Today’s book review is of Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick. Published in 2013, the book is history of the role of women in the history of whiskey, from the dawn of civilization up to the present. If you are looking for a comprehensive history of women’s societal roles or a comprehensive history of whiskey, this book will only be a part of what you are looking for. Whiskey Women is about the intersection of women and whiskey, and Minnick does not venture much from his topic. It makes the book very readable and easy to follow, even if you are not an avid whiskey drinker or whiskey blogger.
Most of modern whiskey companies spend most of their time marketing their products to men, which has often led to overtly sexist advertisements (such as the recent Dewar’s commercials). Fred Minnick does a good job showing why whiskey has developed the reputation as a men’s drink, and he also explains why history does not support the current gender binaries in many whiskey marketing campaigns. In the earliest days of brewing and distilling, almost all brewing or distilling was done by the woman in a household (p. 1-15). If it were not for women, whiskey never would have become what it is today, despite the sexism still associated with whiskey and whiskey advertising.
Despite their rich history in the spirit, during the late 19th century and early 20th century in the United States, women represented the largest deterrent to whiskey in the form of the Temperance Movement, which closely coincided with first-wave feminism. Even after Prohibition was repealed, the gender binary set up by the female-dominated temperance societies remained a problem in lawmaking. In the early 20th century, women were smashing bars, and in the 1950’s, most states still had laws against women bartenders and women being in bars without a male counterpart (p. 93-103). The reason more men than women drink whiskey in 2013 has a lot to do with women not being allowed in bars 50 years ago, meaning there is no precedent for drinking whiskey. Like their ancient female counterparts, the women of whiskey in the late 20th and early 21st century are trailblazers. Whether it is Helen Mulholland’s genius palate and all-female tasting panel at Bushmill’s, Ouita Michel’s revolutionary bourbon-based dishes at Woodford Reserve, or Allison Patel’s French whiskey company, women are playing a formidable role in the direction of whiskey.
Overall, Whiskey Women is a fantastic addition to anybody’s whiskey literature. The book is not especially long (161 pgs.) or long-winded, which makes it an ideal book to read on vacation, on the beach with a glass of your favorite whiskey, or just piecemeal over a few weeks. Minnick’s writing is lucid and natural, like whiskey itself. The book does leave a lot of questions for the reader, but that is due to the secretive and often illicit history of whiskey, which makes researching the history of whiskey a guessing-game much of the time. The amount of research that Minnick did is impressive, and it shows in the final product. I highly recommend Whiskey Women both for its passion and its content. Judging from books like Whiskey Women and the recent outcry from whiskey bloggers at sexist advertising from whiskey companies, I am encouraged by the progressive edge of whiskey and whiskey drinkers. This is just the beginning…