We can pretend all we want that men and women are treated equally in society but in reality, the truth is very far from it. Given that a few decades ago it was worse and education has alleviated the situation a bit, but ask yourself, has it really made a huge difference in the lives of women across the world? It may be hard to eradicate century-old practices and beliefs that feed misogyny, patriarchy, and violence but it would be great if things moved faster. For instance, ask any woman the number of times bartenders have assumed they’d order anything but whisky-- maybe whisky-based cocktails at most, but no way can she order whisky on the rocks. Well, here’s bursting that bubble—she can. Women can like any liquor and whisky is in no way an exception. It’s not a man’s drink. On this Women’s Day, let us abandon such false notions.
Having established that, let us examine how the Prohibition Era saw a rise in the number of women who not just bootlegged whisky but also crafted their own moonshine. Without taking away Al Capone or Bill McCoy’s credentials, let us give women like Texas Guinan, Henhouse Bootlegger, Moonshine Mary, and Esther Clark what they deserve. If your ideologies prompt you to be pro-prohibition, you will be disappointed to know that a few of these incredible women bootleggers shaped the direction of the protest movement as well as the future of moonshine. However, not everyone can truly appreciate these criminal-minded geniuses for they have broken laws and murdered men. In fact, Moonshine Mary did kill a man in cold blood for providing her with bad liquor. Meanwhile, federal authorities found over 5,000 dollars cash on Mary White when she was peddling moonshine. The ‘queen of bootlegging’ title though should be claimed by the infamous Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe. She was a majestic-looking American who could easily be mistaken for a Russian. Cleo had connection to a British liquor distributor and license to sell in Nassau, Bahama. At first, she bootlegged using The Real Bill McCoy’s boats but there was very little money to make there. So, she started commissioning her own boats. This is when U.S. authorities began tracking her, but unlike all other bootleggers, she enjoyed the limelight and spoke to the media frequently. Men, from the Bahamas to the United States fell for her and wrote to her but Cleo, the woman who was worth a million dollars knew that she didn’t need a man to tell her what she should be doing. She preferred both her independence and her means of making money.
While we are there, this Women’s Day, let’s also make a conscious effort at respecting all professions. Over the years we have all seen how specific kinds of work are looked down upon. Domestic help or cabin crew members, particularly if women, have often been subjected to adverse statements. But just contemplate, where would we be without them?
Now let’s get back to where we started—Women’s Day and whisky. Every year, The Birmingham Whisky Club organizes an event to celebrate International Women’s Day. From tasting unique drams to meeting phenomenal whisky women like Rita Taketsuru and Ellen Jane Corrigan, you could do a lot and we think a visit to the event might be very rewarding. In case, you aren’t very social, you could always sit at home with a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey and Netflix The Peaky Blinders.
If you are a woman and looking for something new to do this Women’s Day, take a leaf out of our book and join the ‘Women Who Whisky’ Club. It’s liberating to be a part of a club that is only for women—like-minded, whisky-loving women.
Next time you settle down with your dram, raise a toast to Bessie Williams, the first woman to manage and own a scotch whisky distillery during the 20th century.