This Friday, I am asking all of you to do just one thing: raise a dram to an inspiring woman in your life.
You see, it’s International Women’s Day – the one day of the year where all women get celebrated in all of their glory and during which more awareness is raised by global charities (such as the fantastic The Girl Effect) about the disparity still faced by young girls and women in all countries.
In honour of the day, I went to the whisky world to ask some of the fantastic Whisky Women two simple questions: what whisky inspires you and what woman inspires you?
The responses have been inspirational and I have had so many I want to share that the piece will be spread over two parts.
I hope the stories and responses below hit a chord with you. Be sure to read to the end to find out about a great competition with Bowmore to celebrate!
So many! Most of the time I fall in love with single cask of whisky. Last week, I found a bunch of wonderful 1st-fill 3 year-old smoky quarter casks here in the Bodås mine. Oh my god! Then there is Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Ardbeg, an older Tomintoul and Glengarioch – rich in aromas and style with great fruitiness. Or Compass Box, Penderyn, Amrut… but the list is long.
Inspiring or not, women in the business are few. Martine Nouet is an inspiration with her lovely food pairings. A pioneering whisky lady of the past, Bessie Williamson at Laphroaig, must have been a strong business woman at times when there were even fewer woman than today.
Outside of the business it’s easier: the late Nina Simone was a truly inspiring artist, while on TV role models are Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres who are both good, fun and compassionate journalists and the Swedish/Greek journalist Alexandra Pascalidou for the same reason. And my mom, for always having a tremendous compassion for people in need.
The whisky which inspires me is Teacher’s. The reason is this: William Teacher was a feisty man who stood up for his beliefs – he nearly ended up in jail when a young man as he got on the roof of the cotton spinning mill where he worked holding a Chartist Movement flag, fighting to improve the social and economic conditions of the industrial working class.
He then started working in a small grocery store, married the lady boss’s daughter and turned it into a thriving wines and spirits business. He created a dynasty, but also kept to his own moral ethics ensuring nobody left his ‘dram shops’ drunk – adhering to strict rules about not serving intoxicated people and prohibiting anyone treating his friends as this too led to people drinking too much. Both are interesting concepts today when we are looking at drinking in moderation.
My heroine is Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan activist and politician who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
Like all heroines she isn’t perfect but she did a great deal to promote democracy in Kenya and persuade the Kenyan government to consider the wealth and importance of its bio-diversity and its land. She founded the ‘Green Belt Movement‘ planting trees of peace. This provoked a great deal of criticism as she deliberately chose controversial sites and she was jailed by the government in 1992.
Sadly she got embroiled in some rather weird exchanges about Aids and was, she said, misquoted when she was reported as saying that Aids was ‘deliberately created by western scientists to decimate the African population’ She refuted this in a statement in Time Magazine in 2004.
I met her before she died in 2011 and found her truly inspirational. I know many Kenyan women who see her as a role model.
Martine Nouet: Food and Whisky Writer and Chef:
Whisky inspires me: the making of it, the people, the drink’s flavours, the way it arouses sensations and creates images which feed my writing. The inspiration stands more in moments and situations, like when I opened a little flask containing a wonderful 40 year old Glenglassaugh matured in a sherry cask. I did that in a cinema where I was enjoying Verdi’s opera Aïda which was broadcast live from the New-York Metropolitan. It filled the air with wonderful fruit cake aromas so powerful that people sitting noticed it! Amazing and amusing.
My first inspiration is my granny who was the sweetest and gentlest person I have known. But she was so laid back and my grandfather bossed and bullied her. I was revolted by that behavior and it certainly sharpened my awareness of gender role early on. This is also why I am inspired by the complete opposite: the character of Carmen in Bizet’s opera. Incredibly ahead of her time, that fearless, strong and free woman lives life to the brim and refuses to be imprisoned, either by law or by a man. Like me, she is a ‘free electron’.
