Is whiskey really a man’s drink? – Rachel Nolan

Is whiskey really a man’s drink? – Rachel Nolan

Being a woman and a whiskey drinker has a certain stigma but that is all changing.. and fast!

Greta Garbo perhaps said it best when she uttered her very first words on film in the 1930 movie Anna Christie: “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby!”

I believe whiskey is a story of love, passion, craft and heritage and it’s an experience to be shared and explored together. It’s interesting to know that scientifically women have a better sense of taste and smell and we are more open to discovering.

Whiskey, for me, has the power to immediately slow everything down to really get you immersed in the moment. You can’t ignore a sip of it, as it smoothly slips down your throat; the heat hits your stomach and forces you to take stock of what you are experiencing. The taste develops in the mouth and you are left exploring an abundance of tastes from smoky woods to exotic fruits like papayas. Other drinks for me often blend into the background of an experience – whereas whiskey is the experience. I like it for its boldness, for its complexity and what I can discover. Some women pull a face, and express their shock that I want to drink something so strong and “disgusting”, but either they can join me on my journey of exploration or stay with their sugary alcopops- that’s their choice! However, most women do join me and thrill on being assertive in their drinking choice and discovering the unique styles of whiskey. Men are often curious at my choice of drink and I think can feel both intimated and slightly attracted. Is it stepping out of the ‘box’, hitting the ‘strong stuff’, being confident and decisive, exploring the top shelf- I’m not sure, but it can turn heads and always leads to a lot of interesting conversations, yet another reason to love this aged treasure!

Rachel's Irish Adventures Whiskey Appreciation Session

A recent Whiskey Appreciation Session run by Rachel Nolan in Rouse’s Bar, Ballina

Whiskey has a traditional masculine culture rooted in the temperance movement that covered a 13 year era of alcohol prohibition nearly a century ago. Even after the alcohol ban was lifted in 1933, distilleries were fearful of targeting women because of the false image of whiskey drinking women and prostitution. It wasn’t until 1987 that the Distilled Spirits Council of the United Stated lifted a ban on advertising directly to women.

The image and persona of whiskey has drastically changed. The whiskey market is growing fast and the surging number of woman drinking this golden brown liquid is changing the game. The cultural shift of social roles and people’s perceptions of what defines a woman has thankfully changed. Women are now in high powered jobs and although there is still a fight for equal rights in certain industries, we have come a long way!

Marketing Whiskey with Women

A range of factors have given rise to women and whiskey such as the popularity of TV shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire. Woman are going out more to bars with female friends, they no longer desire the girly pink Cosmopolitan we were so seduced to in ‘Sex in the City’. Women are tired of being infantilised when it comes to their drinks; there is a huge return to the classic cocktail culture including whiskey cocktails like Old Fashioned or Julep. Women are now enjoying exploring more complex whiskey styles such as single potstills and strongly peated whiskey and not just whiskey and coke as a last option of the evening. Women like to share experiences and are very vocal about what they like and don’t like. In general, ladies are considered better listeners than men, and more adventurous when it comes to trying new things.

Pot stills

 Pot Stills in Ballina’s Connacht Whiskey Distillery

More and more women hold positions of power in the workplace, and many either out-earn their husbands or remain single with disposable income. According to recent studies, women make up 65-70% of alcohol-purchasing decisions for home consumption.

With media influence also high among females, marketing can have a big impact on the bottom line. This makes them logical targets for both bartenders suggesting brands and sharing knowledge and direct media marketing.

There are lots of examples of female whiskey role models and pop icons that are helping to fuel a new female-driven whiskey renaissance. Let’s take for example the new Johnnie Walker campaign, the world’s sexiest women Christina Hendricks is now the female ambassador for their brand. Lady Gaga, according to the Irish Mirror, has described Jameson whiskey as a love interest and never goes onto the stage without her bottle. Rihanna sings about the spirit and says it’s her drink of choice. Singer Imelda Maye is a fan of Irish whiskey and talks very highly of its craft and heritage.

In a recent article, the CEO of Irish Distillers, Anna Malmhake said ‘Regardless of who’s behind the scenes, one of the reasons that whiskey sales are increasing is because more women are drinking it: they try it, and they like it. Irish whiskeys in particular are very smooth and very drinkable. There is a tradition in this country of distilling three times, and that process makes the end-result very fresh, something which appeals to women. Being in this role means that, no matter what, no one can tell me that whiskey isn’t for women!”

Whiskey in Ballina

It’s been over 8 years since I first had the opportunity to be immersed into the world of whiskey on a professional level. I’m now very grateful to be part of what will be an amazing journey of exploration with the Connacht Whiskey Distillery, a brand new distillery opened up in my home town in Ballina. The visitor experience has a scheduled opening for Easter 2016 and the first batch of production is also to be released around this time . This includes vodka, gin and poitin. We are really excited to discover the creations of our 11 time International award winner, master distiller Rob Cassell and share them with everyone.


Rob Cassell, Master distiller at the Connacht Whiskey distillery

In 2013, there were 4 producing whiskey distilleries in Ireland, Irish Distillers, Bushmills, Cooley and Kilbeggan, there are now 28, including producing distilleries or distilleries in the pipeline. The superior quality of Irish whiskey is renowned worldwide and the market is growing at an outstanding pace, led primarily by the US market. Last year, there was a 20% increase in Irish whiskey sales in the US, and this is set to continue. The main concern will be to have enough whiskey for market, in particular aged whiskey and with this, keeping the quality of whiskey consistant and to its high standard.

So I’ll leave with you with a last bit of advice when it comes to exploring the world of whiskey:

‘Consume in moderation, Enjoy in Excess!’

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