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Issue 128 - Women, Whisky and Wort

Whisky Magazine Issue 128
June 2015


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Women, Whisky and Wort

Making the cut in the whisky business

The whisky industry can often be viewed as having a more masculine slant. From advertising featuring strong, male characters brooding over a glass of whisky on the rocks, to films where the hero shoots back a shot of the hard stuff, the wider world often sees males enjoying this fine drink. In turn, it can be said that many people also still think of it is as male-dominated industry, and an oddity for women to be associated with it, whether as consumers or producers.

The truth couldn't, in fact, be further from this. Women have been a part of distilling and brewing for millennia, even credited with inventing the first alembic still in Egyptian times (and, long before that, brewing beer). In medieval times, women ran numerous successful breweries and became known as brewsters – an important factor since one needs to make a quasi beer before distilling can take place. It was claims during the times of witch hunts in the 16th and 17th Centuries that this tradition started to die off – women who brewed or distilled were frequently labelled as witches, which led to many beginning to practise the art of making aqua vitae in secret.

In the 1800s, Helen Cumming and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth ran Cardhu distillery. It was a time when gaugers roamed the hills, finding people to fine for illegal whisky making – and it was Helen who continuously outsmarted them, in order to sell her whisky in the local area. Elizabeth continued the business successfully, tripling the distill...

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