Food & Drinks

Women who enjoy whisky

muita

Sherlyne Muita. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

doreenwainainah_img

Summary

  • Whisky and women is not a common pairing.
  • Yet, at some point or the other in history, some distilleries have been run by women including Glenmorangie from Speyside in Scotland.
  • Whisky consumption globally and locally has been on the increase, and even with Covid-19, the single malt category is still recruiting new drinkers, among them women.

Whisky and women is not a common pairing. Yet, at some point or the other in history, some distilleries have been run by women including Glenmorangie from Speyside in Scotland.

Scotch whiskey is considered as one of the most complex in the world. According to Karen Fullerton, the brand ambassador Glenmorangie Single Malt, Scotch is made in a way that stimulates all five senses.

All whisky in Scotland is made the same way. However, the stilts and wood used in the aging is what gives each bottle its distinctive flavour.

After working in the wine industry for over five years, Karen found herself in the world of single malts whiskies. The drink, she admits, is still more often than not, considered a masculine drink.

“Sadly prejudice will always exist. However, I am glad the industry is in a very healthy place and it’s great to see such a diverse demographic of people enjoying Scotch whisky around the world. As with any premium beverage, if you have an appreciation of the aroma, taste, and flavour that is unique to different products...it is as simple as that,” she says.

Whisky consumption globally and locally has been on the increase, and even with Covid-19, the single malt category is still recruiting new drinkers, among them women.

This month, I was invited for a tasting hosted by the Nairobi Chapter of Women Who Whiskey, the session was conducted by Karen who is Glenmorangie’s first female Scottish brand ambassador in the US.

In a virtual room filled with female whisky drinkers, it was hard not to have my interest piqued on how they ended up enjoying it.

BDLife caught up with a few women for a chat on how they got into whisky, the journey, and how they deal with the stereotype associated with the drink.

Rachel Osendo                      

osendo

Rachel Osendo. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

       

What started you off in whisky?

I was introduced to whisky by a friend over 10 years ago. When we would go out, he’d tell me ‘why don’t you try this whisky.’ He taught me about different types, scotch, blended, Japanese…

Growing up, we didn’t think beyond Scotch. We just didn’t think that there was diversity. India has a whisky, I tasted one called Rampur which had a very interesting spicy aftertaste. There are whiskies from the US, Canada, Scotland, Japan, among other countries.

I remember enrolling in a Whisky Exchange club and being updated on what is happening in the world of whisky.

What makes a good whisky?

First of all, it is the taste when you take it unadulterated. The notes when it hits the palate. There’s no bad whisky because every bottle has a story behind it.

However, I’m more inclined to the fruity ones but not very rich, not very full body, something light. I want a drink I can take and still function tomorrow morning.

Nowadays we don’t have the time to have a drink and have a hangover the next day and then try to rearrange schedules.

I love whisky that fits into my lifestyle.

How many whiskies have you taken so far?

Wow! That’s interesting. I’ve tried Cragganmore, Lagavulin, Glenfiddich, and blended whisky, but I’m not a fan. I had a Chivas 18 on a Monday. It’s amazing and quite smooth. I’ve tried Chita and Nikka which are Japanese whiskies, Rampur which is Indian, some Tennessee whisky, Jack Daniel’s, Ballantine’s, and Jameson.

I’ve drunk many but I have found my home in Speyside whiskies. I can drink them and I know tomorrow I’ll be fine.

From all of them, which one is your favourite?

Nikka, the Japanese whisky. There’s another that I drank in Cape Town but I can’t remember the name. 

Of all the whiskies you’ve tasted, which is one has the most interesting flavours?

Rampur. I want to drink it again. It aroused my taste buds, so I want to learn more about it. I think it’s made from the waters from the Himalayan Mountains. That’s what I read about it. Some people give it bad reviews, some good ones.

How do you take your whisky?

With water. Probably that’s why I can still get up the following day. 

How do you pair your whisky with food?

I love chicken, red meat, steaks... For white meats, I pair them with a very light whisky. But when I’m having red meat, I’ll pair it with a rich full body whisky. I’m not very big on dessert.

What whiskies are on your must-try list?

I need to look for the whisky that I had in Cape Town.

Also, I’m back on exploring blended whiskies because I think there’s something that I might be missing out on. I want to go beyond Japan, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and US distilleries.

I wish we had some African blends that we can compete with on the global front.

Often, there is stereotyping when it comes to alcohol. Do you experience the occasional raised eyebrow when ordering whisky?

