Every time I express my love for whisky to others, I inevitably get comments about how hard it must be to try to belong to such a men’s club. And every time, I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes and flipping my hair in a fast motion to express my discontent. What people don’t seem to get, is that for every old bearded man corresponding to the cliché of the whisky drinker, there are many well respected women working in the industry.

 

Actually, women have always been instrumental to the development of alcohol, whether pioneering brewing for the first time or setting up some of the greatest whisky distilleries. Bessie Williamson is the perfect exemple of that intrinsic link between female developers and the popular brown spirit. The daughter of a clerk who was killed fighting in World War One, she was on holiday for the summer on Islay in 1934 with a friend and applied for a summer job working as a shorthand typist at the Laphroaig whisky distillery. She rapidly rose through the ranks, first by managing the office at Laphroaig, then taking on additional management responsibilities when owner Ian Hunter suffered a stroke in 1938 and turning her into a legendary figure in the history of Islay’s whisky industry.

 

Bessie Williamson

 

You can also think of Helen Cumming from the Cardhu distillery, who was well known for her prowess at evading alcohol taxation, or even Rita Taketsuru from Kotobukiya’s (later to become Suntory). Facts are there. You can’t deny women were and are still a hugely important part of the whisky world. These days, many brillant and passionate ladies office as ambassadors for established brands, demonstrating that sipping whisky was never about gender.

As an example, Jamie Johnson’s career as a notable voice in the whisky community, who joined in 2017 the team at The Balvenie as the Canadian Brand Ambassador and has recently joined an elite group of whisky experts following her completion of the prestigious General Certificate in Distilling.

“I was incredibly fortunate as I was studying for my General Certificate in Distilling when I was travelled to The Balvenie distillery in Scotland where I saw first-hand how our whisky is made. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has not only helped me achieve my General Certificate in Distilling but has also added to the tastings and conversations I have with people across Canada. One of the best things about my role is that I am always learning.”

 

 

 

“Passion, flexibility and knowing your audience. Passion is something that cannot be taught; it’s palpable, and people respond to it. Knowing and believing in what you are saying takes a tasting from “good” to “amazing”.You never know when your tasting will go from 20 people to 5 people, or the other way around so it’s imperative to be flexible and to tailor to the people in front of you.  A great Brand Ambassador can read a room like a book. It’s important to listen to your audience and cater each tasting to them specifically; presentations are never one-size-fits-all.”

“There are so many things that I love about my job, but I feel incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to travel across Canada, meeting new people and teaching them about the wonders of The Balvenie. I also believe the relationship The Balvenie has with seasoned and new whisky drinkers alike is unique to us and we appeal to whisky drinkers on every level.”

 

Beth Havers , photo by @frombarreltobottle

 

Another notable ambassador in the industry is Beth Havers, who has been the Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador since 2011. She fell in love with whisky after visiting Talisker’s distillery and started out in sales at a well known spirits distributor, learning as much as she could about wine and spirits. She decided to apply for a William Grant and Sons Ambassador position with the Peter Mielzynsky Agency (PMA). When you speak to her, you quickly understand that she shares the same passion as Jamie for what she does.

“I never worked in another industry than the beverages one, even at university. I was always very passionate about the subject, and it grew even stronger after traveling. In your early twenties you are drinking different things and I happened to fall in love with whisky that way. I visited my first distillery in Scotland and started learning as much as I can about the subject. I didn’t go there to learn about whisky, but I just happened to fall in love with it while I was there. When I came back, I started working for another company in a similar type of role than what I do now. I worked there for six years before getting hired by my actual employer. And I am still passionate about Glenfiddich as I was on my first day with them.”

Like any successful and dedicated brand ambassador, Beth is allowed to share her knowledge with a new generation of drinkers, with a large portion of it being women.

“I never stop but it is a lot of fun. You are always meeting new people and there is never a dull moment. This is the best kind of job to be in if you are social and looking for that kind of fast pace. There is never a day like the other. I am lucky enough to be able to talk about my passion, and for me, connecting with people and explaining all these facets and getting them to understand about whisky simply increases it”

“It is also interesting to notice the growing interest of people for whisky. Across Canada, people’s knowledge regarding whisky have been increasing. Everybody wants to know more, especially with social media and everything. As a nation, we are very curious people and just want to learn as much as we possibly can.”

She also had an important part to play in the creation of Winter Storm, the third Experimental Series expression by Glenfiddich (you can learn more about it here). She is the one who proposed the idea of using icewine casks to finish the Glenfiddich 21-Year-Old to malt master Brian Kinsman, and also the one who called Craig McDonald, VP of winemaking at Peller Estates Winery, who loved the idea. And the rest is delicious boozy history.

 

Seriously, what men’s club?

 

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