The women who shaped Whisky!

Throughout history, Whisky has always been known as a Mans drink, However unbeknown to most, the whisky industry has been shaped and changed by women for hundreds of years! So in the spirit of International Women's Day, here are a few of the Icons who have really changed the world of whisky as we know it!


1 - Marjorie Samuels - Makers Mark


(left: Marjorie Samuels) (right: Makers Mark Bottle)

Whilst the recipe may have been made by her Husband - Bill Samuels - It was Marjorie Samuels who was the one who came up with the Iconic design of the Red Dripping wax on the Bottles. It is believed that she originally made the wax in her Deep Fryer!


Not only did she come up with the iconic wax design, but she also came up with: The Name of the brand, The ''Siv'' symbol (Which means Samuels - 4th Generation) and she made the brands TypeFace. Arguably the brand wouldn't have been anywhere near as successful as it is now without Marjorie's input on the designs of the Makers Mark Brand!


2- Helen and Elizabeth Cummings - Cardhu


(Left: Elizabeth Cummings) (Right: Cardhu Whisky)

Back in The 18th Century, the Taxes on whisky had been raised to Extortionate Prices since the English were trying to control Scottish Production of the drink! And from that, the black market and illicit distilleries flourished, one major player of this was led by Helen & Elizabeth Cummings!


In 1811, Helen Cummings and her husband John rented a small farm which they named Cardow. Here they set up an Illicit Distillery, as many of their neighbours had done! Here her Husband John would tend to the farm, whilst Helen would tend to the household chores and also the whisky. Helen was the first recorded woman in history to work the stills. Not only would she do that, but she was also responsible for the distribution of the whisky!


There were several ways Helen would distribute the Whisky. The first way was that she'd walk roughly 20 miles to the nearest town, Eglin, with the Whisky hidden underneath her skirts, then she'd sell them to whoever was interested in the streets. The other way she'd sell the whisky is through the window of her house, to people passing by!


Let us not forget what she was doing was illegal, So the way she'd avoid authorities was actually quite clever! If Authorities were in the area, she'd disguise her Distillery as a bakery, Invite them in for tea and allow them to spend the night. Whilst they were busy eating, she'd go to her back garden, raise a red flag or hang her laundry to warn neighbouring distilleries that the Authorities were near! Over the next five years, John was arrested three times however this never allowed the business to slow down! As well as the business thriving, The Cummings Family were also thriving! With now eight kids, and a successful whisky business, the family had quite the reputation!


In 1824 when taxes were finally lowered, John Cummings was among the first to purchase an official distilling license. During this Time their oldest son, Lewis had gained several contracts and had helped massively with the distribution side of the business. It was also Lewis who had married Elizabeth. When John Died In 1846 he left the business to Lewis. (John was the official owner since married women were unable to own property at the time). However, this worked out quite well for the business since Lewis and Elizabeth were quite a team! They soon doubled their production to meet the increasing demand for the Whisky! By 1854, they had to hire two more people and couldn't run the farm all year round! In 1872 Lewis Died leaving behind Helen, Elizabeth and his Four Children! This Didn't Stop Elizabeth though, She took over the Distillery and trademarked their single malt whisky under ''Car-Dhu'' Which means ''Black Rock''. Unfortunately, Two years later Helen Passed at the age of 98!


Over the years, Under Elizabeth's management, the production grew Steadily, However by 1884, She couldn't meet the high demand, so she had to expand and brought four acres of land in the local area and named them New Cardow, meanwhile the old building was sold!


Over the years Elizabeth continued to work on the business, through the markets dive and the decade long boom ending in 1892. Then through more expansions of the distillery! Up until she was an old woman, where she realized that the business was bigger then the family could handle, which led to the decision to sell her business to a long time customer, Blending house John Walker & Sons. She made a deal with them to keep her workers working for them and got electricity brought to the area! She didn't completely abandon the business though, she also managed to secure her son as a board member of the business! She also brought 100 shares of the business, securing the family fortune!


3- The Mother of Japanese Whisky - Rita Taketsuru - Nikka Whisky

(Left: Masataka and Rita Taketsuru) (Right: Nikka Whisky)

The Story Of Rita Taketsuru, Formally known as Jessie Roberta Cowan, is a story of Love, Whisky, War and following your heart against all odds.


Our tale begins in 1918. The Cowan family had to take in a lodger after struggling to make ends meet. This is where Rita met Masataka Taketsuru, a Japanese man who came to Glasgow to learn the local art of Whisky making. During his time there, the pair quickly fell for each other, and much to both families disdain, in 1920 the pair wed at the local registry office in Glasgow which later led to her moving across the world to Japan, Where Masataka intended to build his own Distillery. Here Masataka met Torii San, the owner of Kotobukiya that later became known as Suntory, Torii San managed to convince Masataka to build him a distillery, However, Taketsuru didn't get his wish of building it in northern Japan as he wanted.


Eventually, 10 years later, he decided to go out on his own and build his own distillery in Yoichi, a small town in Hokkaido, as the climate there was as close to the Scottish Climate as he could get in Japan. During this time Rita stood by him through it all.


Now, you may be asking yourself how Rita was involved in all this. During this time, whilst adapting to Japanese Culture, Teaching English and piano lessons, Rita created a Network of contacts for Masataka which helped lead to new investors and the success of the Nikka whisky brand, and also she provided a lot of support for him during all this time and without her, he would have never been able to overcome a lot of the difficulties he faced over the years.


The years during WWII were difficult for both of them, Especially Rita, who faced a lot of backlash from locals, who believed her to be a spy for Britain, Who at the time Japan was at war with. However, Rita stood strong and the distillery prospered due to the war, which made importing whisky from overseas nearly impossible. Over the years, the Citizens of Yoichi learned to appreciate Rita and after her death in 1961, the main road in Yoichi was renamed Rita Road.


Rita Taketsuru will be forever remembered as the Mother of Japanese Whisky.





Whilst there are much more wonderful women who have contributed and changed the Whisky Industry for the better, I wanted to Highlight these three amazing stories and how they have changed the industry for the better.


Happy International Women's days.


-Ben





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