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Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey

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Shortly after graduating from University of Glasgow in 1934, Elizabeth Bessie Williamson began working as a temporary secretary at the Laphroaig Distillery on the Scottish island Islay. Williamson quickly found herself joining the boys in the tasting room, studying the distillation process, and winning them over with her knowledge of Scottish whisky. After the owner of Lap Shortly after graduating from University of Glasgow in 1934, Elizabeth Bessie Williamson began working as a temporary secretary at the Laphroaig Distillery on the Scottish island Islay. Williamson quickly found herself joining the boys in the tasting room, studying the distillation process, and winning them over with her knowledge of Scottish whisky. After the owner of Laphroaig passed away, Williamson took over the prestigious company and became the American spokesperson for the entire Scotch whisky industry. Impressing clients and showing her passion as the Scotch Whisky Association s trade ambassador, she soon gained fame within the industry, becoming known as the greatest female distiller. "Whiskey Women" tells the tales of women who have created this industry, from Mesopotamia s first beer brewers and distillers to America s rough-and-tough bootleggers during Prohibition. Women have long distilled, marketed, and owned significant shares in spirits companies. Williamson s story is one of many among the influential women who changed the Scotch whisky industry as well as influenced the American bourbon whiskey and Irish whiskey markets. Until now their stories have remained untold.


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Shortly after graduating from University of Glasgow in 1934, Elizabeth Bessie Williamson began working as a temporary secretary at the Laphroaig Distillery on the Scottish island Islay. Williamson quickly found herself joining the boys in the tasting room, studying the distillation process, and winning them over with her knowledge of Scottish whisky. After the owner of Lap Shortly after graduating from University of Glasgow in 1934, Elizabeth Bessie Williamson began working as a temporary secretary at the Laphroaig Distillery on the Scottish island Islay. Williamson quickly found herself joining the boys in the tasting room, studying the distillation process, and winning them over with her knowledge of Scottish whisky. After the owner of Laphroaig passed away, Williamson took over the prestigious company and became the American spokesperson for the entire Scotch whisky industry. Impressing clients and showing her passion as the Scotch Whisky Association s trade ambassador, she soon gained fame within the industry, becoming known as the greatest female distiller. "Whiskey Women" tells the tales of women who have created this industry, from Mesopotamia s first beer brewers and distillers to America s rough-and-tough bootleggers during Prohibition. Women have long distilled, marketed, and owned significant shares in spirits companies. Williamson s story is one of many among the influential women who changed the Scotch whisky industry as well as influenced the American bourbon whiskey and Irish whiskey markets. Until now their stories have remained untold.

30 review for Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey

  1. 5 out of 5

    McLean

    It is perhaps telling that all of the blurbs on the back of this book are just descriptions of the contents, without any actual praise for the writing. The writing is horrible. Dull, meandering, and full of what I will generously assume are typos. This book contains a lot of useful information that would be hard to find elsewhere. As a reference, it does fill a useful niche. But this is content deserving of a much better writer than it received. In addition, for a book purporting to tell the story It is perhaps telling that all of the blurbs on the back of this book are just descriptions of the contents, without any actual praise for the writing. The writing is horrible. Dull, meandering, and full of what I will generously assume are typos. This book contains a lot of useful information that would be hard to find elsewhere. As a reference, it does fill a useful niche. But this is content deserving of a much better writer than it received. In addition, for a book purporting to tell the story of women in the whisky industry, the book falls into awful sexism far too often. It is taken as perfectly normal and natural that women's roles in whisky should focus primarily on advertising, designing pretty bottles, and perhaps occasionally being allowed to be involved in the blending process (usually with the understanding that what women bring to the table is a desire for lighter and sweeter whisky). There is a startling lack of discussion of the ways in which women are still systematically excluded from the actual distilling process, or of the ways in which women are perceived as a fundamentally different sort of market than men, unable to appreciate whisky the same way, and instead having to be distracted by pretty labels.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eden

