Women in Whisky - From Scottish Pioneers to Today's Bloggers and Influencers

There are several women who were pioneers that saved the distilleries through innovations and made an impact in the world of whiskey. Let’s take a look.

Women enjoying the rarest Single Malts, discussing the spirit's development on the Asian markets, creating extraordinary menus accompanied by the liquid gold and writing books about it – nothing unusual anymore, even the most conservative chap in the last hidden corner in the land of Nessie will acknowledge that the age of men in whisky is over and women have successfully entered this long-standing masculine domain.

But is it really a completely new development or have there always been women in this high-spirited world? The simple answer is yes, there have. In fact, the role of women in the history of Whisky is not to be underestimated. They were active in the 19th century in Scotland, Ireland and the USA and acted as pioneers who saved distilleries through innovation and with their sense for business. Others simply made their own whisky to be able to feed their families when their husbands were at war.

Names like Bushmills, Laphroaig, or Johnnie Walker owe a great deal to these women who shaped the landscape of the water of life.

Let's have a closer look at some of these remarkable women:

Bessie Williamson started out as a temporary secretary at the distillery Laphroaig on the Isle of Islay in 1934. She soon took over other duties and when the owner Ian Hunter suffered a stroke, she earned the manager title. During her 40-year long career at the distillery, she had a great influence on production and marketing. She always put people before business and even saved several of her employees from being drafted during World War II. She was responsible for the victory of the peated Single Malt, she paved the way for smoky Whiskies like Bowmore or Lagavulin. Under her leadership, Laphroaig's sales expanded into Canada and New Zealand. Her wit, passion, and farsightedness led Laphroaig into a new era.

Bessie Williamson

Image Source: ScotchWhisky.com

Marjorie Samuels was the research and development director for bottling at Maker's Mark and the co-founder of the brand in the 1950s. At that time more or less all Bourbon bottles on the market had the same look, shape and the labels were nothing exciting.

Marjorie SamuelsEager to change this she completely reinvented the Maker's Mark bottle and created a design that helped the brand stand out. Her idea was to create a bottle that reminded the drinker of Cognac, sublimely giving the Bourbon a French touch, a hint of elegance. In her basement, she started experimenting and came up with the idea of a square bottle, a hand-crafted label and bright red wax dripping down the sides of the bottle to seal the cork. This new design revolutionized the liquor packaging industry. Samuels also waned the distillery to be more visitor friendly and open to the public. She wanted people to learn and experience what Bourbon is and how it is made. So, she initiated the popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which till today is one of the state's most important tourism features.

Image Source: Whiskycast

A fierce lady named Elizabeth Cumming was the owner of Cardhu at the end of the 19th century and sold the site to William Grant to build a distillery with three times the capacity. 20 years later she sold this one as well to John Walker & Sons. This distillery allowed them to create the basis for their famous Blend “Johnnie Walker”.

There are numerous other women who made an impact and paved the way for Single Malt, Whiskey, and Bourbon as we know it today.

And it comes as no surprise that also today some of the most interesting jobs in the Whisky world are obtained by women.

One of them is Georgie Crawford, who has been heading Lagavulin for over 7 years is project manager at Port Ellen, the cult distillery who might reopen its doors. She grew up in Port Ellen, knows the place, the people, the whisky and who would be better suited to such an adventure.

Georgie Crawford

Image Source: Adventures in Whiskey

There are more and more Whisky shops set up by women who cater to a female clientele, quite a big number of Whisky blogs are written by women these days. They all have one thing in common: they are less technical than Blogs by male Whisky enthusiasts and professionals. Not storage conditions or production steps are being discussed, but the lives of the people behind the product, their stories and the passion that drives them. Adding this new dimension to the understanding of whisky is an important factor to grow the number of female Whisky enthusiasts and also to remind them that their place in the world of Whisky is not only welcome but it has always been justified.

Header image source: Cognis News

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