in relation to whisky in the next 10 years? More drinking of malts in small amounts, more learning and converting others to do the same
When are you coming to see us in Islay? Hopefully at the end of July / start of August
What can the industry do to improve things for women? The industry is welcoming from my point of view. I think we need to educate women about the beauty of whisky. If we succeed in doing that they will be joining the industry in droves.
What’s next? Right now organising the TWL Liverpool Manchester and the 10th Anniversary Festival in York on 13th October. Planning for 2013 with Festivals in France 2013 and Belfast 2013, possibly a new distillery project, plus 2 new clients for The Great Whisky Company in the Autumnal, fingers crossed.
Owner at Local Infusions, an import company http://thewhiskywoman.wordpress.com/
Where do you live? New York City, USA
What do you do? I run my own spirits import/export company, Local Infusions, where I focus on independent craft producers. I search the globe for unique, hand-crafted products, focusing mostly on whiskies produced in non-traditional countries and also manage my blog. I am also preparing to launch my own whisky, Brenne, a French Single Malt that’s been finished in Cognac casks. When I first met with this 3rd generation Cognac distiller 2 years ago, I learned that he was making whisky as a side project. He had no interest in marketing and selling it so I set up a partnership with him and offered to create the brand around this beautiful whisky and handle all of the sales if he continues to make it. There is nothing like it on the market and I can honestly say it is the most approachable whisky I have ever tasted. I’m so excited to be launching it in NYC first this Fall!
Where did your interest in whisky come from? My husband! Every night after dinner he would relax with a good single malt. I didn’t think I liked whisky so I tried everything else looking for my own nightcap. Then one night we were in lower Manhattan at a bar called Vintry Wine & Whisky and having just returned from South Korea, he had a new-found love for Japanese whiskies. He ordered a Yamazaki 18-year-old, I took the first sip and never gave him back his glass! I was hooked and never looked back.
How long have you been drinking whisky? Since the Summer of 2008
What was your first dram/last/next dram? The first was Yamazaki 18, the last was Mackmyra Special 07 and the next will be something later on tonight!
Where do you see yourself going in relation to whisky in the next 10 years? Hopefully still running my company. I’d like to be able to look back and see an integration of craft whiskies all around the world. I know there is a supply & demand issue and one of the appeals of craft is that it’s limitedly produced but I don’t think every product needs to be in every market. However, I do believe that every country has pockets of consumers who are passionate about whisky and eager to learn, experience & share and I’d like to be one of the people that can help bring these amazing, global craft whiskies to them.
When are you coming to see us in Islay? Does tomorrow work? 😉
What can the industry do to improve things for women? Not separate us from the men. I think whisky separates the boys from the men, but not the women from the men! 😉 It doesn’t matter to me if you’re male, female or somewhere in between; if you enjoy your brown spirits, then that’s what it’s all about! Don’t dumb it down or start putting rainbows and glitter on your labels to try to attract more female consumers. Just focus on making something that tastes great. Period.
What’s next? Launching Brenne!
MYSELF! ~ RACHEL MACNEILL
Owner of Whisky For Girls and Wild and Magic Islay Travel Co https://islaywhiskyacademy.scot/Home/
Where do you live? Isle of Islay, Scotland
What do you do? I run Whisky for Girls company which started just for fun, as a joke really, as a way to introduce my friends and other women to whisky. Like all great jokes took on a life of its own. Whisky for Girls integrates people, drams, the process, the elements, and the humour and graft and shows it to people and acts as a bridge between just whisky-focused things and people’s lives. Whisky for Girls has whisky tours to Islay for women and men, Slow Dram Whisky Tasting, and is developing an online whisky club. I also have Wild and Magic Islay travel co., Wild and Magic Islay Apparel and Whisky for Girls Jewellery.
Where did your interest in whisky come from? When I was a teenager we used to go into the distillery at night after a dance and visit the boys on the night shift. We would have a cup of the wash to warm us up or a drop of something stronger! and I would make them take me round (and then round again) the distillery explaining everything to me.
How long have you been drinking whisky? Since I was a teenager
What was your first dram/last/next dram? The first dram was probably a White Horse, the blend from Lagavulin which was in its heyday away back then. The last dram was a Laphroaig 10-year-old found in the back of my kitchen cupboard the other night in a honey jar! and the next dram is probably going to be a Kilchoman 100% Islay.
Where do you see yourself going in relation to whisky in the next 10 years? I want to learn lots more about maturation and blending. I find it so fascinating. I want to learn all this stuff and then write about it in an accessible way for women (and men) so as to demystify whisky, but by doing so one actually really appreciates the natural magic of it all.
What can the industry do to improve things for women? More images of women and whisky in the media. Less guff about golf (for example) and exclusive clubs, don’t just advertise your stuff in whisky magazines, take it to the mainstream, less big secret talk using words that sound cool and are not explained to the less knowledgeable to maintain a feeling of power in the talker! Making whisky connected to everyday things and stuff that people do ~ music, books, food, dance, sport, talking, poetry, parties. Less guff about tasting and more about drinking with friends. Remember that the drink comes from the elements and everyone is connected to the elements, so all people can connect with and drink whisky. Get whisky into spas and beauty parlours and bridal shops…… (maybe not hairdressers, though) it’s endless!
What’s next? I’m writing a whisky book which I hope will be ready next year ~ but I’m not exactly speedy so we will see. I want to develop Slow Dram Whisky Tasting (very appropriate….) and go out and do tastings for people all over the world. I want to bring more women (and men) to Islay and take them around the distilleries. I think it’s great for people to see the dram being made and to taste it in the distillery. I made whisky at Bruichladdich and I signed the log book in the still house ~ it was a great feeling!
THANK YOU TO ALL THE WONDERFUL WOMEN WHO TOOK PART IN THIS ARTICLE ~ YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION, AND AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO DRINK WHISKY!