When it comes to drinking alcohol, the stereotypes abound – and certainly the marketing is clear, women are supposed to enjoy sparkling wine, fruity cocktails and the latest flavoured gins. Men on the other hand, drink beer and scotch, with the more expensive whiskys being the preferred tipple of the rich man at the end of an indulgent evening.
However, the stereotypes are far from reality these days. An increasing number of women, even younger women aged 20-30 are firm whisky drinkers – more than a third of whisky drinkers in the US and nearly a third in the UK are women.
Just as whisky drinkers are breaking through the stereotypes, those who make it are becoming more diverse – with an increasing number of female distillers having successful careers in the industry.
Welsh whisky company Penderyn holds a special place – they have won awards left, right and centre since they first started distilling in 1999 (including picking up a cool 6 gold metals at the recent World Whisky Masters). However, remarkably for the industry, their distilling and blending team is female.
Proving the claim that ‘women have better noses than men’ when it comes to detecting aromas, the Penderyn distillery team are flying the flag for Wales. They have individual responsiblities but the all-female team meet together regularly to nose new batches of spirit & whiskies.
Laura Davies, the Distillery Manager looks after the day-to day running of spirit production. She recalls her interview:
“At the interview our Chief Executive asked, ‘Do you know much about whisky?’ When I responded that I didn’t he said, ‘Well, this is Dr Jim Swan, one of the leading whisky experts in the world’. For the next hour or so Dr Swan took me through a fairly comprehensive nose and taste test to determine if I had the ability to conduct sensory assessments on our new make spirit, maturing spirit and finished products. I could barely speak I was so nervous but thankfully Jim saw some potential and went on to become my mentor for the next five years.”
Penderyn’s Blender Aista Jukneviciute is responsible for deciding when whiskies have matured – a job that is the envy of many men around the world. Aista says she loves to see customer reactions to the finished whiskys:
“The most satisfying part of the job is working together with our great colleagues, meeting customers and whisky lovers all over the world. It’s so rewarding seeing peoples’ reaction on trying our whisky for the first time and they clearly love it.”
Trainee Distiller Bethan Morgans, the newest member of the all-female team is from nearby Aberdare and gained a BSc (Hons) in Public Health Nutrition at the School of Food in Cardiff Metropolitan University. Bethan loves her role:
“Working in a distillery is exciting and unpredictable and gaining some hands-on experience is the best way to prepare you for the role of a distiller.’
The company have recently expanded their range in the USA, and are one of Wales’ best loved success stories – thanks to their team, who pride themselves on quality.
“The detail of the day-to-day running of the distillery is where you can really make a difference to the quality of the product,’ said Laura. ‘The best results don’t always come from textbooks but from experience and experimentation – don’t be afraid to think for yourself.’
Image credit: Penderyn Distillery