American whiskey is booming. Worldwide sales are growing faster than those of any other spirit, reports NPR, and stateside we’re consuming nearly 30% more domestic whiskey per year than a decade ago. The number of women drinking whiskey has also increased exponentially. According to Whiskey Women author Fred Minnick, women represent nearly 40% of whiskey drinkers today, up from 15% in the 90s.
The reasons for this are two-fold. On the one hand, a proliferation of artisanal and small batch distilleries plus a robust and sophisticated mixology culture mean that people of all genders are drinking more whiskey than before. On the other hand, the perception of whiskey as a man’s drink that prevailed through much of the 20th century has dissipated, making space for women to reacquaint themselves with a spirit that was once considered unladylike.
NPR points out that women aren’t just consuming, but producing as well. People such as Becky Harris (Catoctin Creek), Meredity Grelli (Wigle Whiskey), Allison Patel (Brenne Whiskey), Nicole Austin (Kings County Distillery), and Britt Chavanne (Kentucky Bourbon Distillers) are filling top industry spots as distillers, master tasters, founders and owners. Here’s what some of those industry players had to say about women’s growing appetite for whiskey.
Brenne Whiskey was founded by Allison Patel in 2012. (Photo: Facebook/Brenne Whiskey)
Jillian Vose, bar manager at the Dead Rabbit in New York
“At the Dead Rabbit I have just as many women ordering whiskey drinks as men. Women are becoming more comfortable with whiskey and Scotch because they’re more educated about what they drink. As imbibers become more educated in general they’re realizing that whiskey isn’t this rough liquor that you drink straight up, it can be a really elegant cocktail.”
Connie Kam, Executive Vice President of Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, KY
“One of the interesting things about this whiskey renaissance is that it’s not limited to a particular demographic. Everyone is drinking more whiskey—both men and women. It’s popular throughout the country in cities large and small and is appealing to younger people who typically drank wine and vodka cocktails.”
Julia Ritz Toffoli, founder of the Women Who Whiskey club
“Women’s false modesty toward dark spirits has faded. It’s been socially acceptable for women to drink in bars for decades, but an invisible line was always drawn somewhere around clear liquors. In the booze-soaked days portrayed by Mad Men, for example, women were daintily sipping Gimlets, Martinis, and Brandy Alexanders, while men poured themselves generous tumblers of Canadian Club, neat. Alcohol is alcohol, but as long as it was happening with ladylike drinks, no one had to acknowledge that women were getting as drunk as men. Now women’s relationship with society has changed. The sexual revolution, the influx of women into the workforce, and decades of evolving gender norms have erased many of the traditional barriers between the sexes—including the invisible line around whiskey.”
Ashley Danford, founder and editor of the Whiskey Women blog
“I think the increase of women drinking whiskey falls somewhat in line with what is happening in the whiskey industry as a whole. Just like we saw a rise in craft beer years ago, the same thing is happening with whiskey. A lot more craft distillers are emerging on the scene with the hope of pushing the industry forward and you are seeing a lot of new things on the shelves these days which is piquing interest from consumers as a whole. And women are no longer bogged down by ideas of what is and isn’t ladylike. To reference one of my favorite Whiskey Women rules: Whatever a lady likes is ladylike.”