Women who whisky: How to succeed in a male dominated industry

Beanie Espey
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George Osborne Freezes Duty On Scotch Whisky In The Budget
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The mere mention of the word whisky might prompt thoughts of tweed and testosterone.

As two women in the industry, my business partner Rebecca Jago and I find it impossible to ignore the generalisation of malt as a man’s game. However, our experience has proven that gender does have an integral role to play in this world – just not quite as you’d think.

The idea that whisky is a drink consumed solely by men is, of course, disingenuous. Throughout Europe and Asia, female whisky drinkers are rapidly increasing in number, and in the UK, the home of Scotch, nearly a third of whisky drinkers are women, proving that gendered notions of whisky are nothing more than perception.

Confucius wasn’t wrong: passion in one’s work is paramount to both enjoyment and success

During a lifetime in the industry, our fathers – James Espey and Tom Jago – launched legendary whiskies such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Chivas Regal 18. Their final venture, The Last Drop Distillers, allowed Rebecca and me to harness our own passion for the industry and now, upon their retirement, we lead the team in the hunt to uncover the world’s finest aged spirits.

With our work on The Last Drop, and my new venture into sherry, we’ve been knocking it back with the boys for a while now, and we’ve learned a thing or two about how to succeed in a largely male-dominated industry.

Scotch Whisky Association Challenges Minimum Alcohol Pricing
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Prioritise passion

Confucius wasn’t wrong: passion in one’s work is paramount to both enjoyment and success, and there are few industries that can rival the conviviality and sheer fun of the drinks industry.

My introduction to Scotch whisky came at a young age, watching my parents don their tartan for the annual Keepers Of The Quaich banquet. Rebecca still remembers the momentous day that the first ever sample of Bailey’s Irish Cream was concocted from whisky, cream and chocolate by her Pa in the family kitchen.

One of the wonderful things about whisky is the passion it generates in consumers, young and old, seasoned and novice. With such a vast array of styles and flavours, there really is a dram for everyone.

Don’t try and go it alone

There’s nothing to be gained from “racing each other to the top”. While some industries may advocate an attitude of “every man for themselves”, people in this industry generally stick together – collaborating, coaching, inspiring, and learning from one other. The conviviality and “fraternite” (mind the pun) is one of the best things about it.

Our work at The Last Drop Distillers begins with seeking out rare spirits in all manner of remote locations – from the lowlands of Scotland to a tiny distillery in the woods near Cognac, and marketing these to luxury markets from Singapore to Texas. The opportunities in this industry are similarly broad and varied, and there are multiple role models to look up to. Rachel Barrie, the world’s first female Master Blender, is responsible for the creation of thousands of exquisite casks, disproving any claim that men may have a superior nose and palate. Annabel Meikle is the leading lady at The Keepers Of The Quaich and has been instrumental in the creation of International Women of Whisky Day – an event that brings together people from all backgrounds, from the curious novice to the connoisseur.

Bruichladdich Produce Quadruple Distilled Whisky
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Play with tradition

Serious headway has been made in debunking the old boys’ whisky club and brands are taking notice too. Mila Kunis now plays the lead in Jim Beam adverts, and Christina Hendricks has asserted the “sexy” elements of a dram as a previous spokesperson for Johnnie Walker.

London’s bar scene has also taken notice, with the likes of Shoreditch’s Black Rock shaking up the spirit’s usual masculine image. With the menu organised by flavour instead of region, it also makes whisky accessible to any novice who can denote whether they’d prefer tasting notes of smoke or fruit.

Perhaps then, the future of malt won’t be shrouded in masculinity and mysticism. The women that both produce and consume this incredible spirit are a passionate, zealous and knowledgeable bunch – and we’ll raise a dram to that!

Beanie Espey is managing director at The Last Drop.

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