Who runs the world? Girls.
Those famous words (from the lead single of Beyonce’s fourth album) were the first to land at the end of my fingertips as I jotted down notes from the panel discussion at the Beam Suntory’s “Women of Whisk(e)y” tour held at Down House. The evening was centered around four leading ladies who are trailblazers in the more male dominated world of whiskey. I was honored to be in attendance for many reasons including the fact that I am personally a whiskey drinker, these ladies are rock stars, and their insight into the early days of whiskey production and women’s involved and impact through Prohibition would definitely make for interesting conversation.
These ladies, coming from various countries around the globe, were taking their show on the road and it would be the first time they would meet (although you would have thought they were best friends already). Victoria MacRae-Samuels, VP of Distillery Operations, Maker’s Mark Bourbon; Vicky Stevens, Visitor Centre Manager & Global Ambassador, Laphroaig Scotch Whisky; Tish Harcus, Ambassador & Historian, Canadian Club Whisky; and Stella Lacken, Irish Whiskey Ambassador, Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey, represented their areas of Bourbon, Scotch, Irish and Canadian Whiskies, respectively.
The panel involved a combination of storytelling and whiskey tasting (in both cocktail and straight up form). Yes, the whiskey was outstanding but the stories were the highlight of the discussion. For example, Tish, who has been with Canadian Club for 26 years, spoke about the use of whiskey in her home growing up and retold stories of how whiskey and hot toddy’s were the answer to everything including a toothache. I was also intrigued by her discussion on how women’s interest in whiskey has peaked and why. Did I mention that she is the only women with keys to the distillery and can sample whatever she wants, anytime? I want that job!
I wouldn’t be reaching far if I stated for the record that Vicky was the reason Laphroaig has won awards for having the best distillery visit/tour in the world. Vicky, who also grew up surrounded by whiskey, shared the history of Laphroaig and I was surprised to learn that it was sold in America as a prescription back in the day! Her stories of women in Scotland working as rum runners in order to feed their families captivated the entire audience. I also learned that I could become a “Friend of Laphroaig” and receive a foot or so of land on the property. Sign me up!
Stella is as cute as a button and I loved the fact that she was such a champion for her company and most importantly, her Irish heritage. And that was the number one reason why she took on the opportunity with Kilbeggan. And after hearing her share that Kilbeggan was at the center of one of Ireland’s worst political scandals in history, I was interested to hear the back story, but more interested to learn how they were able to revive the brand after so many years.
After the panel, I attended the Kipper Club dinner (a pop-up test kitchen concept) held in conjunction with tour. The 5-course meal was prepared by D&T Drive Inn head chef Mara Serna and cocktails were paired (using whiskey from all four brands, of course) by Treadsack’s Leslie Ross and Jessica Goldstein. I sat next to Victoria during dinner and our conversations ranged from the wonderful Maker’s 46 to mentoring and its impact on an individual’s career. We discussed the recommended way to taste whiskey and the story behind the development of the Maker’s Mark brand including its recognizable hand-dipped red wax bottles and their consistent use of water during production; which is feed from Bourbon Lake that surrounds the distillery. Victoria is the “head honcho” in operations and is responsible for the selection of the grains all the way to taste testing. I can’t wait to visit Kentucky.
I highly recommend you try Laphroaig 10 Year Old, Maker’s 46, Canadian Club Sherry Cask, or Kilbeggan and I hope that the ladies turn their Texas tour into a nationwide tour real soon. To learn more about any of the whiskey brands, please visit their websites.