I first fell in love with whiskey as one should: in Ireland.
There never seemed a better time or place to become truly acquainted with whiskey than in the country that lays claim to the first written record of it. The fact that Ireland is well known for its affinity for alcohol didn’t hurt, either. After spending more than an hour of learning all about the wonders of triple distillation at the historic Midleton Distillery in Cork, it was finally time for a whiskey showdown. My underaged, college-era dalliances with Jack-and-cokes were now but a faded memory, and besides, this was Jameson and this was Ireland. But in my mind, whiskey was still bound by the shackles of masculinity, and with Man Cards at stake, I half expected it to be fairly disgusting, a tactic to keep women at bay.
But after the taste test, I actually marveled at how smooth I found Jameson. It was much smoother than the other competitors (I won’t name names) and so much more tasty than I ever imagined whiskey capable of being.
It was then that I knew: Irish whiskey was for me.
I left the distillery armed with newfound self-knowledge and a burning desire to the shout from the mountaintops, “WHISKEY IS AWESOMEEEEE!!”
And when I arrived back in Geneva after a week in the hills and hail of Ireland, with a 1-liter bottle of duty-free Jameson in my hands, I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t the only woman to have had this kind of epiphany.
The Geneva chapter of Women Who Whiskey (wWw) was founded in the summer of 2015 by two former flatmates and whiskey enthusiasts, Josana and Amy, and already it has begun drawing in women who are not afraid to raise a couple of eyebrows. “Amy was the one who taught me to like whiskey, how to drink a bottle and not just display it,” divulged Josana, a bubbly Brazilian whose enthusiasm for whiskey cannot be contained. The group has also generated interest among men, so much so that Josana and Amy created the Whiskey lovers Geneva Facebook group in a show of good faith. Women Who Whiskey does host the occasional coed event, so-called “Gentlemen Editions,” but the global club, which has chapters as far afield as New York City and Nairobi, aims to give women “the opportunity to learn about varieties of whiskeys and cocktail culture, and to join a network of like-minded women with a taste for curiosity and strong drinks.”
But not all women gravitate to whiskey, and stereotypical “girly drinks” tend towards the sugary side of the spectrum. Amy believes taste as well as price can be barriers for women — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. In fact, the question that Josana gets asked the most by women is, “How can I learn to like whiskey?” But Women Who Whiskey is working to help whiskey win the hearts and minds, and taste buds, of women. “Our aim is to make whiskey more accessible,” adds Josana.
And it seems they’re succeeding. The latest wWw tasting, hosted at the Geneva offices of Pernot Ricard, was the kind of great deal that doesn’t come along in Geneva very often: with only 15 CHF, we were welcomed with a whiskey-based cocktail and later sampled five different Scottish whiskeys, four single malts and one blend, guided by our whiskey guru for the evening, Deborah. Deborah has worked in the whiskey industry for more than a decade, and admits that most of the whiskey-loving women in her life had some kind of early exposure to it, such as working at the Scottish distillery where she herself worked for a few years.”It can be difficult [to like whiskey] when your only image of whiskey is of your dad drinking it,” she points out. Yet most women were able to pinpoint their own whiskey moment, when they began to look at whiskey in a different way, just like my time in Ireland. For one woman, “It all changed when I learned I could add water.” And as we learned that night, adding water is often necessary in the case of cask-strength whiskeys, to allow for a greater flavor profile.
The air of the evening was discernibly educational but with more of the intimacy of a sleepover and none of the intimidation of a haughty classroom, especially as the night wore on and the whiskey glasses emptied out. “It’s nice,” Deborah said, reflecting on leading her first all-women whiskey tasting. “Men can sometimes be too macho to ask questions, or assume they know more about whiskey than me. It’s fun with women because they don’t feel they have to pretend to know about whiskey.” We finished the evening with a Canela Kick, like a cinnamony-sweet tequila shot with Ballantine’s Brasil instead.
Although Josana and Amy only hosted a few wWw events last year, they hope to make them regular, monthly occurrences in 2016, in order to cultivate a whiskey-loving community in the Geneva area. They are even planning a whiskey-themed trip to Scotland this summer. You can stay on top of all their latest events by joining their Facebook page.
So ladies, whether you already embrace those cocked eyebrows or just want to learn more, think about getting to know the other women in Geneva with just as curious a mind as you.