Wow! I remember last week just telling my friends about this interview and someone asked ‘you want to appear in the Business Daily because you drink whisky? Do you see that is what you want to be known for?’

I asked them, ‘but what is the problem?’

There’s a perception that a woman who drinks whisky drinks a lot. People think that if you’re drinking it, you must be a heavy drinker. Sometimes, I’d go to the bar counter to look at what whiskies they have, but the barman would tell me that they have a very interesting wine list that I should look at. ‘We have some new wines that have come in.’ And, I’d tell him, ‘I want whisky.’

Then he’d answer, “Oh! |Madam, wine suits you better’?

But that’s not what I want to drink.

Something happened to me when I went out with a friend and he ordered wine and I ordered whisky. He likes red wine.

The guy who served us switched the orders. I said, ‘it’s the other way around.’ He smiled cheekily and said, ‘Oh, I forgot. It’s because this is how it’s normally ordered.’

We need to unlearn such misconceptions because they spoil the mood and experience.

I’ve gotten used to it now, but then I go to places where they know what I drink.

The stereotypes are global. A lady in the Los Angeles whisky chapter said she has gone through the same thing. She was given a cocktail and the whisky that she has ordered was given to the guy she was with.

Whisky is a beautiful drink. Why wouldn’t women want me to enjoy it? Or why would you want to control what women drink?

How did you end up in Women Who Whiskey?

Mary Anne is a friend and also my neighbour. So, sometimes we have one or two drink-ups and I’m always with my whisky and she was like, ‘ah, you know, you need to be in this group.’ So she invited me to join.

Mary Anne Mumbi

(Women Who Whiskey Nairobi Chapter President)

mary-mumbi

Mary Anne Mumbi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

What is it you like about whisky?

History. Each whisky has different characteristics depending on the region. 

Drinking whisky is like going on an adventure. Every bottle teleports you to a time in history. Whiskies make me research on their origins.

What made you shift from vodka to whisky?

The hangovers. I also felt that whisky was diverse; you can have smoky whisky or other delicate options. Whisky is a consistent companion depending on the type you feel like drinking and one that pairs well with a meal.

How many whiskies have you’ve tasted so far?

Wow! Maybe over 30 different brands. So if Glenmorangie has 25 different variants, I count them as one brand. If I was to count the different bottles, I would say hundreds.

What is a good whisky? Do you have a favourite?

I don’t have a favourite whisky because I pick them depending on my mood. For instance, the Glenmorangie Original is a very light dram. So one can pick it up any time and casually enjoy it. It’s very welcoming.

But if you want a punch, you’d probably go for the Lagavulin, something smoky. I like delicate and also the smoky Lagavulin and Ardbeg. 

If I’m having steak, I’d order Lagavulin. If I’m having a dessert, I would probably have the Glenmorangie Original or Lasanta.

How do you decide on your pairings?

I look for complementary flavours. Does the whisky complement my food?

I can pair a Glenmorangie Original, which is very light and delicate, with sweet and light foods such as cheese or an orange sponge cake. The citrus notes of the Glenmorangie and the orange in the cake marry. Now my mouth is watering! If I’m eating chicken wings, I’d probably have it with Jack Daniel’s or a Tennessee whisky or Rye. For blue cheese, I’d pick something smoky and heavy so that they’re not overpowering each other. I like pairing whisky with desserts, cheese, steak, wings, and chocolates.

How did you discover you can pair chocolate with whisky?

It’s trial and error. Different palates have different tastes. You might like white chocolate with Irish whisky, I may like creamy chocolate with Irish whisky. Find what works for you. The food has either to complement the flavours or contrast.

Is there any combination you’ve tried that you did not like?

Many! Cheesecake and something smoky like Talisker. I didn’t enjoy the sweet and smoky.

What are your favourite whiskies?

That’s a hard question. But I like whiskies from Speyside and Islay regions in Scotland, the Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie. I like either very delicate or very peaty whisky.

How do you take your whisky?

With a dash of water but I’m experimenting with cocktails. There are perceptions that the best way to drink whisky is not in a cocktail. But whiskies make great cocktails.

Some say you shouldn’t add water in your whisky or ice or a chaser, but all that is wrong. You can make it however you feel like.

Do you have a whisky on your bucket list? Something you must try?

Yeah! We don’t have a lot of Rye in Kenya. So when I travel next probably to the US I’d like to try more Ryes and also to explore Japanese whiskies. But also locally, there are rare whiskies that I haven’t tried yet, mostly because of their prices.

Whisky has been considered a male drink. Do you experience raised eyebrows when you order a glass at your favourite bar or restaurant, and how do you handle that?

