Women and Whisky - Toast of the Season

Women are making their presence felt in all arenas today. Interestingly, women and whisky are bonding. Again.

By: Pushpanjali Banerji, Brand Director, Kyndal Group 

Posted on: July 8, 2015

Long Island Iced TeaA lot of what was retro is back in fashion and happily, whisky is one of them. Today the amber drink is the choice beverage in the hippest bars across the globe. In India too, the figures indicate its growing popularity – between 2004 and 2013 the whisky segment grew at a rate of 13.8 per cent annually, according to the International Spirits and Wine Research (April 2014). No longer is it associated with ageing men from the family portrait. Lovers of flavourful spirits from across the spectrum, including women, have embraced it. 

So what makes whisky such a universally loved drink today? The fact that some of the myths surrounding it have debunked has helped. For instance, “on the rocks” is not the only way to enjoy it. Several cocktails, including the popular Long Island Ice Tea, use whisky. Also, as women claim their rightful place by the bar counter, they’re discovering the pleasures of this drink for themselves. And finally, every whisky has its own character, which tantalises the palate in different ways. 

It’s actually quite surprising how whisky acquired the reputation of being a man’s drink. Social taboos around consumption of alcohol kept women away from drinking publicly in India, and the West. But, historically, women have been involved in preparing the drink, and enjoying it too. Today they are as much aficionados of whisky as men.

It is said that the first still, a contraption that is used to produce distilled spirits, was made by a woman from Egypt in the second or third century. This tool provided a template for stills of modern times. Then again, in early colonial days during the 18th century, women used to distill whisky in their kitchens as medicine. It wasn’t uncommon to find matrimonial advertisements for brides with the know-how to distill. 

Cutty Sark in IndiaAfter a few centuries, women are back to making whisky – even blending it. Elsewhere, as they consolidate their positions in arenas like business and governance, they’re also warming-up to the drink as consumers. For Indian women, the growing preference for whisky I think is a way of them standing their ground. They come in, have a few drinks, and know when to stop. 

This is a departure from earlier, when women were not welcome in bars. There was a strong association between women drinking or serving whisky and prostitution. Though most of us today are not aware of this association, it could help explain how the cultural unease lingered.

Few women are choosing a job as a blender in the liquor business and Kristeen Campbell, Master Blender at Cutty Sark, is one of the five women master-blenders in the world! From her I learned a secret or two about what goes into blending the fine whisky. 

Whisky can be described in many different ways — full bodied, boisterous, sherry sweet and many more. 

Cutty Sark is a mix of malt and grain whisky. Malt and grain are individually processed into spirits in distilleries and are stored in wooden casks, or barrels, to mature for a minimum of three years. 

Highland Park is another premium brand and one of the gold standard malts. It is a whisky, which exudes balance and complexity in every glass. It is renowned for its delicious sweet taste and gives a warming silky mouth feel. Highland Park is known to be the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt-whisky.

The Macallan which has built a reputation as one of the world’s leading single malt whiskies is my other favourite. It has been recognized for its outstanding quality and taste above all else.

Interestingly only oak wood is used in the making of the casks and barrels in which the spirits mature. It is selected for its toughness and is also easy to work with. Oak casks prevent leaking yet are porous and allow oxygen in and out. A transformation happens to the oak as a result of the seasoning and heating treatments during the process. Oak also adds to the taste and aroma of the spirit by providing characteristics from the cask like vanillin, oak lactone (coconut, bourbon character), toastiness, wood sugar and colour.

A “hard drink” like whisky used to be preferred over white spirits or wine because men liked to get high on it. Over time, people are realising that spirits can be enjoyed for their bouquet and palate. This is the case with a blended whisky like Cutty Sark as well. 

To fully enjoy the drink, Kristeen recommends you “nose” the drink before tasting it. Begin by taking in the scents from the rim of your whisky tumbler. In the case of Cutty Sark, you’ll catch fresh and enticing notes of vanilla and citrus fruits. The palate is clean, balanced and lively with vanilla ice-cream and caramel. This is why anyone can enjoy a glass of Cutty Sark, not only men in smoking rooms! 

Whisky with ice. Whisky on the rocks

Whisky is reinventing not just as a drink to enjoy by itself, but to compliment cocktails and other beverages. I took Kristeen’s suggestion and tried it with apple juice, a splash of soda, and thoroughly enjoyed it. You could also drink it the old-fashion way – neat, especially after a meal. Adding a little water to it opens up the flavours. 
Indian whisky enthusiasts can revel in all of these facets of the drink, this summer. Cutty Sark, which is rated among the top10 blended whiskies globally, was launched in the country by Edrington Kyndal India, earlier this year. This brand has a revolutionary legacy since it was launched in the 1920s. For the first time in Cutty Sark’s history, the drink is being bottled away from Scottish shores, for the Indian market. Cutty Sark can now be shared, gifted, and indulged in, without the wait for a trip to duty-free! 

The writer is the brand director of Kyndal Group, is an independent alcobev company which imports, manufactures and distributes premium spirits in the Indian sub-continent, the Far East and Middle East. She is also actively involved with EBG (European Business Group) and represents Kyndal group at Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC), the apex body of the wine and spirits industry in India.

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