Good Spir­its

Women are tak­ing to whisky in larger num­bers and ever more so­phis­ti­cated ways. June Lee dis­cov­ers that the long-held stereo­types no longer ap­ply as she delves into the nu­ances of the dram

T. Dining by Singapore Tatler - - Contents -

Why more women are tak­ing to whisky in more so­phis­ti­cated ways

Events like The Bal­ve­nie’s se­ries of sen­sory work­shops tar­get women’s greater ol­fac­tory pow­ers

“Ien­joyed gin be­fore whisky,” con­fides cel­e­brated pas­try chef Jan­ice Wong. Nowa­days, whisky is her night­cap of choice. Wong got into whisky around six years ago through friends and af­ter spend­ing more time in Ja­pan. She ob­serves that, among her 30-some­thing age group, there’s been a change from wines to cham­pagne to cock­tails—and that whisky has played a part in that evo­lu­tion. Now she’s in high de­mand for col­lab­o­ra­tions with her­itage brands such as The Ma­callan to in­ter­pret whisky flavours for a new gen­er­a­tion of im­bibers.

With hun­dreds of flavour com­pounds from age­ing in oak bar­rels, whisky is a mat­ter of taste, not gen­der. But for decades, the rem­nants of the “old boys’ club” and the “bour­bon sum­mit” men­tal­ity broadly made al­co­hol con­sump­tion the prov­ince of men— out­side of the home, that is. Scot­tish whisky, with its trap­pings of power and elitism, served to en­force the so­cial sta­tus quo, de­spite a long his­tory of women as dis­tillers and own­ers.

“There have al­ways been women who en­joyed whisky—my grand­mother was a whisky drinker for many years—but there was un­de­ni­ably a stereo­type that whisky was more for men,” notes Matthew Fer­gus­son­stew­art, Glen­fid­dich’s re­gional brand am­bas­sador for the Asia-pa­cific re­gion who is based in Sin­ga­pore. “Ten years ago when I started run­ning whisky tast­ings, my au­di­ence would have been 80 per cent mid­dle-aged men,” he says. “To­day, my au­di­ences tend to be much younger—and around a third of them are women. I’m quite con­fi­dent that this will con­tinue.”

While lo­cal sta­tis­tics are dif­fi­cult to come by, Mathieu Mus­nier, the gen­eral man­ager of im­porter-dis­trib­u­tor La Mai­son du Whisky, sees the times chang­ing. “We have been in Sin­ga­pore for 12 years now,” he shares. “When we first started our re­tail front, whisky pa­trons were mostly gen­tle­men. Now, we see a grow­ing num­ber of fe­male pa­trons, es­pe­cially at our bar, Mai­son du Whisky.” More tellingly, when the com­pany in­au­gu­rated Whisky Live Sin­ga­pore in 2010, only a hand­ful of fe­male guests at­tended the event. “Over the years, we have seen dou­ble-digit growth in fe­male at­ten­dees at Whisky Live Sin­ga­pore. Last year, we saw the largest num­ber of women—we es­ti­mate 25 to 30 per cent of guests,” he adds.

A Nose for Com­plex­ity

From a re­cent whisky sale, Diageo Sin­ga­pore found that roughly 30 per cent of those in at­ten­dance were women, and among this sam­ple, 35 per cent of them drank whisky at home at least once a month. Notes bar­tender ex­traor­di­naire Aubrey Sim, now the re­serve brand am­bas­sador for Diageo South­east Asia: “It’s not so much about a par­tic­u­lar flavour pro­file that women are grav­i­tat­ing to­wards nowa­days. Women to­day are very much more ad­ven­tur­ous about mak­ing their pref­er­ences known, and we see that in their ca­reer and life­style choices.”

As more in­no­va­tive and ex­per­i­men­tal styles of whisky are re­leased, there are more nu­ances to dis­cover in each dram— and this has al­ways been a strong point. “Women gen­er­ally have a more dis­cern­ing nose than their coun­ter­parts,” says Mus­nier. “The ex­cit­ing part about whisky is that no two whiskies are ex­actly the same. The ex­plo­ration in­trigues.

