By Faye Nwafor
Whisky drinking is no longer just for the boys. Upon entering Whisky Live, a multi-city expo of the finest distilleries from Scotland and Kentucky, I marveled at the sprinkling of women, from quite young to very mature, making their way through the mostly male crowd. The Chelsea Piers venue held an assortment of sampling booths, each staffed with knowledgeable representatives designed to make us all more confident in the business of drinking whisky. I also learned that whisky knowledge had far ranging implications in the business world.
We sampled the fiery moonshine of Maker’s Mark (130 proof), colorless, as it had not been put in oak. Brand rep Amanda Ingram taught us to part our lips when inhaling the spirit. “You get less alcohol and more flavor,” she explained. Lauren Ward of Yamazaki, the oldest Japanese distillery and one who’s samples were uniquely devoid of that smoky or peaty flavor, gave a reason for whisky’s growing significance for women. “People you meet might be whisky connoisseurs. It may be their passion and when you expand your knowledge, you impress them,” she said.
After learning about the sherry casks that gave Black Bull blended scotch whisky its pretty color, I went in search of single malts. As I sampled the 100 proof single barrel and barrel strength from Four Roses, National Sales Manager Patty Holland offered her opinion on women and whisky. “More and more women are drinking whisky than ever before, but women need to know more. A man can bluff way more about [whisky] but women are judged on a different standard,” she explained.
While most will agree the whisky world is still mostly a man’s world, Margaret Lombard-Chibnall, President of Lombard Brands, has run her family’s business featuring aged and rare single malts as well as an award winning blended scotch whisky for 40 years. When asked if women should be conversant in whisky, she was quick and to the point. “Women, women in business should be knowledgeable full stop. They should be knowledgeable of whisky because they drink, too. They should always know what they are talking about.”
A business executive attending the show who we will call Anna is just the type of woman to which Ms. Lombard-Chibnall refers. She has attended whisky Live since its early days when it was held in Central Park’s Tavern on the Green. Both women agree that sampling is important to discover what you like best because taste is so subjective. “The range in taste is huge,” says Anna. “The men I know drink single malts till someone more important orders another, then they drink that one.” Anna attends many business conventions and shares that when she finds herself at the bar late at night, as the only female colleague, her whisky knowledge is something she can share with the men that they do not expect, but appreciate. She explains, “You’re not talking dirty or smoking a cigar when you may be the only woman in the group but you can drink bourbon whisky and you can bond.”
The audience agreed that the spirit is a great conversation point. With wine you may need to know about all the reds and whites and Californian varieties to appease an entire table of guests. With whisky, you find the one that you like. “You are just picking for yourself. There is less pretense about whisky. It is either, I like it, don’t like it, end of story,” Anna says. “I enjoy that it is something you can sip without drinking too much.”
People at the show had their favorites-the light and thin for some, the peatiest for others, and some debated young versus aged. Mostly, people enjoyed learning from the distillers and said they would carry the stories they heard from them to their future whisky conversations-it would be a sort of knowledge they could leverage in the future. Anna is already an old pro at this. Upon receipt of a gift of whisky she had sent to a client, he called to thank her. Noticing his enthusiasm, she offered to put him in touch with the distiller directly, which by the client’s reaction was one of the greatest gifts he had ever received from a business associate.