Women have always been instrumental to the development of alcohol, whether it is because women were the first brewers of beer or the founders of the greatest distilleries the world has ever seen. One thing we do know, is these women not only had great taste, but were great visionaries and leaders.
Helen Cumming: Founder and Owner of Cardhu Distillery
In 1811 Helen and her husband leased a small farm on Minnoch Hill in Scotland, and started an illicit distillery. Her husband John has been named as the official founder, but it is worth remembering that women had no legal rights to property or business. Though it is well documented that without Helen's business acumen and creativity with taxes (disguising it as a bakery), working the stills and distribution responsibility, the distillery would have collapsed in the early years. When John died in 1846, he passed the distillery on to his son, Lewis (again, legally he could not leave it to his wife!). Fortunately, Lewis and his wife Elizabeth made a great team, with Helen mentoring Elizabeth the demand doubled. When Lewis died in 1872, Elizabeth carried on the distillery, registered the name 'Car-Dhu' meaning black rock, and demand tripled. Elizabeth then purchased more land next door and moved the distillery. A little start up called Glenfiddich moved into Car-Dhu's old premise!
Bessie Williamson: Owner of Laphroaig
Bessie was the first woman in history to own and manage a Scottish distillery during the 20th century and was instrumental in promoting single malt whisky. The daughter of a clerk who was killed in the World War 1, in 1934 Bessie applied for a summer job as a typist at the Laphroaig distillery and worked her way up to management and directly with the owner, Ian Hunter. Bessie was a key component in ensuring Laphroaig survived through World War ll. Hunter died in 1954 and left controlling interest to Bessie, and from then on she grew the business across the global into the US. She basically instigated the single malt craze!
Marjorie Samuels: Co-founder, Maker's Mark
Walk into a liquor store in 1950s America and all bottles would pretty much look the same. Every bottle was named after a dead man or had 'old' in the title!
Marjorie was Maker's Mark research and development director, and so took on the role of bottle designer. She wanted the bottle to reflect the handcrafted style of the whiskey and stand out amongst the crowd. She drew inspiration from French Cognac decanters and the wax that sealed the bottles. After months of papier-mâché modelling and wax experiments from a chip deep fryer, the iconic Maker's Mark bottle was born. Still to this day, every bottle is handed dipped and sealed in that beautiful red wax. Marjorie was responsible for revolutionising both whiskey and other spirits' packaging.
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