Adds Fer­gus­son-ste­wart: “There’s a stereo­type that women will pre­fer a more del­i­cate whisky, like a Lowland sin­gle malt or an Ir­ish whiskey, and that men will pre­fer some­thing much bolder, like the peaty Is­lay style. Frankly, I think this is non­sense—and the con­de­scen­sion that comes with this as­sump­tion is a large part of what his­tor­i­cally led women to avoid whisky.”

He also be­lieves that women have greater ol­fac­tory pow­ers than men, and one of the best fe­male fo­cused events Wil­liam Grant and Sons had de­signed was a se­ries of sen­sory work­shops in Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia for The Bal­ve­nie, for which its brand am­bas­sador Neil Stra­chan worked with a per­fumer to ex­plore con­cepts around nos­ing and tast­ing.

“The com­plex­ity of whisky and the ex­pe­ri­ence from nose to taste are un­like any other spirit,” says Elaine Seah, who shares more than a love for a good dram with her hus­band Matthew Fer­gus­son-ste­wart

Women with Taste

The wise and witty Pa­tri­cia Brit­ton, who runs wine and spir­its store Le Vigne with her hus­band, Lewis Mitchell, re­mem­bers what it was like be­fore the cur­rent whisky re­nais­sance. “When I first started out in the spir­its in­dus­try in the 1990s [gasps], women drink­ing whiskies was very rare—per­haps a whisky and soda or a whisky and Coke,” she tells. “These days, it’s fan­tas­tic to see the ladies en­joy­ing their whiskies neat or on the rocks, and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the myr­iad choices out there. I have cer­tainly seen an in­crease in ladies who pur­chase whiskies for them­selves.” But Brit­ton has no plans to for­mally or­gan­ise women-only events. “I en­joy speak­ing and sell­ing to cou­ples who ap­pre­ci­ate each other’s se­lec­tions or taste,” she says with a smile.

Trudy Tan, a cer­ti­fied pub­lic ac­coun­tant and whisky con­nois­seur who dis­cov­ered the bev­er­age in 2008, has seen her pas­sion grow in leaps and bounds. “Ini­tially, I drank The Ma­callan 12 Year Old with a lit­tle wa­ter and ice, but I grad­u­ally started to take a real in­ter­est in the drink. When I tried whiskies from dif­fer­ent dis­til­leries with unique flavours and ex­pres­sions, drink­ing it neat be­came the only way I knew to en­joy my dram.”

She’s also made it a point to travel to

Ja­pan ev­ery year to ex­pand her knowl­edge on whisky. “My favourites are Bar Kitchen and Whisky Bar Le­ich­hardt in Fukuoka, and Zoetrope in Tokyo.”

Tan con­cedes that some of her friends still aren’t into whisky due to the high al­co­hol con­tent, but she be­lieves that they just haven’t found the pro­file that suits them. Her eclec­tic choice sips in­clude Caol Ila 25 Year Old, Craigel­lachie 31 Year Old and Nikka Sin­gle

Cask Malt 20 Year Old. But if money was no ob­ject, she would be stock­ing up on sherry cask whisky from the Karuizawa dis­tillery and the Ben­ri­ach Sin­gle Cask Bot­tling 1976 re­lease for Shi­nanoya Tokyo.

For Elaine Seah, the founder-di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions firm Brand In­cor­po­rated, love and whisky came hand in hand while at­tend­ing a wed­ding in Perth. “My first taste of sin­gle malt was with Matthew [Fer­gus­son-ste­wart]. He of­fered me a taste of Talisker 18 Year Old and a romance,” she re­counts glee­fully. “The com­plex­ity of whisky and the ex­pe­ri­ence from nose to taste are un­like any other spirit. I can pick up aro­mas quite quickly, but it’s the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of the nose and taste that in­trigues me. I thor­oughly en­joy the as­pect of drink­ing and pair­ing—es­pe­cially how cer­tain in­gre­di­ents en­hance the taste, like umami and sherry-cask whisky.”

While she is par­tial to Scotch sin­gle malt, she was taken with a 31-year-old blended whisky made by Euan Shand for their wed­ding. The cou­ple have a five-year-old daugh­ter named Is­lay (but of course) and Elaine quips, “Whisky will al­ways be my hus­band’s mis­tress, but it was also whisky that brought us to­gether.”

WIDE AP­PEAL

The com­plex­ity and va­ri­ety whisky boasts are also key to its pop­u­lar­ity

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