Things have changed over the years. More women are becoming sophisticated drinkers. They don’t shy away from ordering and drinking.

We still get a few stares even from friends who ask ‘you can handle that drink?’ especially when you ask for a particular brand, from a particular year, showing that you know what you want to drink.

We’re hoping to have more whisky makers focusing on women, not just in Kenya, but globally.

How did you find out about Women Who Whiskey?

I’m a whisky girl. I love how diverse it is. A friend who was a member of Women Who Whiskey introduced me to the club, I met the president then and we became friends. Because I’m also a foodie, we went out to restaurants to eat and drink whisky. So we cultivated a relationship, and when she had to leave the country, she passed on the mantle.

The Nairobi chapter is the only one in Africa. We’re planning to expand and Nairobi will be in charge of the other African countries.

Renee Kamau        

ReneeKamau

Renee Kamau. PHOTO | POOL

                        

How did you get into whisky?

Whisky is a love story for me. The conversation starts with the taste notes. I worked with Pernord Ricard six years ago, handling the Jameson which is made in Cork in Ireland. They took us through everything about the brand, including what the founding fathers went through to how it is made.

I got to taste single malt from Scotland and new whiskies coming from Japan distilleries. I love whisky, but also it was a career path that I chose.

What is it that you like about whisky?

What amazes me is the complexity of the process to give the whisky a smooth and rich taste. When you see it at face value, like most alcohol, you don’t understand how much it’s gone through. You appreciate whisky when you visit the distillers, see how different tastes that you’ve probably not even been exposed to in this market are fused. 

What is a good whisky for you?

Drinking whisky is a full sensory experience. It’s from what you see, you know, the notes, the rich colours, it’s what you smell, the orange notes, the caramel…  That’s why I drink whisky on the rocks or neat so that I can fully experience it. Some whiskies are good for cocktails, but I think if you have it on its own, you appreciate it more.

How many whiskies have you tasted so far?

I don’t know if I should tell you this because my family might be worried and take me to AA {Alcoholics Anonymous}. I have tried quite a few because, at work we need to recognise different whiskies from their different styles, the age statements, and the regions they are coming from. 

I have lost count, but I would say that in terms of whisky tastings, I am ahead of the curve because now when people are talking about Japanese whiskies, the Hibiki and whatnot, I had drunk them way back when people were thinking Japan is only known for Sake and wine. Suntory has been making whisky for years.

Out of those quite a few, which ones would you say are your favourites?

Chivas 18. The packaging is not too masculine and the whisky tastes good. It has strongly pronounced caramel, orange, buttery notes. It’s one whisky that is versatile, you can drink it in cocktails or on the rocks, and it doesn’t lose its complexity.

I worked for Jameson, and I fell in love with John Jameson’s heritage and history. I like smoky whiskies with a little water.

I’m also a fan of the Glenfiddich, Glenlivets, and Japanese whiskies. Occasionally when I’m with friends, I will have my Jack Daniel’s and soda.

What is the most interesting whisky you have tasted?

I will not name a specific whisky, but can I speak about a serving ritual for whisky.

When I was in Dublin, there’s this ritual that we had, almost like a Jägerbomb, but now it’s called a Pickleback. 

So you take the whisky. Down it, and then you chase it with a shot of pickle juice. Most people think pickle juice is the worst and it’s very tangy, but I think it is one of the most amazing tastes in the world; the alcohol taste and then the tanginess of the vinegar in the pickle juice, it was just like a party in my mouth. Rituals around drinks are what fascinates me more.

Beyond on the rocks or neat, how do you like to take your whisky?

I’m very experimental. I am a closet mixologist, so I would say for someone who is not in the bartending industry, I make the best Old Fashioned cocktail on earth.

I’ve also experimented a lot with infusing whiskies. Get a bottle of whisky that’s not too strong. Add chilli or chocolate in the whisky. I also tried fish infused whisky, sardines left in it for about two weeks, and used to make a Bloody Mary. It is fantastic.

I’m a closeted foodie, I’m a foodprenuer, and I just started my own business. I do a lot of cooking with whisky. For example, if I’m cooking ribs or stews, I’ll infuse them with whisky.

Do you have any whisky on your bucket list?

I’m a fan of Suits (TV Series). You know Harvey (one of the main characters) and his taste for Macallan. He usually does the 18 year-old but once there was a Macallan 64 in some episode. I was like, ‘Oh, I need to get it.’ Then I Googled the price and I was like, ‘wow.’ It’s a drink that when you’re at a duty-free shop, you take a photo next to it. But one day, I know I’ll taste it. I want to see what all the fuss about it is.

