Expert Interview: Heather Greene on Women & Whisky

Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

Raise your hand if you're a whisky-loving woman. Although long-prized for its delicately nuanced flavors and aromas, whisky also often carries the reputation of being a "strong," exclusively "masculine" spirit, making it a tough sell to some female drinkers. This week I sat down to talk with whisky specialist and Glenfiddich brand ambassador, Heather Greene, a woman with a plan to change all that. Her secret weapon? The Mrs. Roberts Society.

Six Questions for Heather

1. Who is Mrs. Roberts and why did you name a women's whisky society after her?
Mrs. Janet Roberts is the oldest living lady in Scotland - she's 110 this year. She's the granddaughter of William Grant, the creator of Glenfiddich whisky. She studied law at the University of Edinburgh where she was the only woman in her class. She was also an accomplished hockey player. She said once that the key to a good, long life is "hard work and moderation." She's been known to drink a dram of whisky every day. I like to think that has something to do with her longevity.

2. What's the purpose of the Society and its events?
I wanted to create a women and whisky program that didn't pander to what people traditionally think of as women's activities. Some other women and whisky events involve fashion and manicures and chocolates, but that approach really turns me off as a whisky drinker. I wanted to do some really cool events where women can just come and enjoy and feel welcome. Something between The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Auntie Mame in spirit - full of fun and curious characters.

3. When did you first become a whisky lover - and why?
I was working as a bartender at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. I'd been hired to help set up a drinks program modeled after what you might find in New York City. They wanted someone to help them make whisky-based classics like the Manhattan. But that didn't make sense to me. They were sitting on something so beautiful and special - a historical building covered in wet stone and moss. Inside were large fireplaces, muralled ceilings and dark wood. And of course their whisky collection was to die for. I'd never see anything like it. I abandoned "mixology" almost immediately (although I can make a good drink!), and started to focus on enjoying the spirit all on its own. Then I did a nosing and tasting exam and it turned out I was in one of the highest percentiles of tasters. That was a pivotal moment for me because, later, when I got further into the business and sat on tasting panels, I'd often be the only woman there. But knowing I was in the upper percentile gave me confidence.

4. Why do you think some women shy away from whisky?
No one has taken the time and the care to show them the beauty of whisky. But it's not just about educational barriers, it's also about preconceived notions of who can and who does drink it.

5. Why should women give good whisky a chance?
Whisky offers an incredible aroma and taste profile unparalleled by any other spirit. I've also found women extremely adept at identifying some of the beautiful aroma properties in a whisky, pulling in the same vocabulary with which they already feel comfortable with in the wine world: aromas like vanilla, oak, fruits, florals, raisins, caramel, leather...it all applies to whisky, too.

6. What advice would you give to a whisky newbie (male or female)?
Find a class or a tasting event where you can sample a variety of whiskies and then see what you gravitate to. Or simply go into a bar and try something approachable like a Glenfiddich 12-year-old on the rocks.

The Mrs. Roberts Society is scheduled to make stops in New York, DC, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Massachusetts in 2011. To find an event near you, watch for #MrsRoberts on Heather's Twitter feed.

Readers, now it's your turn to weigh in. What's your take on women and whisky? In your own experience, are there any social barriers to women drinking it?

Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC's Astor Center. Her culinary writing has appeared in Food Republic, Leite's Culinaria, CHOW, and The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.

Related: Straight Up, No Ice: 4 Steps to Drinking Whiskey Neat

(Image: Nora Maynard)

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