Women fly jumbo jets now. And they run for president. They win gold medals, push human babies out from between their legs...sometimes half a dozen or more at a time, and operate on human brains. They fight wars, write books about business, and manage families. It should therefore come as no surprise that women can also drink whiskey.
As a cocktail book author, drinks blogger, and ex-bartender, I frequent events around the country in the wine and spirits industry. I love attending these tastings, lectures, and seminars, even after nineteen years in the business, because it's important to me and our company to stay informed about innovative products, methods, and people.
When I'm at these gatherings, I do assume that those in attendance are like-minded individuals with a similar baseline of knowledge. I'd never look around the room and make judgements about other people's level of expertise based on their age, ethnicity, weight, hair color, or gender. Yet as a woman, it happens all the time.
The most recent offense was at the global Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans. One of the events Jocelyn and I attended was Meet the Distillers at the Sheraton hotel. About fifty or so distilleries from around the country set up sampling booths with their latest and greatest products for attendees who paid $85.00 a ticket to be in the room.
The gender ratio was disproportionate as usual, with men easily outnumbering women 9:1. A few of the event's photographers were even shadowing us for a while, not because they were confusing us with anyone important, but because they probably needed documentation for future marketing that this wasn't a "men's only" tasting event.
We made our way around the grand ballroom, tasting labels we loved and trying new ones that caught our eye. Even though the pours were minuscule, we were over it after about eight tastings. Yes, we love whiskey, love bourbon, LOVE rye...but after three days in New Orleans and one day to go, we needed to pace ourselves. Plus, we had 8:30 dinner reservations that would surely include more cocktails.
This is probably why the batch cocktail at the Michter's table called our name. The drink canister was filled to the top with whiskey and peaches and ice, and the women at the booth warmly invited us to try the beautiful cocktail. But as soon as we put the little sample cups up to our mouths, a male representative literally came running over to stop us. Like, running.
"Let me tell you something about whiskey. Always drink it neat first. Don't ever drink it in a cocktail before you taste it neat. Whiskey is meant to be experienced without anything added into because blah blah blah blah blah.."
He said a lot that I don't remember. My blood was beginning to boil because I was once again being lectured to for no reason other than being a woman.
Fiiiinally, he stopped talking.
"Why are you assuming that I know nothing about whiskey?" I asked.
He looked shocked and stumbled over his words. "I"m...I'm not assuming that."
"But you just told me how to drink whiskey. If I was a man would you have gone into that explanation about how to drink whiskey? I don't think so."
"Listen, 42% of women now make up the bourbon drinking market blah blah blah lecture lecture lecture..."
Yep. He seriously tried to get all statistical on us.
Jocelyn and I looked at each other and smiled. I stepped away for moment to toss the cocktail that turned out to be super gross and agreed to try the whiskey neat. He shared some more tasting notes. We listened, but he had lost us forever. And he knew it.
As Jocelyn pointed out during the walk back to our hotel, why put a cocktail out if you don't want anyone to drink it? Why begin a conversation with an arrogant scolding if your purpose is to attract new customers? Why assume that we were two random people who wandered off the streets of New Orleans into a Tales of the Cocktail sponsored event created for industry professionals and not two industry professionals who happened to be women?
Spirit brands need women if they want to continue to grow their market, yet we are continually talked down to and treated as if we've all been drinking wine coolers and Jell-O shots our whole life.
We don't base our beverage purchases on feminine packaging, pretty liquids, ads featuring laughing millennials in floral dresses and skinny heels, or the fact that 42% of women are drinking it (whatever that 42% represents). We buy based on quality, sustainability, mixability, and a brand's ability to not somehow insult our intelligence along the way.
Please assume that we have a basic knowledge of spirits whether we are at a drinking convention or sitting at a bar. The average woman probably can't list the legal differences between bourbon and whiskey, or walk you through the different stages of distillation. But she does know whether she likes her whiskey neat or in a cocktail, depending on what she feels like drinking.
When you treat us with respect, we're willing to listen to what you have to say. And if what you have to say is less lecture and more conversation, you might even win our loyalty for life.