Women take to whisky as drink of choice

Nant Whisky Bar manager Evelyn Liong says whisky's appeal cuts across gender - "There have always been plenty of women ...
Nant Whisky Bar manager Evelyn Liong says whisky's appeal cuts across gender - "There have always been plenty of women who love it." Photo: Wayne Taylor

Whisky – once the preserve of old men and even older gentlemen's clubs – is finding fresh popularity among women fed up with being patronised with colourful cocktails and pre-mixed drinks in pretty bottles.

"Women are tired of being infantilised when it comes to their drinks," said Daniela Walker, food and drink specialist at trend forecasting company The Future Laboratory.

"What we are actually finding is that women want their palates to be tested just as much as men. Millennial women in their late 20s and early 30s are embracing whisky as their drink of choice."

Women now make up 37 per cent of whisky customers in the US and nearly a third of whisky drinkers in the UK are now female, according to Future Laboratory research. The trend is also noticeable in Australia, where consumption rates of whisky have increased by more than 50 per cent in younger people in the past five years, according to Roy Morgan research.

Dylan Watson, general manager at the Woods of Windsor on Chapel St, said he was "not at all" surprised by data showing an increase in women drinkers. He says he started to notice the trend developing a couple of years ago.

"At first, it was couples," he said. "Male/female couples would be coming in and drinking together. But now, you're seeing a whole lot more tables of females drinking – coming in with their friends and now with their female partners."

He says that the whisky drinking public is now about evenly split between the sexes.

Evelyn Liong, operations manager at Nant Whisky Bar in the CBD, said there had always been a contingent of female whisky lovers.

"I think there's been a bit of a misconception," she said. "Marketing always markets it as a man's drink, but there have always been plenty of women who love it."

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Her own passion for the drink was prompted by the variety of flavours whisky offers.

"With every bottle and every expression available, it gives you a different story," she said. 

Grace Anthony, a 29-year-old devotee, says there's only one reason she drinks whisky: "It's delicious". 

After a youth spent "drinking things that don't taste like alcohol", she was introduced to whisky by her family in "the right way". 

Her brother teaches a whisky appreciation course, and she says her sense is that more and more people are thinking about spirits the way they once thought about wine. They want to understand what they are drinking, instead of "just mixing it with Coke to get smashed".

"If you ask, is it normal to sit around five nights a week talking about whisky, I would say yes," she says. 

However, she does see that there may be a shift among other women who may previously have thought a drink like whisky was something that "girls don't do". This is being reinforced by a shift in the media representations of women drinking socially, from the cosmopolitan-quaffing girls of   Sex in the City to  the whisky-tumbling women of Mad Men.

"I believe this, in general, is filtering down to the public," Ms Anthony says. "And I love it."

Whisky 101

Whisky expert Fred Siggins gives the lowdown on the increasingly popular tipple.

What is whisky?

While some countries have laws about what can and can't be called whisky, the common definition is any distilled spirit that is made only from fermented grains and water and aged in oak barrels 

Where did it start?

The original whisky makers were the Scots and the Irish, followed by the Americans and Canadians. India got its first distillery in the 1820s, and Japan started making whisky in 1923. In recent years Australia, Taiwan, Germany, France and Italy have joined the party.

What is a single malt?

Under Scottish law, single malt whisky must use only malted barley, be made in a copper pot still at a single distillery and aged for at least 3 years. Robust and full-bodied, with a huge range of styles.

And blended?

Blended whisky is made from malt whisky from a variety of distilleries combined with cheaper grain whiskies. Less aggressive than single malt, they aim for consistency and ease of mixing.

Irish whisky

Usually triple-distilled on larger stills and have a lighter, easy-going style. Most Irish whiskies are blended with column-distilled grain whisky - same still they use for vodka

Scotch

Ranges from intense single malts to the easy-drinking blends that created the marketing around Scotch and made it the global success story that it is.

American

Comes in two forms - bourbon and rye, made from corn and rye, respectively. US law mandates whisky must be aged in new barrels, making American styles very oak forward. Bourbon is sweeter, rye drier and spicier.

Canadian

Dominated by two big distillers, Canada produces lighter corn whiskies designed for easy drinking.

Japan

Mostly blended, with some highly sought-after single malts, Japanese whisky tends to be complex, floral, and rarely smoky. Not usually as robust as Scotch and American whisky, it was developed for a population used to sake.

Australian

Mostly made in Tasmania in the single malt style, Australian whisky has come into it own in the past 5 years. The lack of traditional laws means the industry is experimental, with some whiskies aged as little as two years.