Right folks – have you got drams at the ready? Because I have a lot of incredible women to raise a dram to this International Women’s Day.
Earlier in the week, I ran Part 1 of this series, speaking to women in the whisky industry about what whisky inspires them and what woman inspires them.
In Part 2, I speak to a second group of incredibly awe-worthy women.
So, I invite you to sit back with a dram, read through their stories and think of the women in your life that have pushed you to be a better person. If you are keen to share who they are, then you could win a bottle of Bowmore whisky (details of how to do so follow at the end of this post).
And above all else: happy International Women’s Day!
I am most inspired by Bowmore’s complex waves of flavour, ebbing and flowing like the tides. One of my latest creations, Bowmore Tempest IV has effervescent waves of citrus and ocean spice, tempered by warm ripples of smooth vanilla and wispy smoke. It’s like being out on a boat in the ocean waves, with bracing sea air, ocean spices and salty drizzle sharpening the senses and clearing the mind. As you get closer to shore, the bright sun breaks through the clouds bringing a satisfying warmth, rewarding you with sun-drenched fruit and vanilla sweetness.
This sensory adventure reflects the passion I feel about life right now, embracing both the storms and the calm. I love taking my glass of Bowmore outside whatever the weather and allowing its wild and magical beauty to unfold. Whether I’m by the sea, a deep loch or at the top of a mountain ….it makes me want to dance in the rain at the height of the storm, then enjoy its soft fruity warmth as the storm passes.
From my time working in the world of whisky, I have been most inspired by the lady who first introduced me to the Sensory Science of whisky, Sheila Burtles. Sheila was the Sensory Scientist at Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research (now The Scotch Whisky Research Institute) when I started there as a Research Scientist in 1991. Like me, Sheila was a trained chemist and had an incredible passion for Scotch whisky flavours. She developed the original Scotch Whisky Flavour Wheel in 1979 alongside Dr James Swan, the world-wide renowned whisky expert, who first employed me as a young chemistry graduate at Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research. She was the first lady to recognise my talents and was my mentor until I left Pentlands in 1995 to join the ‘real’ world of whisky production.
Jameson Original inspires me – it’s a timeless classic appreciated for its smoothness and mixability that appeals to the tastes of both men and women. As a company Jameson has overcome a lot during its 233 years of production, from wars to Prohibition. Although Ireland is experiencing a massive recession Jameson and Irish Distillers is boasting double-digit growth in many markets. I am inspired by the taste of the whiskey, its history and the company behind it.
And, there are two women in my life who have inspired me.
The first is my grandmother who worked incredibly hard as a nurse to support her five children. She has taught me that through hard work and perseverance women can achieve anything in life.
Secondly is my mother. She’s a massive advocate of female empowerment. It was her decision to send me to a Loreto sister school where the ethos is adopted from the founder Mary Ward that “Women in time will come to do much”. I grew up surrounded by books by Betty Friedan and Simone DeBeauvoir. She recently went back to college to complete a degree in English. She graduated last year with an honours degree from Trinity College Dublin. She has always encouraged me to be the best I can be and not to let anything hold me back. She is also a fan of Irish whiskey, which encouraged me to pursue a career in the whiskey industry.
Balcones distillery as a whole always evokes some sense of awe, but especially the Brimstone and Rumble Cask Reserve expressions (I know, RCR is not whisky but it deserves recognition). The complexity of flavors matched with the rich, chewy texture gets me every time. Compass Box is also very inspirational to me – in both the quality of what they create and the creative niche that they carved out for themselves under the very traditional umbrella of the Scotch world. I am moved by both of these company’s ability to bring innovation into the whisky industry not just for the sake of being different, but to expand upon and further push the envelope of what whisky can be.
For their hard working attitudes, grace under pressure, compassion and showing the world that you can be a strong and have confidence in what you do and who you are without without the presence of an ego, Hillary Clinton and Beyoncé. For living a full life to the best of one’s ability and for finding the strength and courage to work through the obstacles and challenges that life throws at you, my grandmothers, mom and sisters. For their genuine support, knowledge and true passion, I’m greatly and constantly inspired by my whisky sisters!
Femke Sijtsma: Whisky Blogger:
The whisky that inspires me is whisky that’s not available yet – there are upcoming distilleries everywhere, which are confident there is enough room for more variations. These distilleries are willing to take a challenge, a big step. That’s a bit like me: I started a whisky blog, to start an adventure in a world mostly dominated by men. So it’s the whisky being created at this moment, that just can’t wait to be born and that’s something to admire.
The woman who inspires me most is Aletta Jacobs who lived from 1854-1929 in the Netherlands. She was the first Dutch woman to take classes at a university and to complete a medical degree, becoming the first female Dutch doctor. She went to Amsterdam after her PhD to work as a general practitioner and held free consultations, gave courses and introduced the diaphragm for birth control.
