A new age is dawning on the whiskey industry - revolutionizing the marketing, changing the face of the spirit, and the customer base. A new ingredient has found its way into the luscious recipe of barley, wheat and water. And it's women.
The whiskey industry is as old and as rich in history as the world itself and indeed, was as slow to embrace the female into its ranks as was any other business of note, ever.
Hard alcohol as a singular entity has never been very fond of the woman, whether as producer, seller or consumer, and certainly not as connoisseur. Not until now, in this modern age, have we recognized that women can drink whiskey; do drink whiskey; and will continue to do so, regardless of precious states or fuzzy heads. While it’s never been considered a lady's drink, and while the clearer spirits have always been much more geared to the world’s female population (can we say vodka, seltzer, lime?); the women of today’s world are finding themselves no longer receptive to the stereotypes bequeathed them over the last how many centuries.
During World War II when the majority of male bartenders were away at war, women were finally allowed behind the hallowed enclave for the first time to pour pints and mix cocktails. To the utter amazement of the American population - they were able to do it, and many even liked it! Initially instructed that they would have to leave their posts once the "real" bartenders returned, many of these ladies devoted themselves to retaining their gigs once the men returned, spurning a large debate countrywide as to why they shouldn’t remain back there, having done so well while the men were away.
Between religious blows, world wars and government decrees - whiskey has had a spotted love/hate relationship with the modern world and has only in the last 100 years stabilized into a very wealthy and extremely lucrative industry. It was however, and still perhaps is, a man’s business.
A quick Google search will tell you all you need to know about sexism in the whiskey industry. One of the first websites that comes up, realmendrinkwhiskey.com, is labeled as the third most authority on whiskey in the Google directory. But what does that say about the whiskey consumership in a broad sense today? As it turns out, nothing.
In the 70 years that have elapsed since then, women, in defiance of gender roles, stereotype and misogyny have remained firmly behind the bar and have come a long way from their previously tentative and frugal relationship with alcohol.
I’ve spoken to two singular authorities on the state of whiskey in the U.S who estimate that a percentage as high as 40% of their consumers are women, and that number is only due to rise. Females are denying the bespoke image of the suited male connected to the golden liquid - the bearded man bun with his neat rye; the wealthy grandfather in his study holding his peaty scotch. Gone are the days where white men are targeted solely as drinkers of the liquor. In fact, Glenfiddich’s most recent ad depicts an African-American daughter recommending the single-malt to her father, in an appeal to those minorities left behind for years as a target audience. Modern whiskey does not discriminate, it is unanimous, all-encompassing - leaves no man or woman behind.
Enter Jen Wren, West Coast Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich, and Jane Maher, U.S Brand Ambassador for Tullamore Dew, two women changing the culture of the industry from within.
Jen, who came from an acting background right here in NYC, says there was never a moment she felt as a woman that she couldn’t crack the whiskey business. To fight the stereotypes, she took to task those who still remained backward thinking when it came to women in the industry. While she is still shocked and surprised by things said to her as a woman at industry events she is adamant that gradually things are getting better, because misogyny on any level is no longer tolerated by the women who are populating the whiskey world, in the U.S at least.
Jane, coming from an Ireland still on the back foot in this regard; where in many pubs and bars throughout the isle you’ll find men devoutly placed behind the sacred counter, and women serving the beverages in the lounge area, tells SWAAY the U.S is the leading authority on women in the business, and the rest of the world is slowly following suit. She considers the organic shift that is happening in female consumers from other spirits or alcohols in general, to whiskey, has something to do with its refined taste, and in Irish whiskey especially, its smooth, triple distilled finish. Whiskey in reality is a lot easier to drink and more approachable than previous generations have depicted.
"Whiskey is changing, modernizing, and looking to direct their innovation at this emerging group."
In addition to Mila Kunis being the new face of Jim Beam, brands like Jack Daniels and Jameson are marketing directly to women, with new campaigns for the Jack Daniels Honey and Jameson Ginger Lime geared towards those sweeter toothed female drinkers.
Jameson's Chief Executive Officer, who is said to have the finest single malt scotch in her desk drawer, is surrounded by other incoming women liquor execs, like Jane and Jen - all of whom are paving the way for more inclusion and diversity in what has been inherently structured and marketed a man’s business for not only centuries, but millennia.
Clearly, there is no longer room for the forgotten female in the industry nor in the whiskey sector. These ladies are in it for the long haul, and so are our newly refined palettes.
Mid December with the holiday season on the horizon and having read too many pieces about social media addiction, I was ready for a break. Every time I reached for my phone, I had a Pavlovian instinct to click on the Instagram icon and that's when I knew it was time.