Whisky and Women - International Women’s Day
The love for whisky is an indescribable feeling that possesses billions of people all over the world, but for some, this love borders on the extraordinary, often equated with obsession. Some of these whisky savants take their love a step further to become involved with the production of this magnificent drink itself.
Now for some reason, it has been incorrectly believed that women are oblivious, immune and protected from this feeling. To cast away these misconceptions, what better than a glimpse into the history of whisky itself, and how women have, and continue to shape this beautiful world.
This International Women’s Day, let us pour a dram and raise the glass to commemorate and honor the women who didn’t conform to the norms, and expressed their love for the drink by dedicating their lives to the art of distilling, blending and producing the nectar of the Gods.
Entrusted with the responsibilities of running and nurturing the Laphroaig Distillery by owner Ian Hunter, Bessie Williamson was as involved in the traditions of the brand as the founding family itself.
The Laphroaig Distillery was founded in 1815 Donald and Alex Johnston on the island of Islay and was passed on from one family member to the other with the passage of time. Ian Hunter was the last surviving member of the Laphroaig family who had no next of kin. He decided to leave the secret traditions of this iconic Islay whisky to Bessie, who joined the company as an intern in 1935.
Bessie Williamson became one of the first distillery owners in the business, and took naturally to all the activities with the workers such as peat cutting, and hosting community dances to the tunes of Gaelic songs. She helped spread the word about Laphroaig far and wide, and it was during her leadership that the name Laphroaig began to be known with fondness.
She devoted 44 years of her life to Laphroaig, and the company honors her for all the hard work that she put in to preserve, nurture and augment the legacy of the Laphroaig brand.
A Master Blender is a person who mixes whiskies of different types, ages, maturation and regions to produce a whisky that is truly remarkable, and needless to say, is someone of utmost importance for the drink in your glass. Whether its single malt or a blended whisky, a Master Blender’s work is equally important for either.
That’s the job Stephanie Macleod does with precision, dedication and over a decade of experience. First venturing into the business with Dewar’s in 1998, the love for fine whisky sustained Stephanie’s interest enough for her to rise to the rank of Master Blender, a role she continues to redefine and cherish.
Taking Dewar’s to new heights, armed with a repository of whisky knowledge few have, Stephanie is one of the first women in the world to shatter the glass ceiling and dispel stereotypes that the love for whisky is confined to one gender alone.
Said to have worked side by side with her husband John, Helen Cumming was the co-founder of the Cardhu Distillery in the Speyside, Scotland, who received the credit for her share of hard work in time.
John Cumming used to be a whisky smuggler, and it was in fact Helen who ran the distillery and treated customers to a bottle of their delightful whisky through a window, dodging the curiosity of the police thanks to the location of the distillery on the Mannoch Hill. Helen would pretend to run a bakery, and mask the smell emanating from the distillation by claiming to bake bread.
Not only did Helen Cumming continue to dodge the authorities, distill and sell illicit whisky, but she also managed to flag off the nearby distilleries, biding time by offering tea and snacks to the authorities.
A strong woman who carved her name into the history of the Cardhu brand forever, Helen Cumming has also immortalized herself as a woman who has done her fair share for the love of whisky! Cardhu was later sold to Diageo by Elizabeth Cumming, Helen’s daughter-in-law and now supplies single malts that are used for Johnnie Walker blends.
Called the First Lady of Scotch Whisky by the BBC in an interview in April last year, the tremendous respect she commands and the millions of bottles of whiskies she has helped produce, are the result of Rachel Barrie’s 26 years of experience.
The love for whisky that stretches back to her childhood is what catalyzed Rachel’s journey to becoming the most experienced female Master Blender in the business.
This journey has taken her to Glenmorangie, Laphroaig, Ardmore, Auchentoshan, Bowmore, arriving at Glendronach, Glenglassaugh and BenRiach, three Scottish Distilleries owned by Brown-Forman, where she is currently plying her trade.
Known better as Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka, one of Japan’s largest spirits manufacturers, Rita Taketsuru’s contributions to the world of Japanese whisky making are grossly underappreciated.
Born in the land of Scotch whisky, Rita married Masataka in 1920 and moved to Japan to help him realize his dreams of producing fine whisky in Japan. Armed with the knowledge of the Scots, and a dream to distill whisky in the land of the rising sun, Rita and Masataka opened their own distillery in Yoichi in 1934.
The company would go on to become Nikka Whisky, one of Japan’s largest whisky producers. Rita, who was born Jessie Roberta Cowan, had her contribution to the achievement of Masataka’s dream recognized with Massan, a television series based on her and Masataka’s lives. Japanese whisky wouldn’t be the same without Rita Taketsuru.