The Wonder of Whisky

Whisky and women; they’re not words many people put together.  Whisky conjures up images of men with cigars in dusty rooms and open fires.  We know it’s a stereotype, yet people still gravitate to my husband when talking about whisky.  To be fair, his knowledge is pretty decent; he’s a good student!  He hangs in well before politely passing them on to me, much to their surprise.  They haven’t realised the world of whisky is no longer just a man’s game.  

The popularisation of gin has done wonders for the spirits industry.  Whisky has shaken off its dusty jacket and developed a fashionable following.  It isn’t just the consumers whose demographic is changing.  Women now work hand in hand with men across the whisky industry.  With the likes of Master Blenders Stephanie Macleod (Dewars) and Dr Rachel Barrie (Brown Forman), alongside Directors and Distillery Founders, you might be forgiven for thinking women in whisky is a modern-day phenomenon.  However, women have been found heading up distilleries since the 19th Century.  Cardhu Distillery (the home of Johnnie Walker) owes its success to Elizabeth Cummings who in 1885 had the distillery rebuilt, tripling production, and in 1954 Bessie Williamson became the managing owner of Laphroaig Distillery on Islay.

My first whisky experience was in 2001.  I held no interest in this strange liquid but, buzzing from a successful conference I’d attended, I was approached by a guest speaker who’d run a whisky tasting for delegates.  With whisky remaining he offered to run a mini tasting.  Unsure what to expect I dutifully sat down to hear and taste what he had to offer.  There were five different whiskies; we added water, smelled and tasted each one in turn.  I was hooked and eager to learn more.

The world of whisky is much more than just the drink.  The history, beliefs and legends that are ingrained into the very essence of each drop are far greater than you can imagine.  As the production of whisky increases worldwide it seems busy and frantic; however, whisky can never be rushed.  Every barrel of distilled spirit slowly rests, matures and waits.  Three years minimum by Scottish regulations (generally followed worldwide).  Even then whiskies can sleep for many more years before they reach their prime.  Part of the lure of whisky is the world it inhabits, created through the legends and history of each distillery.  Even the new ones understand the importance of their story and tell it with the same vigour and intrigue as those centuries old.

Whisky is an amazing combination of science and art.  From chemical reactions and technology to barrel influences and design.  Whether its success is a marketing triumph or an accidental reality, the magic of whisky is collected and presented to customers in packaging and names echoing its forefathers, increasingly now with a flair of colour and style reflecting the new fashionable drinker, or, are we actually just longing for the stillness of an old smoking jacket and open fire?  

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