Wonderful Women in the World of Whisky
Although founded by men, both Lark Distillery and our own Callington Mill Distillery owe their inspiration to women, in fact one woman was pivotal in the creation of both distilleries. We'll tell you who that was later, but first, let's explore the longer-than-you-might-think history of women in the world of whisky.
When one looks into the history of distillation, a number of male names appear again and again. If you opt to go down that enlightening rabbit hole, you may read about 8th century apothecary Abū Mūsā Jābir ibn Ḥayyān whose contributions to modern distillation include describing ways to alloy and test metals used in fractional distillation. Hayyān also invented the perfectly-shaped alembic still. Another oft-mentioned male name in distillation history belongs to Irishman Aeneas Coffey, who patented his process of continuous distillation in 1830, says Scotch Whisky magazine.
These remarkable men did much to move the concept and practice of distillation forward, but their contributions were predated by the world's first alchemist, who just so happened to be a woman.
Although her original manuscripts did not survive, Alexandria-born Maria Hebraea is credited with inventing or improving a number of apparatuses that are involved in distillation.
Most notable of her inventions are; the sealed vacuum chamber used to collect and extract distillation vapors and the double-boiler system known as a "bain Marie," or Maria's bath, explains Southern Distilling Company.
It's certainly interesting to know that females were involved in distillation long ago, but what about now? Are there any notable women in the world of whisky today? We're happy to tell you that there are.
Until relatively recently, the Scottish whisky industry was dominated by men. From making to marketing, persons of the male persuasion were the driving force behind brewing and distilling throughout the United Kingdom. Originally a cottage industry that saw a number of men crafting drams at home, the enterprise soon saw the addition of females, especially widows who ran boarding houses and women whose husbands went off to sea for extended periods of time, explains Edinburgh Whisky Academy.
Distilling provided female-headed families with welcome income before and after the Excise Act of 1822 with which the British government imposed strict rules over whisky production. Women distillers of the mid-19th century include Littlemill's Jane McGregor, Blair Atholl's Elizabeth Conacher, and Elizabeth Phillips of Glenturret. Margeret Sutherland and Marion Mcfarlane also lent their names and expertise to Scotland's burgeoning brewery and distillery business.
In the second decade of the 20th century, management of the Macallan-Glenlivet distillery was bequeathed to Janet Harbinson, whom the Edinburgh Whisky Academy credits for the company's post-war success. Roughly 30 years later, Bessie Williamson became the first and only female distillery owner in Scotland. Williamson helmed the Laphroaig distillery until her retirement in 1972.
Women continued to populate the Scottish world of whisky making throughout the 1970s, including scientist Maureen Robinson of Distillers Company Ltd, Diageo's barley operations manager, Carol Inch, and whisky blender Rosemarie Cassidy at James Burroughs Distillers Ltd. Dr Rachel Barrie was the first female Master Blender at the distillery now known as Glenmorangie.
The history of Australian whisky doesn't go back quite as far as Scotland's, but women are already here and making a good name for themselves. In fact, there are currently more than 50 female distillers throughout Australia and Tasmania, says GoodFood magazine.
Anyone who pays attention to local whisky knows that in Tasmania, Bill Lark is considered the absolute godfather of whisky. A lesser-known fact is that Lyn Lark, Bill’s wife was fundamental to the creation of Lark Distillery and was integral in the creation of Lark’s Single Malt Whisky. Actually, it was Lyn who procured and mastered the now-famous copper still that was used to create their first whiskies.
Lyn and Bill's daughter, Kristy Booth-Lark, grew up in the industry where she learned everything it takes to create world-class whiskies such as those produced by her parents. For a time, Kristy worked as a head distiller at Lark before branching out on her own with boutique Killara Distillery.
Bill Lark was not the only Tas whisky maker who was inspired by Lyn Lark. Callington Mill Distillery founder, John Ibrahim, was also influenced by our malt matriarch and counts Lyn as one of his greatest whisky mentors.
To commemorate International Women's Day in 2021, Sparkke Distillery owner, Kari Allen, told Lifehacker Australia "it was pretty fabulous that women were allowed to start drinking in the front bars of Australia in 1965" although women who aspire to be master distillers in Oz and everywhere still face challenges men do not.
"If you are a woman in this space with big aspirations, you need to be prepared for the reality that you are going to have to work twice as hard, if not thrice as hard, to get and maintain a seat at the table."
In the same publication, Manly Spirits co-founder, Vanessa Wilton, said "There is still an alarmingly small group of women who are master blenders and distillers, and I would love to see that change." Carlie Dyer of Starward Distillery told Lifehacker "We are slowly breaking down the divide with more women entering the industry and taking on influential roles. Whisky is no longer just a 'man's drink'."
No longer a man's drink, indeed. In fact, Oz Whisky Review explains that women now comprise more than one third of whisky consumers worldwide.
Founded by Booth-Lark of Killara Distillery and Genise Hollingworth of Black Gate, the Australian Women in Distilling Association promotes, encourages, and celebrates the numerous women who are rising stars in the still-predominantly male endeavor of Oz whisky-making.
As Kathleen Davies, founder of the Women of Australian Distilling Facebook group so aptly put it,
"Women need to step out into the light. There's still a lot of up-and-coming and emerging female Australian whisky producers who are hesitant to step into the limelight, and that's where I hope I can help."
We at Callington Mill Distillery hope we can help, too. If you'd like to try some female-made Taz whiskies for yourself, please patronise the women-headed distilleries mentioned above.
Want to know more about Callington Mill or our female friends who make world-class whisky? Get in touch and ask us anything.