Women in whisky: 10 best bottles
We round up the female founders, blenders and distillers making waves in the spirit world
Whether it’s the drinkers, the makers or the shakers, the world of whisky has historically been heavily dominated by men.
Until now. We’re showcasing a handful of women tearing up the rulebook and making their mark in this section of spirit land.
“We are slowly but surely drifting away from all the nonsensical stereotypes of who the whisky drinker is and how whisky should be drank, and this is where big opportunities for women will happen,” says Emily Chipperfield, whisky expert and trainer at Nuala Bar, London.
“As a young female bartender, my two biggest challenges are to gain my guest's trust when recommending whisky, because I do not represent who they envision a ‘whiskey expert’ to be, and then to make them feel comfortable exploring the world of whisky freely, without getting trapped by preconceived ideas.”
So how does Chipperfield recommend drinking whisky and what would she recommend to a whisky novice?
“A comment I get all the time is ‘whiskey is too strong’. When I ask them what other spirits they drink neat, the answer is often ‘none’. If you drink your gin with tonic and your rum with coke, why are you trying to force a 40% spirit neat?
“Cocktails are a great gateway for people who really don't believe they could get into whisky, as great cocktails are about balance of flavours. It is getting pretty hot in London and I've been obsessed with heavily peated whiskies with coconut water and lime. You can still taste the whisky and its smoke but it is so refreshing. Highballs and mizuwari have been trending in bars lately, and they are an easy, simple way to get people into drinking whisky in a way they can also replicate at home.
“Overall, whiskey as a category needs to be freed of all its ‘should’ and ‘can't’. Drink your whiskey the way you would enjoy any other spirit.”
The following bottles have all got women on the team – whether that’s as distillers, blenders or in one of the many other functions behind the scenes. The team at food, drink and travel website Crummbs put these drams to the test, looking for drinkability, value for money and that special something to make it stand out from the crowd.
Dewar's 12 Year Old The Ancestor, 40%: £31.87, Master of Malt
Stephanie Macleod is Dewar’s master blender and one of only a handful of people that guards the secret recipes for its award-winning whisky. If you like your spirits smooth, this is a great bottle to try. It’s double aged for that very purpose, meaning it’s given an additional six months to mature – expect warm, buttery notes of fudge and melted caramel.
Brenne Cuvée Spéciale French Single Malt Whisky, 40%: £55.95, Master of Malt
Allison Parc is the founder of Brenne whisky and something of an entrepreneur in this field. Working closely with her French distillers, she’s created a single malt made with barley grown in Cognac, France. It’s double-distilled and matured in oak casks, delivering a wonderful sweetness on the nose. Expect an unusual flavour profile of caramelised sugar, ripe bananas and spice. You can find out more about Parc over on her blog, The Whisky Woman.
Douglas Laing Scallywag, 46%: £37.84, Master of Malt
You’ll find Cara Laing doing everything from tasting cask samples to mulling over architect drawings for the new distillery, but the part of her job she’s most passionate about is marketing. The whisky itself is a small batch, made up of a blend of Speyside malt whiskeys including Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes, among others. It’s sweet but spicy with a touch of vanilla. In case you were wondering, the dog on the bottle pays tribute to a long line of fox terriers in the Douglas Laing family.
Johnnie Walker Black Label, 40%: £22, Amazon
Despite the shared surname, Emma Walker has no family ties to the Johnnie Walker brand. She’s an expert whisky blender with a background in chemistry and her favourite way to drink Johnnie Walker Black Label is in a highball or with ginger ale and ice. This bottle is a blend of whiskies from around Scotland that have all been aged for a minimum of 12 years. You should be able to taste rich dried fruit, a definite smokiness courtesy of the European oak sherry casks it’s housed in and, to finish, a touch of creamy toffee.
Compass Box Whisky Hedonism The Muse, 53.3%: £240, Master of Malt
Compass Box released this limited edition bottling after discovering a mysterious cask of pre-blended grain whisky, which, after tasting, they simply couldn’t resist using. Expect a beautifully well rounded dram full of marzipan, honey and vanilla. It was bottled at cask strength of 53.3% ABV – a nod to the fact women now make up more than half of the Compass Box team. The label is a further celebration of women, thought to be the first ever on a scotch whisky to feature the female form.
Toulvaddie Distillery Year 1 Cask, 70 litres: £2,000, Toulvaddie Distillery
This was first scotch whisky distillery to be founded and run by a woman, Heather Nelson, in over 200 years. Production at the micro-distillery still in its infancy, but if you want to get your hands on a piece of history, you can fork out the two thousand pounds for a first year cask containing 70 litres. It will be kept safe for you at the distillery and you’ll get to decide when you’d like it bottled. One for real whisky aficionados.
The Macallan Sienna, 43%: £79.80, Master of Malt
With over 10 years in the whisky business, Joy Elliot is now brand ambassador at Macallan. Her favourite whisky from the range is the Sienna, for its “layers of smooth vanilla, spicy orange and chocolate” and “lovely, warm, spicy finish”. To create this special flavour profile the vibrant orange-hued whisky is aged in Spanish sherry oak casks. Check out her blog, Miss Whisky, for more myth-busting when it comes to women in the world of whisky.
Mackmyra Brukswhisky (The Swedish Whisky), 41.4%: £42.83, Master of Malt
Mackmyra is Sweden’s first whisky distillery and Angela D'Orazio is at the helm in her role as master blender. We love the simplicity of Mackmyra’s branding and this freshness continues inside with a delicate, crisp aroma. But don’t let the nose entirely deceive you – the spirit has a complex palette with creamy vanilla and warmed red fruits, yet remains easy-drinking.
Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky Sherrywood, 46%: £27.50, Waitrose Cellar
Welsh whisky outfit Penderyn is proud to have two female distillers on the team – Aista and Laura, who are from Lithuania and Cardiff respectively. Smooth as a baby’s bottom, it’s matured in ex-bourbon barrels, providing sweetness on the nose, which gives way to candied citrus peel and spicy ginger. It seems like we’re not the only ones impressed. Sherrywood picked up Gold at the prestigious Meiningers International Spirits Awards ISW in 2017, and also Gold at the Spirits Business World Whiskey Masters 2017.
BenRiach Cask Strength – Batch 1, 57.2%: £55.96, Master of Malt
Master blender Rachel Barrie looks after BenRiach, GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh whiskies, having built up her experience at Glenmorangie, Bowmore, Laphroaig and Glen Moray. In that time she estimates she’s tasted over 150,000 casks. Bottled at natural strength, the nose offers toasted oak coupled with ripe fruit whilst on the palette you’ll find a touch of coconut and velvety honey.
The Verdict: Women in whisky
If you’re new to the world of whisky, we think Dewar's 12 Year Old The Ancestor represents great value for money. It’s supremely drinkable both neat and in cocktails and has a complexity that belies the price.
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