We’ve heard it again and again over the years, decades even;
‘Whisky is a man’s world,’ ‘women don’t drink the stuff’ ‘women aren’t interested in whisky, they don’t have the palate for it.’
Well, boy oh boy were they wrong!
So to celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re going to give a big shout out and champion just a few of the women who have made a real impact in the once male dominated world of whisky. We’d love to write about more of them, but frankly there are just too many.
Let’s kick right off with one of the biggest labels out there; Johnnie Walker – and allow us to introduce you to Dr Emma Walker (no relation to the label’s family.)
Emma Walker – Johnnie Walker
Emma is proud to have the distinguished honour of being Johnnie Walker’s first female Master Blender in their 200-year history. With a Ph.D. in chemistry and 4 years as a project scientist learning the art of tasting and blending at Diageo’s technical centre in Scotland, and the completion of her ‘distilling diploma’ at London’s Institute of Brewing and Distilling, it’s no wonder Emma was promoted to such a coveted position.
Emma says that she hasn’t felt that, working within the industry, there exists a sentiment of male domination. In an interview with Forbes, Emma stated:
” I often get asked about working in a ‘male’ industry, but to be honest, this doesn’t reflect my experience. I have reached the position I’m in through the support I’ve received from amazing people across the industry, and through gaining opportunities to build my experience and capability. Our team at Johnnie Walker has been selected on merit and have grown together, organically reaching an even gender split. There have been many talented female whisky blenders within the team over the years, including Master Blenders for Buchanan’s, J&B Rare and Signature, working alongside our male blenders.”
Annabel Thomas – Nc’nean Distillery
From using organic barley, a biomass boiler to power the distillery, 100% recycled glass for the bottles and woodchips from a nearby sustainable, commercial forest, every element of the process has been carefully considered. Even the waste from the distilling process is used; leftover grain is fed to livestock (who graze the fields of the family farm on which the distillery sits) and their waste is in turn used to fertilise the growing barley. In fact, 99.97% of waste is used or recycled. And where has this incredible passion got Annabel and her distillery? Well, her small team was declared 2022 Best for the World B Corp for environmental stewardship, as well as being declared Icons of Whisky Scotland and Icons of Whisky Global Sustainable Distillery of the year 2021 and Green Awards winner in 2020. Plus, they’ve become the first distillery in the UK to achieve net zero status, some two decades ahead of the Scotch whisky industry target. Way to go Annabel!
Ann Miller – The Dram Queen
With a career as an International Brand Ambassador in Scotch whisky, spanning more than 30 years, Ann can tell you a thing or two about what makes a good whisky!
As one of the first women to be made a Brand Ambassador, Ann has travelled the globe in her role, mainly with Chivas Brothers. She has imparted her in depth knowledge of whisky, both single malts and premium blends, via detailed and tailored training sessions for the company.
Such is Ann’s experience and wisdom of the Scotch Whisky industry, she was made a Keeper of the Quaich. An honour such as this is only bestowed upon those persons who have made a remarkable impact in their chosen field.
These days, Ann offers entertaining but insightful training courses and hosts lunches and dinners, sharing her wealth of knowledge along with some sample tasting. Ann wasn’t even thwarted by the Covid lockdown, as she took the initiative and created a series of online courses the Spirits Club Academy. A true Dram Queen we think!
Dr Rachel Barrie – The GlenDronach
With distinguished names such as Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Glen Moray, Bowmore and Laphroaig (to name but a few) adorning her C.V. no-one can argue that Rachel has barrel loads of experience. In fact, she has more often than not, been responsible for managing a number of distilleries at once. With an incredible knowledge of cask finishing and blending, Rachel has not only been responsible for developing award winning whiskies, but also judges international spirits competitions.
In 2018, Rachel was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Edinburgh, in recognition of her services and expertise in the whisky industry. And, the icing on the cake took place on 7th October 2019 at Blair Castle, where Rachel was made a Keeper of the Quaich.
As we said earlier, there just is neither the time nor room on our website to herald all the women who are making such an incredible impact in the world of whisky. But from us to all of them, we say a big thank you.