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Issue 56 - Welsh wizard

Whisky Magazine Issue 56
June 2006

 

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Welsh wizard

Gillian Howell is a rarity – a female whisky distiller.Another example of how Welsh distillery Penderyn is different. Richard Woodard reports

I don't think it's stretching the truth to suggest that whisky tends to be a maledominated world.

You don't need to be Germaine Greer to see that women are, shall we say, rather underrepresented in the higher echelons of the distilling business. Marketing? Sure. But the sharp end at the distillery? A man's world through and through.

There are, no doubt, all kinds of historical and socio-economic explanations for this. The handing down of skills from father to son, the physical strength required to move casks from A to B, not to mention the sheer lack of opportunity afforded to women in any industry in the past.

But however you slice it, women distillers are about as rare as… well, they're about as rare as Welsh whisky, in fact. So it's somehow appropriate that The Welsh Whisky Company, distiller of Penderyn, the first whisky produced in the Principality for more than a century, should be training a young woman in the arcane arts of distillation.

If this was a Jeffrey Archer novel or a Hollywood mini-series, Gillian Howell would have overcome all manner of obstacles to fulfil her childhood dream of running a still and bottling her own whisky, hand-crafted to her own special recipe. But chemistry graduate Gillian, 26, is refreshingly honest about her lack of whisky knowledge and passion prior to joining the company two years ago.

“After leaving uni, I really didn't know what to do,” she says, echoing the dilemma of many a graduate. Like others before her, Gillian put...

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