A Woman in Whiskey


A Woman in Whiskey

By Joan Dahl, Special Guest Contributor

Women get a bad rap for not being able to make up their minds. I get it - ask me what I want for dinner, and you will probably go nuts waiting for me to decide. But ask me what I want to drink, and you will get an answer without hesitation. My answer - bourbon, neat (or in the blistering summer heat, on a couple of rocks) - usually takes the bartender/server by surprise. Fact is, there are many men who just cannot wrap their heads around the fact that I am a woman and a whiskey drinker. Not only that, but I’m more knowledgeable on the subject than many of those men.

I really try to avoid categorizing people by stereotypes. I am one of those total freaks who doesn’t actually fall very neatly at all into categories, so I don’t bother putting others into them. But let’s face it: there is usually some truth or at least a pattern of behavior from which stereotypes are born. It’s human nature to look for these patterns to help us understand those around us and help us connect with our fellow humans, especially in social situations. When I think of my own social circle of associates and friends, I can understand why there is a stereotype of whiskey being a man’s drink. Next time you are at a bar, look around and see for yourself. Inevitably, you will likely see far more men sipping a brown beverage neat or on the rocks than women. And while some of those women may indeed be drinking whiskey in a cocktail, the bartenders I have talked to about this indicate that most women don’t indicate a whiskey preference and seem to equate all whiskey with Jack or Jim.

When drinking at bars and restaurants, I am most frequently with my husband (who only had his first ever taste of alcohol five years ago, and has only really been drinking for three years). Being a relatively new drinker, his tastes are a bit different than mine. I give him a lot of grief about the fact that it is apparent how much he is indeed in his infancy of drinking, like choosing to drink things which I haven’t touched in 20+ years, like his favorite - Jagermeister. His typical order at a bar is an AMF - basically a blue Long Island Iced Tea - while mine is bourbon neat or on the rocks (or in desperation a Kentucky mule if it is, as is common in Utah, a really crappy whiskey selection). Inevitably, when our order shows up, the server puts the blue fou-fou drink in front of me, and the bourbon in front of my husband. Interestingly enough, this happens more frequently when being served by a woman server than a man. And it is surprising how frequently it happens even when the person serving the drinks is the same person that took the order. Another experience I’ve had is ordering a bourbon neat and having it served with ice because they “assumed that I meant on the rocks” because women don’t usually drink it neat. It’s like they just can’t comprehend that a woman is drinking the straight whiskey. These experiences are just funny to me. They crack me up every time.

But shopping for bottles is a different story, and this is where this stereotype can become frustrating. I have come to understand that most shopkeepers really don’t know much about bourbon/whiskey, but when a woman challenges their knowledge, there are some men who simply don’t know how to respond. Many seem unable to wrap their head around the idea a woman is knowledgeable about whiskey.

Occasionally, I get a response of delighted surprise, and am able to have a meaningful conversation about whiskey. But that is not the norm. Usually, my inquiries are met with some kind of resistance. My initial question is usually just to ask if they might have something in the back that is not on the shelf - maybe something with a more limited distribution or something that has been gathering dust. And about 80% of the time, I’m given some response that indicates that there is some disbelief about what I am asking. Sometimes it’s simply an attempt to redirect me to a flavored vodka, cordial or other liqueur when I start asking if they have anything special or out of the ordinary (something along the lines of, “No, but let me show you something we just got in that you will probably like better anyway.”) despite the fact that I specifically asked for bourbon. Other times it’s a blatant lack of interest in having any conversation about the topic, even though I just watched them talk to another male customer about the same subject.

Still other times, it becomes clear that they simply do not know about whiskey, such as the time I was looking for a new rye whiskey to add to the collection, and a shopkeeper told me that all bourbon is mostly rye. I told him that by definition, bourbon must contain 51% corn in its mash bill, and was told I was wrong. I’ve educated countless storekeepers (as well as acquaintances that drink bourbon) on what Bottled in Bond means. I’ve been told that I won’t like the high proof of some whiskies I have selected. The list goes on and on. And while none of this discourages me from the hunt, it has conditioned me to look for advice and help from my own personal networks and the forums I participate in rather than counting on storekeepers to guide me.