    2021 bk 154. I learned information new to me. Minnick does an excellent job of summarizing a long span of time - from ancient Sumaria through Middle ages up to modern times in a way that is interesting and holds the interest of even a non-whiskey drinker. Living where I do, I was familiar with the Kentucky brands of whiskey, aware of the roots in Ireland and Scotland, but had no idea of the world of modern brewing and the number of women involved in the industry. It is a topic that I would not h 2021 bk 154. I learned information new to me. Minnick does an excellent job of summarizing a long span of time - from ancient Sumaria through Middle ages up to modern times in a way that is interesting and holds the interest of even a non-whiskey drinker. Living where I do, I was familiar with the Kentucky brands of whiskey, aware of the roots in Ireland and Scotland, but had no idea of the world of modern brewing and the number of women involved in the industry. It is a topic that I would not have picked up on my own - but a friend who is a member of one of the women whiskey clubs recommended it to me as she knows my enjoyment of reading history.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Whisky Lassie

    I am a whisky enthusiast who has many whisky books in her collection. I was skeptical when I heard about this book but then received it as a gift from a friend. I read it cover to cover and truly enjoyed the history, the ease at which it can be read as well as the content. Fred wrote this book so that anyone, no matter where they are on their own personal whisky journey can understand and appreciate this story. The fact that he has researched and well documented is proof at how dedicated he was I am a whisky enthusiast who has many whisky books in her collection. I was skeptical when I heard about this book but then received it as a gift from a friend. I read it cover to cover and truly enjoyed the history, the ease at which it can be read as well as the content. Fred wrote this book so that anyone, no matter where they are on their own personal whisky journey can understand and appreciate this story. The fact that he has researched and well documented is proof at how dedicated he was to ensuring the information presented is factual. I am surprised to see less then stellar reviews on this great little read and I wonder if people truly understand the fact that so few books are actually written in this fashion. Whiskey has been a male dominated story for centuries and I think it's fantastic that Fred Minnick takes a few moments in time to scratch the surface and show that women stood shoulder to shoulder in the process from the very beginning. I hope and look forward to more great reads about whiskey from this author. Johanne McInnis Canadian Whisky Lassie [email protected]

  4. 4 out of 5

    Derek Beaugarde

    Fred Minnick's book about women in history who were deeply involved in the whiskey industries in the States, Scotland and Ireland is a deeply researched piece of untold history. I should know as I was involved in much of the Scottish archival research, particularly, in relation to the Dalmore and Laphroaig distilleries. If you like your history, your whiskey and your women, then this is a fantastic read. Fred Minnick's book about women in history who were deeply involved in the whiskey industries in the States, Scotland and Ireland is a deeply researched piece of untold history. I should know as I was involved in much of the Scottish archival research, particularly, in relation to the Dalmore and Laphroaig distilleries. If you like your history, your whiskey and your women, then this is a fantastic read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Though Mr. Minnick tackles a multitude of subjects with a plethora of sources, he seems to lose sight (repeatedly) of what exactly is his chosen subject. He begins giving a brief history of beer in Sumeria/Egypt that is so utterly incomplete (and incorrect, I'm told by a friendly Egyptologist) that I immediately began to have misgivings about reading this book. Based on the description by the publisher, I expected numerous vignettes about women who played important roles in the history of whiske Though Mr. Minnick tackles a multitude of subjects with a plethora of sources, he seems to lose sight (repeatedly) of what exactly is his chosen subject. He begins giving a brief history of beer in Sumeria/Egypt that is so utterly incomplete (and incorrect, I'm told by a friendly Egyptologist) that I immediately began to have misgivings about reading this book. Based on the description by the publisher, I expected numerous vignettes about women who played important roles in the history of whiskey. Sadly, he often found it difficult to remain on the topic of the women he supposedly wrote this book about.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Reading this book helped me feel a real connection to the whiskey industry. Women have had such a significant role in the creation and preservation of distilled alcohol. It was impressive to read about the stories of many recognizable brands and to learn about the women behind the bottle. While women are welcome in the alcohol industry in present times, they haven't always been in recognizable positions of power. Kentucky has their very first female master distiller with Marianne Barnes at Woodf Reading this book helped me feel a real connection to the whiskey industry. Women have had such a significant role in the creation and preservation of distilled alcohol. It was impressive to read about the stories of many recognizable brands and to learn about the women behind the bottle. While women are welcome in the alcohol industry in present times, they haven't always been in recognizable positions of power. Kentucky has their very first female master distiller with Marianne Barnes at Woodford Reserve, and she was appointed this March.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I wasn’t heavily invested in this story. Any book that has a male writer who seems profoundly surprised that women can do a job as well or better than men. Something with the tone just struck me the wrong way. Specifically, the discussion of Maker’s Mark’s was sealing and special bottle design making it “a woman in a red dress in a sea of women in jeans and t-shirts,” made me roll my eyes.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robert Mckay