What are some of your favourite whisky and food pairings?

Chivas has been used in a lot of food pairings. I like the Chivas 12 with seafood, like prawns and sushi. Foods that usually complement whisky are those that don’t need a lot of spices or additives.

With good whiskies, you could also pair with a lot of desserts. There’re some chefs in Nairobi who are doing amazing desserts with whiskies. You can also use whisky as a salad dressing.

Dessert and whisky pairings are not common. How did you know what would work?

My experience with whisky and desserts has been in the five-star, Michelin-starred restaurants. I would not recommend we start baking banana bread with whisky.

There’s a chef who lit up our table because our desserts had whisky in it. And it was a full flambé thing.

Whisky is seen as a man’s drink. Do you get raised eyebrows when ordering?

Of course! However, now it more acceptable to see women ordering whisky. But the key thing is to be confident about what you’re ordering and insist on glassware. I believe if I’m paying a premium for a whisky in a bar, you need to give me the full experience. 

Don’t just give me any glass, like a long glass for a soda. I insist on the glassware and proper water, because  water affects then the taste of the whisky.

Sherlyne Muita

muita

Sherlyne Muita. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

How did you start drinking whisky?

I’ve been working in very male-dominated industries. So every time we went out, the guys had their whiskies. So I think that’s what got me into it, just to kind of fit into the boys club. In Dubai, they used to have a standard whisky and cigar night, especially for corporate gurus. So I just joined the boys in the whisky and cigar club and my journey started there.

When did you start enjoying it?

Six years ago.

What whiskies do you like?

Depends on my mood. If I want to have a mixed drink, I’ll go for the American cask whiskies. For my single malt, just on the rocks, I’ll go for my European whisky. I like them because they’re smoother, smoky, tastes like vanilla and maple syrup.

How many whiskies would you say you’ve tasted so far?

Do I even know where to start? I worked with Diageo, I used to handle the luxury portfolio. So from Singletons to Cardus, to Glens, to Taliskers to Jack Daniel’s. I’ve tasted too many whiskies. So let’s just say it’s quite a number.

What would you say is a good whisky for you?

If I’m in the mood of pairing my whiskies, I would go for a Singleton of Dufftown or Singleton Tailfire just because that goes well with food, especially if you’re having fish or beef. If I’ve had a long day, I’ll go for the Jura Prophecy whisky.

What is one of the most interesting whisky you’ve tasted?

A Jura Prophecy.

How do you take your whisky?

On the rocks. There are some whiskies you just don’t want to mix them. If I’m on a night out with my girls, I’ll have whisky in a cocktail.

What are some of your favourite pairings?

Singleton with dark chocolate or a Singleton with a nice medium-rare steak with some vegetables, roast potatoes, mushroom sauce…

It’s not common to pair sweet foods with whisky. What made you realise that it is something you can try and enjoy?

When I was working at Diageo as a brand manager for one of their portfolios, we did a lot of pairings, from Johnny Walker to Singleton pairings. I tasted different flavours.

What is the most random pairing you have tried?

Oysters and whisky and I don’t think that was the best idea. The tastes are just off. When it comes to oysters, stick to champagne pairing.

Do you have a whisky that’s on your bucket list?

Yes. I want to try the Isle of Jura the Paps.

There is stereotyping when it comes to drinks, have you experienced this when ordering in a restaurant or a bar?

It’s all about ordering with confidence. Just order your whisky, sit at a corner, and smoke your cigar.

Again, being in a male-dominated industry helped me built up confidence. So for me, I don’t care. I’ll just walk up and have my whisky on the rocks, and if I have to smoke a cigar, I will just smoke a cigar.

Which whisky do you like to pair your cigars with?

Johnny Walker Blue.

Do you think in Kenya there is a growing demand for whisky by women?

Yes, there is. For us to be part of a founding group of Women Who Whiskey, it shows there is interest. I’m seeing an increase in the number of women that participate in our tastings. The perception is shifting and there’s a huge shift to whisky.

What do you think is pushing this shift from the traditional glass of wine to spirits?

It’s all about class and taste. There’s a sense of luxury one gets when you’re enjoying a very, very exclusive whisky, especially now that the luxury market is growing year on year. Big brands are now coming into play.

We all want to fit in and we will all want to be part of the high net worth individuals.

So we have all started enjoying high-end whiskies, going to social events, whether it’s whisky tastings which convert people and tantalise tastes buds to shift to different kinds of whiskies.