Inspiring women in the whisky industry

International Women’s Day falls on 8th March, and to celebrate, SWE team member Louise Durham has gathered a list of women in the whisky industry who have helped make it great, and such an inspiring one to work in.

“If, when tasting your dram, you find vanilla, maybe some sherry notes, and just a hint of gender stereotype, you are not alone. But, this traditionally ‘masculine’ drink has been exposing itself to more of a female influence, dating all the way back to the earliest years of whisky. In celebration of International Women’s Day, this is a very short, by no means complete list of women in whisky who help keep the industry going.

Heather Nelson

What better way to start a list of influential women in whisky than with the first women to have solely founded a distillery in over 200 years? Heather Nelson is the founder – and distiller – of Toulvaddie Distillery, beginning production in 2017 in the Highlands.

“Whisky has always been perceived as a Man’s drink, and it really isn’t. By starting my own distillery, I hope to help break down the barriers.”

Helen Cummings

While women are quickly coming to the forefront of the industry, it just wouldn’t be fair to say that they have never been involved. When Cardow, now Cardhu Distillery was bought and founded in 1811 by John Cummings, partner Helen was a huge part of the then-illicit distilling. It’s largely accepted that although John was convicted 3 times by 1816, it would actually have been Helen who was doing the distilling. By 1872, it was Helen and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth, who own and run the business, and officially trademark Cardhu.

“Neighbours watch for a red flag flying at the Cumming’s home, Helen’s sign an excise officer was lodging with them.”

Susan Morrison

Bringing whisky and tourism together at the helm of The Scotch Whisky Experience, Susan has been with the business since the doors opened in 1988.  Celebrating the 30th anniversary this year there is no doubt that the last three decades have seen an incredible thirst for Scotch experiences throughout the length and breadth of the country.  As an Edinburgh hub for everything “Scotch”, the spiritual home for Scotch whisky and home to the world’s largest collection there can be no doubt that her efforts have helped inspire millions of visitors from all over the globe.

Karen Somerville

One of the most interesting things about whisky, I find, is the collectability of it all. Before we can even get into special bottles, there is an inspired kind of merchandise. Karen Somerville founded the Angel’s Share Glass company – a whisky-specific glassware company. During the maturation part of the whisky production process, the whisky evaporates at a rate of about 2% a year, lovingly referred to as ‘the Angel’s Share’. Karen based her initial products on this, most notably and artistically, creating glassware in the shape of an angel, with a small measure of whisky on the inside. This beautiful kind of ornament adds an imagery to the myths and legends surrounding whisky production. Not only that, the Angel’s Share glassware has grown massively into a well-respected, high-quality producer, and now Karen has won a Chamber of Commerce award for her entrepreneurship.

“There are more opportunities nowadays for women to get involved and the industry is not as male-dominated as it once was. It’s definitely an area where women can flourish.”

Jane Walker

Johnnie Walker is a brand known the world over. The ‘Striding Man’ is perhaps one of the most recognisable images in the industry. So, in order to celebrate all the women above, the countless women for which we could never provide a full and complete list, the women in history who paved the way for women now, Johnnie Walker have released their equal, female counterpart – Jane Walker. She comes with her own logo as the ‘Striding Woman’, and debuts on the already-award-winning Black Label Edition. Not only are they creating the bottle, they are donating a fixed amount for every bottle produced to female-focussed charities, country-depending. Women who already drink the Black Label can have a bottle with a closer representation of themselves gracing the bottle, men who have had enough of the ‘Striding Man’ can add a little more diversity to a collection they may have, and anyone can drink whisky.

“Jane Walker is a symbol of empowerment for all those on the journey towards progress in gender equality.”

Here’s raising a dram to International Women’s Day! Sláinte mhath!


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