Whisky Women, Champagne Widows

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ChampagneWhisky.com wouldn’t be ChampagneWhisky if it weren’t for women in whisky and champagne. And not just the one sitting here behind the keyboard writing this post.

I’m just going to put up a couple of excerpts today, in honor of International Women’s Day 2014, which has been celebrated for a century on March 8.

“In Whiskey Women: The Untold Story Of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch And Irish Whiskey, US writer Fred Minnick says that despite the drink’s macho image, women played a key role in its history.

A woman places labels on Old Crow bourbon bottles sometime in the early 1900s. Photo: Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History / NPR

A woman places labels on Old Crow bourbon bottles sometime in the early 1900s.
Photo: Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History / NPR

“Not only did they invent the first stills, they were involved in bootlegging during the Prohibition era, led the repeal movement and whipped up demand for uisge beatha worldwide.

But it is those Scottish women who not only owned and managed distilleries, but modernised them, increasing their capacity and profile, that Minnick credits with transforming the industry.” (from The Scotsman)

Elizabeth Cumming, who owned the Cardow (Cardhu) distillery in Speyside in the late 19th century, took over the business when her husband died, and successfully expanded it before selling to John Walker & Sons, known these days as Johnnie Walker.

Bessie Williamson, who owned Laphroaig in Islay in the 20th century (due to the death of its original male owner, her boss) is credited with laying the groundwork for the popularity of peaty single malt whisky today.

Veuve Clicquot Source: Wine Sisterhood

Veuve Clicquot
Source: Wine Sisterhood

And, on the bubbly side:

“‘Champagne is the story of widows,’ said Francois Godard, scion of Veuve Godard et Fils Champagne house. ‘Women who lost their husbands, and then outshone the men.’

Widowhood gave these figures an independent social status in France. Unlike other women – who were the property of a father or a husband – only a widow could become a CEO.

‘In the 19th century … if you’re not married you’re dependent on your father, you can’t have a bank account and you can’t pay staff. If you are married you are reliant on your husbands,’ explained Fabienne Moreau, Veuve Clicquot’s archivist. ‘Only a widow can take this position as head of a company.’

Experts say that Champagne was one of the first industries in the modern world that women shaped and in which they enjoyed a prominent role.” (from Daily Mail)

Brut Champagne was invented by the Veuve (‘Widow’) Pommery at the behest of another widow, Queen Victoria, who liked the drink but found it too sweet. The ‘Veuve’ was dropped from the Pommery name at some point, and many other houses established by widowed Champagne women, like Bollinger, no longer carry the signifier.

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it. Unless I’m thirsty.” – Lily Bollinger Source: Wine Sisterhood

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it. Unless I’m thirsty.” – Lily Bollinger
Source: Wine Sisterhood

There was a time (1500-1660) when European governments  burned women for distilling liquor, labelling them witches. We are past the outdated marriage customs and property laws when women could only be taken seriously in business if they had been married and then widowed (well, in some countries, anyway), yet somehow the whisky and champagne businesses have still come to be seen as a man’s world again.

So on this day, a clink of the glass to the women of whisky and champagne, and all the women who hold up half the world. centredinternationalwomensdaySome of my fellow whisky women writers:

Rachel MacNeill – Whisky for Girls

Allison Patel – The Whisky Woman

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