    I suppose that there are plenty of people who drink whisky but don't care a thing about the history of the drink, or the way it comes into being. I'm that way about automobiles - I drive a car, but the history and the manufacturing process leave me cold. But I'm new to whisky, and I have a tendency, which I become involved with something new, to read whatever I can easily get hold of about the subject. So I've been reading books about whisky, and having found out about Fred Minnick online, I chec I suppose that there are plenty of people who drink whisky but don't care a thing about the history of the drink, or the way it comes into being. I'm that way about automobiles - I drive a car, but the history and the manufacturing process leave me cold. But I'm new to whisky, and I have a tendency, which I become involved with something new, to read whatever I can easily get hold of about the subject. So I've been reading books about whisky, and having found out about Fred Minnick online, I checked this book out from the library. It's pretty daring for someone who had his first taste of whisky in nearly 40 years in September of 2021, to criticize a famous expert on the subject. But I sometimes wonder about Fred Minnick. He said in one video which I found on YouTube that if the label doesn't give the state the distillation occurred in, you shouldn't buy the whisky. Yet I've had some good whisky which didn't tell me where the distillery is. (And why should that make a difference? I know that they distill Maker's Mark in Loretto, KY and Jack Daniel's in Lynchburg, TN - and knowing this doesn't make either one better. Maker's Mark is still good whisky, and Jack Daniel's is still junk. And if I didn't know where they distill Maker's Mark, it wouldn't reduce the quality of this whisky the angels drink.) Minnick is, however, a good writer. Aside from his persistence in using "woman" and "women" as adjectives (they're not - they're nouns; the correct adjective is "female"; you never, or almost never, read of "a man poet" or "a man writer"), as does everyone else - the decline of interest in writing beautiful English is a sad thing - he doesn't indulge in silliness or cute affectations. The book could use some editing, but these days editing often seems to consist solely in the use of the spell checker, so as galling as typographical errors are, they're a part of reading in 2021. But having abundantly qualified the first sentence of that paragraph, I want to dismiss the qualifications and repeat that Fred Minnick is a good writer. He makes things interesting which might otherwise be tedious, and he makes the small word of whisky distilling - how many of us, after all, have ever met even one person who works in any capacity whatever in a whisky distillery? - seem like the whole world. Moreover, although there is a fashion these days of focusing solely on minorities - women, blacks, whatever - as though they're more important than everyone else put together, Minnick is political about it. He's simply telling us what roles women have played in the making and selling of whisky over the centuries, without preaching at us - and his refusal to make the book into a political bully pulpit is highly commendable. In short, if you like whisky, you just might like this book. Even if ordinarily the history of whisky doesn't interest you, it will interest you for as long as it takes you to read the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rebekka

    One star for the stories and info. One star for the book being a quick read. I had real high hopes for the books, but in the end this piece truly is an excellent example of why people need to tell their own stories (ex: men shouldn't write about women's history). The writing is incredibly paternalistic and has the same energy as the phrase "you're really strong for a girl." Quite a few instances of naive thinking, one example: "Even after they were allowed to tend bar, they endured sexual harassmen One star for the stories and info. One star for the book being a quick read. I had real high hopes for the books, but in the end this piece truly is an excellent example of why people need to tell their own stories (ex: men shouldn't write about women's history). The writing is incredibly paternalistic and has the same energy as the phrase "you're really strong for a girl." Quite a few instances of naive thinking, one example: "Even after they were allowed to tend bar, they endured sexual harassment and the kind of treatment that just would not be tolerated by today's standards." Sorry dude, bartenders who identify as female still get "that kind of treatment." I was also disappointed, though not surprised, at an example of white washing; he *completely* glossed over the role alcohol played in the cultural torture of Indigenous Americans, instead putting this pretty light of [my quoted thoughts] "oooooo a *woman* brought you tasty treats now isn't that F U N." I'm writing this at chapter 11/16, and I do intend on finishing the book. If anything changes I'll update this review, but I'm not holding my breath.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Aysha McCall

