I was asked today if I knew of any whiskey brands named after women. The questioner mentioned Four Roses, which is a stretch.
There certainly have been women in the industry, though not many. There are a few famous cases pre-Prohibition of women taking over the family distillery after their husbands died, but as managers not distillers. (In many cases, their husbands weren’t distillers either.) Mary Dowling, who ran Waterfill & Frazier, comes to mind. Agusta Dickel similarly helped run George Dickel for many years after George’s death. But much like the Jewish families who owned distilleries but never put their names on the labels, there have been many unsung women in the whiskey biz.
In modern times, Rachel Barrie of Glenmorangie has the title “Whisky Creator and Master Blender.” Jill Jones is the executive in charge of all production at Brown-Forman, including Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve.
Craig Beam, master distiller at Heaven Hill, has no sons but two teenage daughters and he hopes at least one of them will want to carry on the Beam family tradition.
I’m 60, so I’ve watched this business for a long time. My mom drank nothing but bourbon her whole life as did many women of her generation. Women not drinking whiskey is the more recent phenomenon, but in the last ten years or so the pendulum has swung the other way. I teach a ‘whiskey 101’ class and frequently women outnumber men among the students. I taught a bourbon class last night and I believe there were 5 women out of 13 students. Three were with guys and the last two were with each other. Often in the classes I get groups of 2 to 5 women taking the class together, and their numbers equal or exceed the number who come with male dates. They are invariably young (under 30), as are most of the students in my classes.
Ten years ago, women were rare at whiskey events of any kind, unless they were working, and 90 percent of the women who did attend did so with male dates. But today, among young adults, there seems to be very little difference between the genders in their interest in whiskey. At least that's so here in Chicago.