The Rise of Female Distillers

With the rise in female owners and distillers making their mark on the industry, these women have transformed how whisky is made today.


For a long time, it has been regarded as a drink for men, often associated with achieving success. However, over the last few years, there has been a surge in female interest, ownership and investing.


DR. RACHEL BARRIE

Master Blender, The GlenDronach, BenRiach & Glenglassaugh

Dr. Barrie is a trained chemist and grew up near the Glendronach distillery. This led her to a career in whisky that has now spanned almost three decades. She is well-known as Scotland’s First Lady of Whisky and has the distinction of having worked at some of the country’s most revered distilleries and the Scotch Whisky Research Institute. Today, she is one of just a few Master Blenders and is in charge of The GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh distilleries.


KIRSTEEN CAMPBELL

Master Whisky Maker, The Macallan

Kirsteen Campbell was the first female master whisky-makers in the almost 200-year history of The Macallan. She takes great pride in being a custodian of The Macallan and currently heads up the whisky mastery team, using her skills, knowledge and craft to oversee key aspects of the whisky-making cycle, from cask lay down and maturation through to bottling, to ensure the quality and consistency synonymous with The Macallan single-malt whisky.


Originally from the Highlands, Campbell graduated with a BSc in Nutrition and Food Science from Glasgow Caledonian University before entering the drinks industry in 2001. While working in a spirits’ laboratory, it became clear she had a remarkable sense of smell – an essential skill for a master whisky-maker. Campbell is renowned throughout the whisky industry for her knowledge and expertise.



ELIZABETH WILLIAMS - BESSIE

Distillery Manager & Owner, Laphroaig


Elizabeth Leitch “Bessie” Williamson was a Scottish distillery manager and former owner of the Laphroaig distillery, noted for being the only woman to own and run a Scottish whisky distillery in the 20th century.


Williamson joined Laphroaig for a summer job as a shorthand typist, but by the time of World War II, she had become the full-time manager of the distillery and, as production was mothballed to help with the war effort, Bessie ensured the distillery’s safety and prevented the looting of stock or equipment.


After the war, Williamson inherited a controlling interest in the distillery. She would go on to travel to the US to promote Laphroaig and the Scotch Whisky Association in her role as its American spokesperson, and is widely credited with forecasting the interest in single-malt whisky.


RITA COWAN

Mother of Japanese Whisky, Nikka

Rita Cowan was a Scottish woman who is often regarded as the “mother of Japanese whisky”, and as Japanese whisky garners accolades and admiration from around the world, so too does her legacy.

Born in 1896 in East Dumbartonshire, Cowan went on to study at the University of Glasgow where she met and fell in love with Masataka Taketsuru, a Japanese chemist who she married in Scotland in 1920, before they moved to Japan with a shared dream and ambition: to produce a Scotch-style whisky in Japan.

In 1935, they were able to secure funding to set up their own independent distillery, Dai Nippon Kaju, which would later become the Nikka Distilling Company. The distillery was located in Yoichi on the island of Hokkaido, a location that was selected as its climate and geography were similar to Scotland and would be the perfect spot to produce a whisky with the character and quality of a Scotch.



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