Whisky has long had an image problem. And that is the image of stale old men enjoying it from their armchairs. Now there is a cohort of female distillers changing that.
The image has been perpetuated through media and advertising, with many brands continuing the stereotype. Some might even ignore the rise of female distillers and favour this image.
But today things are changing, and Whisky has a massively different image, that includes old and young alike. It is also distinctly more female.
With the image change has come a change in those behind the scenes as well.
There have always been women working in the industry of course, and some pretty impressive ones.
Today we have a whole host of female distillers who are transforming how Whisky is made.
Perhaps the best known of female distillers is Stephanie Macleod, Master Blender at Dewar’s
Macleod never envisaged that she would be working in the Whisky industry when she graduated with a food science degree in 1992. She first joined Dewar’s in 1998 in the research team and quickly become a major player in the brand’s development, working in the lab and heading up a sensory team.
Today she is Master Distiller and she is massively passionate about what she does, “I love to talk about how it’s made, the malt whisky process, and the miracle that two malt distilleries sitting side by side, both using the same ingredients: malted barley, water and yeast — milling, mashing, fermenting and distilling — can produce flavour profiles that are completely different to one another. Scotch whisky is amazing!”
She is transforming how Dewar’s do things and is innovative in seeking out new flavours.
Another big name in the Whisky industry is Rachel Barrie, who has been in the business for over two decades. Like Stephanie, she is one of first women to really break through into the male dominated industry. She has worked for some of the biggest names in the market. This includes Glenmorangie, Morrison Bowmore and now the BenRiach Distilling Company
She is dedicated to the finer aspects of the role, “As a master blender, I have to consider all the ingredients from barley to bottle, all aspects of quality,” she says.
“There has to be a deep understanding of malts, of distilling, of technology. It means sampling lots and lots – never enough though – of casks of whisky maturing in the inventory to decide how best to use that whisky.”
Daughter of Fred Laing, Cara is now the Director of Whisky at Douglas Laing & Co., and before anyone complains about nepotism, she didn’t start off there.
She worked as Brand Manager for Jura at Whyte & Mackay. From here she moved on to work for Morrison Bowmore in marketing. These days, as Director of Whisky, she oversees marketing and production.
Laing is very enthusiastic about the industry, especially the opportunity to work for her family business.
She says, “It has been hugely exciting to join Douglas Laing. It’s the company my grandfather Fred Douglas Laing established 65 years ago this year and my own dad (also Fred) has been growing it since the 1970s. So when the changes in the company began to take place it was the ideal opportunity for me to take the experiences I’ve had in the industry and join the family business. I love what I do and am really enjoying learning from and working with my dad.”
Gibson has not been with Johnnie Walker for long. She has already won the Rising Star Award at the International Spirits Challenge 2017. She is a talented blender who began her career with Diageo whilst on placement.
Gibson describes this time as one of innovation and exploration, “I focused my energy on the impact of different cask types on the whisky maturing within. I then began to explore Scotland itself, and today I see whiskies and the regions they’re from as one entity, each a revealing expression of the other. It was through this placement that I then realised I wanted to become a blender.”
There is a lot more excitement to come from Gibson. She is taking Johnnie Walker into new and interesting realms. Definitely one to watch, not only for her talent, but for the fresh perspective she is bringing to an age old brand.
Jill Boyd, Whisky Maker at Compass Box, was working in a bar when she got recruited to a distillery lab. As such, her career in the Whisky industry took off.
She was the first woman to join the Compass Box team. Boyd recently over seen the release of Hedonism and The Muse. The latter being their limited edition expression celebrating International Women’s Day.
She is keen to encourage change within the industry, “The rules of the past are relaxing, but people can choose to be experimental or traditional. There is an openness to innovation and trying something new, but there is still an appreciation for the heritage in the industry.”