Johanne McInnis: Whisky Blogger:
I work in the field of project management, which can be difficult. I will often come through the door after a long terrible day and want quiet time, medication for my headache, a hot bath and a whisky. I will go to the whisky shelf and stare at every bottle until one inspires me to pick it up. Almost like: “OK guys, who is the lucky one tonight?” It’s rarely the same.
I pour a good double, sink into the hot bath, plug in my ear buds and let the music and whisky take me away on a mental journey. By the end of that bath I have emptied the Glencairn and noticed the headache is gone. Thirty minutes with a whisky can do that. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is?
If you are as lucky as I have been, I have had a plethora of women who inspired me along the journey of life. I carefully picked one after the other. But something kept nagging at me, something a very dear friend said to me about two weeks before she died of cancer. She said I should allow myself the time to look at my own life and realize that everything I have survived and done is as a result of my own strength, determination and stubbornness. She held my hand and took me back almost 20 years to when her and I first met; she made me stop that day and look at my own life, look at everything I had done so far and where I was going next. I cried.
Sometimes, especially when we are younger, we become so busy in our own lives that we may not take the time to stop and look back for just a moment and appreciate how far we have come. My life was never easy and I doubt it ever will be. But I know one thing: I always believed in myself, even when some of the people I thought were important to me did not. I had days when I didn’t think I could put one more foot in front of the other or where I didn’t know where the next $20 would come from for diapers [when I was raising my daughter as a young, single mother]. I never gave up on me, ever. I am proudest of myself for that. So, in honour of my dear friend Susan Flagel who I lost on June 6th 2011, I will say here and now: I INSPIRE ME.
I love different types of whisk(e)y depending on the location, occasion and those I’m with. But the offering from Compass Box inspires me. Their approach to whisky, from the liquid, to the packaging and the company ethos, is imaginative and engaging. Great King Street was introduced to me a year ago by Chris Maybin and I always have a bottle in my drinks cupboard. Secondly, The Balvenie Tun 1401 range, particularly Batch 5, which are created by Malt Master, David Stewart, who has worked in the industry for 50 years. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of the Batch 5 last year and it’s stunning. I find both the whisky in its flavours and complexity as well as David – who after 50 years is still being creative and innovative – inspiring.
I think the lovely Georgie Bell from SMWS is doing a pretty damn good job at educating people around the world about whisky and flavours at the moment. I take my hat off to her.
Nicola Young: Whisky Blogger:
There are so many but the one that stands out for me is Glenfiddich. It’s true what the Whisky snobs say: it’s everywhere and because of this the drams are commonly overlooked at the bar. But Glenfiddich’s core range is iconic, it still enjoys being fully owned by a Scottish family (the Grants), and year after year produces a superb range of exceptionally well balanced whiskies. It’s a reminder of my Scottish or Scotch foundations and heritage, and I can find it behind any bar. It does make me proud to love this truly inspirational dram.
The woman that inspires me has to be Rachel Barrie. I don’t think I have ever seen such passion and drive in one person, regardless of profession – it’s just very fortunate for the Scotch industry that she chose Whisky as her passion and profession. Her natural flair for commanding an audience with her electrifying enthusiasm is inspirational to watch.
Rachel is spreading the love of Morrsion Bowmore’s brands and Scotch Whisky to the world, and importantly, she is paving a very wide route for woman to aspire and reach the top of the whisky career ladder.
Rachel truly does inspire me and I hope the Scotch Whisky industry can nurture and allow other bright and enthusiastic woman to rise to the top.
* * *
Tune in on Friday – International Women’s Day – to hear stories from more whisky women, including Rachel Barrie herself!
Want to win a bottle of Bowmore Small Batch Reserve and a Jo Malone candle? Then email your stories of the women that inspire you to email@example.com by the 22 March. The most inspiring story will win the whisky & be published on Miss Whisky while a runner up will win a 35cl bottle of Bowmore 12 year old and have their story shared.