Women and Whiskey: Reclaiming a Lost Tradition

Why is it that whiskey is so often associated with masculinity? Promoted as an extraordinarily ‘manly’ choice of poison, the liquor has almost come to symbolize a virility that society insists all men covet. This is clearly an arbitrary marketing ploy, especially when you consider that women comprise 37 percent of the whiskey drinkers in America today.

Men seem to have dominated the whiskey-drinking scene in mainstream media. What does Mad Men’s famous Don Draper conjure up in your mind? Why, a smooth Old Fashioned or a Canadian Club, of course. Although the showreflects a common old boys’ club mentality attached to whiskey consumption rather aptly, few realize that women have been at the forefront of the whiskey industry since the beginning of its existence.

Tracing History

In fact, Maria Hebrea, an alchemist from second or third century Egypt is credited with the invention of one of the earliest versions of a still. This contraption’s design set the stage for more modern versions of the device. The alembic still continues to be used in certain regions in Europe for brandy and whiskey distillation, and the foothills of Appalachia where brewing moonshine still prevails.

In the 18th century, too, women were in charge of the whiskey-making process. It was the norm to use whiskey medicinally, as a cure for all ailing. Distilling whiskey in the kitchens was as domestic a practice as cooking a pot of stew.

Whiskey distillation among women only developed a social stigma during the Prohibition years, when brewing, drinking or selling it connoted prostitution. Women also became instrumental in repealing Prohibition laws. Although we have come a long way since then, residues of a cultural unease continue to persist.

Let’s try to shatter the hold some negative myths still have on women regarding whiskey consumption. Here’s taking a look at only a few of the women who proudly choose whiskey as their top choice of liquor.

Whiskey Extraordinaire

What do Ava Gardner, Janis Joplin, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Christina Hendricks, Hillary Clinton and Mila Kunis all have in common? An affinity for the ‘water of life’ that is whiskey. (‘Whiskey’ comes from the Gaelic ‘uisce beatha,’ which translates as such.)

Ava Gardner is famously quoted to have claimed, “I wish to live to 150 years old, but the day I die, I wish it to be with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other.”

“My campaign drives people to drink,” said Hillary Clinton, pictured downing a shot at an Indiana pub, which led to plenty of delightful Internet memes. (And this was only the 2008 campaign.) Last month, the Washington D.C.-based Republic Restoratives even named a new line of whiskeys after her.

Lady Gaga’s love for Jameson Irish is no secret either. It’s what has fueled tremendous sales numbers for the brand.

“I drink a lot of whiskey and I smoke a lot of weed when I write,” she says.

Today, there is a resurgence of women in whiskey distillation. Women have proliferated the industry again, and it is only fair that we attempt to give them the credit they deserve.

Cheryl Lins is the sole figure behind Delaware Phoenix, a distillery in in Delaware County, New York. She brews a mean corn whiskey as well as bourbon, rye, and a wheat-based whiskey aged in barrels.

Allison Patel, the owner and founder of the award winning Brenne Whisky, launched a career in spirits after giving up one in ballet.

Michter’s, a now slick Pennsylvania distillery was resurrected from a shuttered ruin that may have well been the oldest in the nation. Pamela Heilmann was hired by the company in 2015. She left her postas master distillerat Beam’s Booker’s plant— the world’s largest bourbon distillery-- to pursue this opportunity.

Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, California is run by an all-women distillery team. Co-founder and former head-distiller Ashby Marshall mentioned this to have been a “happy accident.”(People) get excited when they find out it’s an all-female production team,” she said.

In light of this inexhaustible range of contributions that women have made in whiskey production worldwide and through the times, it is time we did them justice. Let us at the very least, stop implying that whiskey typically reigns mainly among men.