`If a woman tastes like whiskey, preserve her!’
From bloggers and event organisers to distributors and distillers, there are plenty of women doing their bit to shake up the typically perceived male dominated world of whiskey.
In his book, Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey, US writer Fred Minnick details how it was women, not men, who were responsible for changing the face of the Scotch whisky industry and turning distilleries into thriving businesses. “Not only did women invent the first stills, but were heavily involved in managing and modernising distilleries to increase their production capacity. “
Notable influential characters, Minnick says, included Elizabeth Cumming who owned the Cardow (Cardhu) distillery in Speyside in the late 19th century, and Bessie Williamson, who owned Laphroaig in Islay in the 20th century. “Among the most renowned are Brenne’s Allison Patel, Bowmore’s Rachel Barrie and Dewar’s Stephanie MacLeod. Today, women have advanced from bootlegging to taking on major leadership roles in the whiskey industry. Women are once again leading the charge on many whisky fronts, be it from a managerial, blending, brand, blogging or retail whisky perspective,” says Minnick. “The future of whiskey is in the hands of women, from both the leadership ranks as well as the consumer ranks,” he adds.
According to Elizabeth Finn, Diageo category director of whiskies in Western Europe, nearly a third (29%) of all whisky drinkers in the UK are women. In fact, Heather Greene, author of “Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life,” and one of America’s first female whiskey sommeliers states, “Women make up nearly 40 percent of whiskey customers in the United States. And women are not just sipping, mixing and drinking it, but they’re making it too. Historically women have played a huge role in the founding, owning and managing of distilleries across America,” Heather asserts. The trend is also noticeable in Australia, where consumption rates of whiskey has increased by more than 50 per cent in younger people in the past five years, states the Roy Morgan Research, Melbourne.
In India’s estimated $10 billion drinks industry, the female consumer market segment for drinks is growing twice as fast as the overall sector, presenting a significant market opportunity as women increasingly step into the erstwhile `gentlemen’s club.’ According to the 68th report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) on Household Consumption of Various Goods and Services in India (2011-12), per capita alcohol consumption in rural India increased by nearly 28 per cent, while that of urban India rose by nearly 14 per cent.
EUCAM (European Centre for Monitoring Alcohol Marketing) states, based on a Reuters report (2013), that while Indians are among the world’s lowest consumers of alcohol, the Indian Government’s Centre for Alcohol Studies found that 30 percent of men and 3 percent of women have at least one drink a year. “It is expected that the women’s market in India will grow 25 percent over the next five years, faster than the 10 percent rise projected for the overall industry,” the report states, adding that while vodka, breezers and alcopop beverages were still among the most popular types for Indian women, global market research firm, Mintel, states that “Indian females are ‘increasingly turning experimental,’ especially whiskey is increasingly popular with women.”
“Women are tired of being infantilised when it comes to their drinks,” says Daniela Walker, food and drink specialist at trend forecasting company The Future Laboratory, UK. “What we are actually finding is that women want their palates to be tested just as much as men. Millennial women in their late 20s and early 30s are embracing whiskey as their drink of choice.” In Mumbai-India, the popular `Whiskey Ladies of Mumbai’ started by a Canadian settled in Mumbai, Carissa Hickling, is a regular occurrence in maximum city. While the`Women who Whiskey’ club for amateurs and connoisseurs founded in New York and now 20+cities, continues to grow rapidly.
Cut to Aneesh Bhasin, CEO-Hipcask, an app which helps you discover wines, beers and whiskies available in the city, with the occasional recommendation on food pairing with the right drink.
A regular expert on the whiskey master class circuit, a recent blind tasting event at Havana where I met him, saw equal number of women whiskey tasters to men, Aneesh agrees that the trend of women loving whiskey is on the rise in India. “I see more and more women appreciate whiskey and single malts. It’s a trend I have personally seen with my friend circle. I think whiskey cocktails could have helped this cause, and also red wines. It is my view that women who do like red wines, would have a good chance of enjoying a single malt as well.” Going by regular invites to whiskey tasting, the women are showing strength in numbers.
Loving his work as much as he loves his whiskey, Robin Coupar, Global Ambassador of Groupo Campari (who was in India to launch Glen Grant, winner of the highest accolades in whiskey—`The Most Coveted Single Malt of the Year under 10 years’ and `Liquid Gold’ awards), believes he has the best job in the world. Throw in his world travels and interactions with women (whiskey lovers), he would not swap it for anything on the planet, he tells me.
Acknowledging that the emerging female whiskey consumers across the industry is a welcome trend, Coupar credits the growing (women for whiskey) numbers to “her heightened sensory ability in tasting notes, and greater olfactory ability to detect notes. Women are wired differently from men in taste, smell, touch and intuition. With higher disposable incomes and a greater sense of independence, women have grown in their own right. They are competitive, educating themselves and moving beyond social barriers. So many women I know are world famous bar-tenders and are very good at it. They have moved beyond stigma and social boxes. We too are investing effort to create an appreciation for whiskey by connecting it with our (Glen Grant) rich history and stories. Then you are in their head and mouth,” Coupar laughs. Strategically positioning Glen Grant to Indian consumers (and women) who are always looking for `something new,’ Coupar believes his brand of whiskey, combined with a sense of luxury is perfectly suited for Indian tastes and temperaments.“There is nothing more sexier than a lady who knows her drink and holds her whiskey,” he adds. We agree!!
Images: GQ, Google
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