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An ode to the women who whisky

If you were asked to find a picture of a whisky enthusiast, you would likely come across some handsome, suit-wearing, cigar-smoking gentleman. But this picture is changing, and for the better.

Research shows that a whopping 40% of whisky drinkers in North America alone, for instance, are actually women. While women in whisky isn’t a new topic, the representation of women in whisky appears to be on the rise. Whether it’s drinking, distilling, or representing brands, many powerful, whisky-loving ladies are proving that this is a gentlewoman’s game too.

A brief history

The humble beginnings of whisky mean that the spirit has seen a variety of fans over the years. From blue-collar workers to businessmen and rockstars to composers, the picture-perfect whisky drinker has, and always will be, ever-changing. It may come as a surprise but pre-1900, whisky was just as much a woman’s game as a man’s.

It wasn’t until the Temperance Movement that women drinking and working in whisky (and alcohol as a whole) were seen as a problem. This mindset, unfortunately, followed us as a society, and the drinking of the iconic spirit as a woman was seen, and is often still seen, as a rebellious act. But for many women, rebel status has never been a strong deterrent. And in several cases, it has been a great encouragement.

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Powerful women persevered in an industry that had rejected them; take Laphroaig’s Bessie Williamson as an example. She was the first woman to own and manage a Scotch distillery in the 20th Century. She took control of Laphroaig in the 1950s – a time when women were generally expected to stay at home. Being a working woman was already a feat in those days, so imagine being a working woman in whisky! Societal norms aside, Bessie fearlessly steered the Laphroaig ship for two eras and was a driving force behind the success of the brand today.

Other iconic women in whisky include, to name a few: Jessie Roberta Cowan, the mother of Japanese whisky (aka Rita Taketsuru,); and Helen Cumming, the first founder of a whisky distillery. While women seem to finally be getting the recognition they deserve in the whisky industry, they’ve actually been involved since the very beginning.

Cheers to the future

Whisky may still appear to be a boys’ club to some, but many brands are working with women to change this, and the number of qualified female distillers is also on the rise. There is still a way to go, but progress is evident.

Many iconic women have been outspoken about their love for whisky, from the likes of Margaret Thatcher to, more recently, Lady Gaga and Halle Berry. Women who drink and work in whisky should be celebrated, and women who want to break into the industry should be encouraged. The days of whisky being only for the guys are finally drawing to a close.

Here’s to the women who work in and share a passion for the bold spirit that is whisky. May we know them, may we support them, and may we be them. Cheers!

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