    I love the stories in this book and I equally appreciate that the male author investigated women and whisky history to make it. It’s nice to know that brands sitting on my shelf at home like Laphroig and Maker’s Mark wouldn’t exist without strong women. My only issues with this book were it’s textbook like writing style that made something I’m fascinated about a bit boring to read, the fact that the author would stray from the women and back onto men for the sake of recounting history, and also I love the stories in this book and I equally appreciate that the male author investigated women and whisky history to make it. It’s nice to know that brands sitting on my shelf at home like Laphroig and Maker’s Mark wouldn’t exist without strong women. My only issues with this book were it’s textbook like writing style that made something I’m fascinated about a bit boring to read, the fact that the author would stray from the women and back onto men for the sake of recounting history, and also that the author failed to mention Japan as one of the world’s top whisky distributors in the beginning of the book when he explained why he chose to spell it as “whiskey” generically. In fact the only countries that spell it as such are Ireland and America, the rest of the world drops the “e”. Ultimately I don’t care if more women drink whisky as people should be able to drink whatever they like. However for the women like me who do love whisky I feel the world should be more open to the idea that it’s not just a man’s drink.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Destie

    I found much of the information in this book captivating, interesting, and informative. It was so pleasing to learn about the important roles women have played in the development and history of whiskey. And yes, as a female whiskey drinker and enthusiast, I understand some of the sexism that women in the industry have and do experience. But it is also pleasing to know it’s not as perverse as I would have imagined. While I enjoyed the content, I did not enjoy the writing. Yes, the author did a go I found much of the information in this book captivating, interesting, and informative. It was so pleasing to learn about the important roles women have played in the development and history of whiskey. And yes, as a female whiskey drinker and enthusiast, I understand some of the sexism that women in the industry have and do experience. But it is also pleasing to know it’s not as perverse as I would have imagined. While I enjoyed the content, I did not enjoy the writing. Yes, the author did a good job of summarizing the historical content from Sumerian and the Middle Ages, but for the most part the tone of the writing was dull. Also, the writing could have benefited from more transitional words. At times it seemed like the author was just throwing facts at us once we got to the modern whiskey women.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michaela

    This is a book with readable language and of reasonable length. It strikes me as an ideal tome to pick up if you already have a basic understanding of the types of whiskey, how it's made, and the leading companies that produce it. Some of the discussion on current female whiskey leaders grew a bit tiresome. The later chapters of the book began sounding more like just a list of each lady's work experience. I much preferred the history-oriented earlier chapters. They were both informative, and spa This is a book with readable language and of reasonable length. It strikes me as an ideal tome to pick up if you already have a basic understanding of the types of whiskey, how it's made, and the leading companies that produce it. Some of the discussion on current female whiskey leaders grew a bit tiresome. The later chapters of the book began sounding more like just a list of each lady's work experience. I much preferred the history-oriented earlier chapters. They were both informative, and sparked my imagination and interest in the colorful lives some of these women led. Overall, a mostly engaging read that educated me not only on the evolution of whiskey, but on the role my fellow women had in developing this industry.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Carpenter

    I am a woman, I love history, and I love whiskey. This book had the potential of being perfect for me. I picked this up after touring Ghost Coast Distillery in Savannah. I truly did enjoy the stories of these fantastic women, especially since most would equate whiskey history with the male names on the labels. The only reason. This is a 3 and not a 4 star review is that much of the book is very clinical in its historical recount, and the stories of some of the women are hard to piece together ch I am a woman, I love history, and I love whiskey. This book had the potential of being perfect for me. I picked this up after touring Ghost Coast Distillery in Savannah. I truly did enjoy the stories of these fantastic women, especially since most would equate whiskey history with the male names on the labels. The only reason. This is a 3 and not a 4 star review is that much of the book is very clinical in its historical recount, and the stories of some of the women are hard to piece together chapter to chapter. My love for history redeemed it for me, but it would be difficult for others with less passion for any of the 3 subjects, women, history or whiskey.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rosa King