So guys, next time your woman is indecisive about what to drink, why not help her enter the world of whiskey? Chances are she’s probably never had anyone willing to guide her through the complex world of whiskey in a way that can help her find something she likes. Let her experiment; let her try different types, and let her drink it how she wants (in a cocktail, on the rocks, etc) - and let her make up her own mind about what she likes and doesn’t like. Whiskey is definitely not for everyone, but given the right guidance, recommendations, and opportunity to explore her tastes, you might be surprised to find that your lady can share an appreciation for your favorite drink.

All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.


16 thoughts on “A Woman in Whiskey”

  1. To add to Joan’s advice to men…make sure you tell your wife/girlfriend/life mate the difference between Macallan 60
    and Heaven Hill.

  2. Awesome blog, Joan! Thanks for sharing! I am in the auto parts business. I learned long ago there are a lot of women with good knowledge around cars. I try my darnedest not to judge or form an opinion before I find out a level of knowledge. Cheers!

  3. This is a great write up! I really hope that perceptions will change and we’ll see more women involved in whiskey reviews and promoting it!

  4. Great perspective. I have been drinking bourbon for 10+ years but my wife has only recently allowed me to broaden her palate with old fashioneds, which she surprisingly enjoys, and is ready to dip her toes in the brown water. Cheers to all whisky drinking women!

  5. Great article! The first time I met my wife she ‘helped’ me with a bottle of whiskey. 12 years later, she has her side of the whiskey cabinet and I have mine. She definitely has her own favorites.

  6. Great article, People that assume, are well not too bright. Same problems with auto repair and Men and women.
    Some bartenders have no idea what neat means, but I hit some “scruffy” bars. But Cheers to you and keep enjoying and writing.
    Merry Christmas !!!!!

  7. Well stated, Joan! Great article and all-too-often an occurrence for me as well. Stereotypes are annoying but I find them humorous more often. It’s easier for everyone that way. I, too, have done my share of education. I have no doubt I will continue to do so with a grain of salt, an understanding that my insights may fall on deaf ears, and an increasing love for the brown juice, it’s ambassadors, and fellow aficionados. Cheers, BBFF!

  8. Joan-
    Great essay!
    Those small minded shopkeepers don’t know the knowledge they’re missing. Don’t be deterred and please keep sharing your thoughts with us.

    Cheers \_/

  9. Very happy to see an article like this. Honestly I run into a lot of owners and workers at different stores that don’t know much in general but this would get annoying so fast! Cheers!

  10. I can account for this reaction from a male almost every time.
    I am a bit older (66) and in the early 70’s worked in a typesetting/printing company. Very male dominated. Was flat out told that I could not be doing his work because I was just “a little lady”, his words not mine. I worked in the field for 35 years, and made a nice living.

    Then I decided I needed a hobby so I got into little British cars, MG Midget, and a Hillman Husky. I drive them all over the US and really enjoy them. I was at a meet in the Dallas area back when, and decided I should change my brake pads before heading home. So after ordering them, I was getting ready to put them on, and here appears a man, said he was from NY and a professional! After telling him numerous times I was fine and did not want his help, he ask again if he could help me out. At this point either I was going to have to Bitch slap him or just order him away from me. So I very sweetly said yes you can help me. Go to the back of the car get a chair out, there is a beer in the cooler, and sit down next to my husband and ask him for a cigar so I can get these damn brakes done.

    And so it goes with the bourbon. I have been drinking bourbon since 1967, started with W L Wellers neat. Still like that way, but that is my choice. I like what I like and drink accordingly. I am not a master on subject, that’s not why I drink it. I don’t collect it, nor do I hoard it. I don’t have to have the latest “it” bottle. Saying that I have a nice bourbon cabinet with well over 125 bottles. The only thing I have more than 1 of is my Wellers. There is nothing I would not open and drink with good friends on a nice evening.

    So in closing, ladies, drink what you like, how you like, when you like. There is no right or wrong to this. It is to be enjoyed. Cheers!

  11. I enjoyed reading this article about women and bourbons. I am only an amateur at this time, and my husband is the true bourbon drinker. I love reading the bourbon reviews and hunting/buying the brown liquid treasures,. When the new bottle is cracked open, I love to smell and take a few sips from his glass.. We then share our opinions of the bourbon. I guess this is our new hobby, and I am liking it.

  12. Joan, my dahling, I love this write up. This I have seen first hand with my mother many times albeit not with our delicious bourbons but with cars. She gets treated like a child attempting to play with blocks instead of rebuild a carburetor. Have of these chain auto parts stores just like liquor stores she most definitely knows more than those youths. I cannot wait to have an opportunity to go on a hunt with you.

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