Aletta Jacobs is one of the most famous Dutch representatives of the first wave of feminism in history. The fact there had to be a fight for women’s suffrage comes also because of her since the law originally imposed an income limit before you could vote; because she was a doctor, she fulfilled this wage limit, and used her right to vote!
The life of Aletta Jacobs was dedicated to the improvement of the position of women. I’ve got the deepest respect for her strength. She still inspires women to be strong and fight for their rights.
Helen Stewart: UK Brand Manager, SMWS:
Whisky itself is inspirational – whether looking at the industry itself or mulling things over with a dram. But I do love whiskies that surprise you…those that keep you on your toes, that keep you guessing, that challenge preconceptions – the rogues of the whisky world. Those whiskies are inspirational little devils!
Continuing with the ‘shock’ factor, the very first woman to inspire me was British fashion designer Vivanne Westwood. Her ability to design clothing that shaped the 70s punk scene, inspiring a whole generation along with her maverick attitude that set out to ‘put a spoke in the system’. She encouraged people to love art and strongly believed that culture could save the world. She was quite clearly an icon of her time, still managing to juggle marriage, motherhood and a spot of political campaigning.
The whisky that inspires me is Uisge Beatha: the water of life, the nameless whisky of the past, the homemade drams from farm stills. I am inspired by the whisky in a jug that was placed on the dinner table as part of the natural fare of the day, as intrinsic to life as milk from the cow. This whisky was made in places such as Daill Farm and Tallant Farm, in Islay. This whisky of the past inspires me, because I see it as a whisky of the future; I see a future of home distillers crafting private whiskies to share with friends and neighbours.
The woman who inspires me most is Scarlett O’Hara. There are other women whom I admire more, such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Amelia Earhart and Helen Keller. But Scarlett O’Hara inspires me. She is a fictional character created by Margaret Mitchell in the famous American novel, Gone with the Wind. Scarlett has gumption, cheek, passion; she was practical, she took responsibility for people and most importantly she never gave up. She is an eternal optimist; her words, and the last sentence of the book are, ‘After all, tomorrow is another day.’ I just know that Scarlett would have been a whisky drinker!
Kat Presley: Whisky Blogger:
So far on my whisky journey, Balblair has inspired me. There’s a sense of romance there for me from the way it’s made through to the beautiful location of its distillery.
The story of the current bottle design really captured my attention. The shape of the bottle is that of a large pebble found in the local stream. Then the raised scroll shape is an old Pictish symbol taken from the Clach Biorach standing stone which is close by, and which acted as an Iron Age/Mediaeval sign post telling passers-by what natural resources were abundant in the area. This particular symbol represents an abundance of herbs.
But there’s more to this drink than just drinking it. There’s a magic that brings people together to share their love of their favourite drams and each distillery has wonderful stories to be discovered.
My Thai grandmother inspires me. I was born and raised in Thailand and lived in a 4-bedroom house with running water and electricity, a rarity in the area.
My grandparents didn’t have much growing up. With no education job prospects were limited. To survive and feed their eight children they picked through litter to find plastic bottles, glass and aluminium cans to sell for recycling. From this humble beginning my grandma worked hard and saved up to buy the bit of land that the house I lived in as a child was built. She looked after me when my parents separated when I was a toddler as my mum worked full time.
My grandfather was an alcoholic. When he was drunk he was very unpredictable. I remember I used to hear him smashing things and shouting and swearing at my grandmother, threatening her on occasions.
But with everything my grandmother went through she was never bitter about her past and didn’t let it dictate her life, which is what I find inspirational. It humbles me and grounds me and every time I think I’ve got it hard, I remind myself that she went through far worse to give me the chance of having the life I have now and I am thankful for everything she has done for me and my mum.
The whisky that inspires me really changes depending on mood. I use whisky as a reference point in time, the flavours help me pinpoint a particular moment: who I was with, what I was feeling etc. I often use these flavours as a form of escape from everyday life. It is incredible when you think of where they arise from – how they slowly develop as the whisky slumbers inside the cask – itself acting as a raconteur relaying its story to you as you take that first sip. One of our whiskies that really sticks in my mind is 26.77 ‘Church Pews and Hymn Books’ – a 27year old from a refill bourbon cask; the overwhelming perfumed and waxy notes are truly inspirational with beautiful memories of people I’ve shared it with to match.
All the other women in the whisky industry that have been part of my journey over the last three years inspire me: my peers. When I first started at The Society, Annabel Meikle was like a beacon of shining light in between all those green iconic bottles; Laura Hay, who is now working with Pernod Ricard in Australia and Rachel Barrie who was present at one of my first tasting panels. These are but a few of the women who I look up to, who I strive to become – every one going above and beyond to represent our nation’s finest spirit.
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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.