    The title and cover of this beautifully designed book caught my eye in the gift shop of a bourbon distillery we had just toured. I was intrigued by the tour guide's presentation of how the once-prosperous distillery run by the founder's widow fell on hard times during prohibition, but was recently rediscovered and restored by its heirs. I was then inspired to learn more about women in the whiskey business and purchased the book. "Whiskey Women" was well researched and informative, covering the o The title and cover of this beautifully designed book caught my eye in the gift shop of a bourbon distillery we had just toured. I was intrigued by the tour guide's presentation of how the once-prosperous distillery run by the founder's widow fell on hard times during prohibition, but was recently rediscovered and restored by its heirs. I was then inspired to learn more about women in the whiskey business and purchased the book. "Whiskey Women" was well researched and informative, covering the origins of distilling spirits through the role of women currently operating major distilleries. It's a good read for someone wanting to know more about this specific topic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Natalya

    My boyfriend got me this book as a gift from his work trip in TN. Overall I really enjoyed it, but as is my complaint with journalists writing historical accounts, it reads like a long news article. I do think it’s better than most. Its challenging to cover so much history in a short time. This book does a fair job of it. There’s also the delightfully obliviousness to toxic masculine culture. Not to mention the times he’ll focus on the men over the women. That being said, this book is a good effo My boyfriend got me this book as a gift from his work trip in TN. Overall I really enjoyed it, but as is my complaint with journalists writing historical accounts, it reads like a long news article. I do think it’s better than most. Its challenging to cover so much history in a short time. This book does a fair job of it. There’s also the delightfully obliviousness to toxic masculine culture. Not to mention the times he’ll focus on the men over the women. That being said, this book is a good effort to acknowledge the work women have done, even if it sometimes misses the mark.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Angel

    Quick impressions: A book that acknowledges the role of women in distilling and making spirits, focusing on whiskey from early times to today. After a quick look at early history, we look at the evolution of whiskey and how women played a role in it: sometimes active roles, sometimes passive, sometimes opposing it (see those temperance people), sometimes bootlegging (in fact many women were seriously talented at bootlegging). Overall an interesting book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    Big fab of Fred (and his palate). I was surprised that this came before his more general bourbon history, as the long form writing seems to be better composed here. About half of this is awesome history…the remainder seems to be more trivial to fill out the page count. His more tasting-centered book remains my fave…as is probably predictable.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Strout

    This book have so much great information on how women impacted the whiskey industry. It also shows that even in a progressive space like whiskey distilleries, women still face sexism. I’m a female whiskey drinker who got my male partner to enjoy whiskey more. Thank you for highlighting how women love whiskey just as much if not more than men.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Donna Kremer

    If I️ needed a whiskey resource book or if I️ was in the industry then maybe I’d like this book. It seemed like a well researched college paper that I️ had little interest in. I got distracted or fell asleep at least ten times per page.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark A. Vierthaler

    Lots of different perspectives on a wide variety of pieces of whiskey history, but unfortunately it has some major blind spots in terms of the history of women on the production side of whiskey. Some of the stories come across a bit dismissive and paternalistic.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Eb0717

    This was a well written book. It gave so much information on a page much less a chapter it took me minute to process and thus the reason it took so long to read! I enjoyed every page and am now looking forward to reading it again!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Skrmetti

    An interesting read on an under discussed side of whiskey history. I just wish there had been more individual detail with some of the stories.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Derek Post

    Great book about some amazing lady leaders... taking the reader thru the span of time .. to today's current distillers .. Great book about some amazing lady leaders... taking the reader thru the span of time .. to today's current distillers ..

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Hallowell

    Extremely Informative A very interesting read, full of facts. Such a rich history of women and whiskey that I never knew about.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    Really liked the information in the book but the writing was mediocre

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shannon R

    very informative, just a little drier and more textbook-y than i was hoping for.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tifanee

    There’s a lot of information in this book. Some parts are a little slow, but overall, I thought it was a good read if you love whiskey!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mysteryfan

    Kind of a fun read for nonfiction. The roles women have played in distilled spirits from bootleggers to wartime heroines to leaders of manufacturers. It was interesting to read how Maker's Mark signature bottle came to pass and how women contributed to the growth in popularity of "brown spirits." Kind of a fun read for nonfiction. The roles women have played in distilled spirits from bootleggers to wartime heroines to leaders of manufacturers. It was interesting to read how Maker's Mark signature bottle came to pass and how women contributed to the growth in popularity of "brown spirits."

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Lowe Rhodes

    Densely packed with so much history of whiskey and prohibition

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Great info. Poor writing.

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