A Whisky Woman on “Whiskey Women”

Book cover of Whisky Women

Photo courtesy of fredminnick.com

For the last few years among whisky and bourbon brands, there’s been a concerted effort to market to women. Some of this has materialized in the form of flavored whisky offerings (which, according to at least one master distiller, are more popular with men than women). Other times, companies have created campaigns, like Campari’s Women & Whiskies, to give women a “safe space” in which to explore the spirit. As a female who drinks whisky—and who loves evangelizing about it—most of the time I view outreach to women in a positive light.

But make no mistake—women drinking whisky is not a new thing. And throughout history, women weren’t drinking whisky because of targeted marketing campaigns or special added flavors. They were drinking whisky because it is good, and because you don’t have to be a certain gender to appreciate things that taste good.

Noted journalist Fred Minnick has just published a book that proves just that. Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey should cause quite a splash among whisky professionals and enthusiasts alike as an exhaustive, and often surprising, history of women’s relationships to whisky and vice versa.

Minnick starts his narrative in the realm of the obscure and somewhat mystical, describing Mesopotamian brewing deities and the Egyptian woman who invented the first alembic still, Maria Hebraea. He charts in great detail the laws and customs that surrounded brewing and distilling, noting that “women faced the same regulations as the men.” Drawing the thread through the centuries, Minnick’s writing weaves a tapestry of women, usually anonymous, who made spirits for a living—often as the only option to feed their families.

How about the women who “saved” bourbon, Scotch, and Irish whiskey? The examples are numerous—wives and daughters of established distillers who inherited or took over and kept the companies going; women who made and used whiskey as medicine during wars and on the American frontier; and of course female moonshiners whose manufacture of whiskey during Prohibition helped preserve important knowledge and distilling culture during that dry period.

Minnick presents a scholarly and even-handed point of view, discussing temperance women alongside female bootleggers. He doesn’t gloss over the tension that existed between these groups up until the mid-20th century. Instead, he treats both sides of the story with care and respect, although of necessity giving more attention to the bootleggers (this is about whiskey women, after all).

When discussing the whisky industry’s position toward women in the latter half of the 20th century, the terrain begins to feel more familiar. Noting that the industry had welcomed female participation in whisky production in the 19th and early 20th century, Minnick points out a few examples of notable women in the mid-century and then declares the 1970s and 80s as “lost decades” for women in whisky. The last couple of chapters he devotes to modern women who are making their mark as blenders, distillers, and producers of whisky.

I found this section most interesting because Minnick acknowledges plainly that “despite women running two major whiskey companies and making significant decisions at every level, women whiskey executives face the same ‘Oh, wait, you’re a woman stigma'” that occurred in the 1960s. Having done his homework and interviewed women all over the world about their experiences in the whisky industry, Minnick can back up his claim.

And, I have to say, I’m not at all surprised that these attitudes still prevail, both within professional circles as well as among plain old imbibers. I’ve encountered such attitudes myself—from men and women. At times I’ve chalked up dismissive treatment to my age, but at least part of the time I think people underestimate or discount my knowledge of whisky due to my gender.

Minnick questions why the whisky industry has not yet recognized its strong female heritage. For example, plenty of brands are named after men—Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, the numerous expressions named for master distillers—so why not an expression named for a woman whose work contributed to the distillery’s success? His question is valid, and I look forward to seeing the industry’s response to it.

tl; dr

Whiskey Women is a game-changer—a serious, scholarly text that details how women have impacted the whisky industry and why that matters. It rightfully lauds the industry for its progressive past treatment of women while pointedly calling out what it can do further. Don’t look for tasting notes here. Read it for an entertaining, often-surprising narrative of strong, interesting people making, distributing, and drinking whisky—people who all just happen to be women.

Advertisements

Boozy Desserts: Glen Grant Five Decades + Whisky Bread Pudding

bread pudding whisky scotch single malt recipe Glen Grant

Part of my aim in writing this blog is to bring good food and whisky together. When asked to review a new expression from Glen Grant, I took it as an opportunity to engage in one of my favorite kitchen pastimes: boozy baking. And since I had most of an unwanted loaf of Italian bread going stale, I decided to whip up a whisky bread pudding. With whisky sauce. To enjoy with more whisky.

Now, I did NOT use the lovely Glen Grant sample in this recipe. I never use “real” whisky (e.g. a nice single malt) in cooking, Brenne-infused mulled wine notwithstanding. I used what I had on hand, which was Grants, but you can use any cheap blended whisky or, heck, any dark spirit you want. Bourbon, brandy, rum—go wild! But please, please don’t use your good stuff. Save that to enjoy with the food.

whisky whiskey bread pudding recipe

Bread pudding is ridiculously easy to make. Bread, sugar, eggs, cream. Throw in some vanilla, baking spices, nuts, raisins or other fruit, chocolate chips, whatever—you can’t mess it up. It’s a great dessert for company, too, because you can make a whole pan (or portion into little ramekins) and feed a crowd. Plus, you get to serve it with hard sauce, which is butter, sugar, and booze, and tastes like the topping at Cinnabon only way better, because booze.

Glen Grant’s new Five Decades expression pairs nicely with bread pudding, complementing it with a light creaminess, notes of nutmeg, and sweet raisiny undertones. In fact, next time I might add raisins or currants to further draw out the dried fruit in the malt.

Glen Grant V Decades - Image courtesy of Exposure

Glen Grant Five Decades
Nose: Sweet with strong vanilla and honey with icing sugar and an undertone of stone fruits, especially fresh cherries, and a hint of nutmeg.

Palate: Gentle at first, with a creamy sweetness that progressed to warm spiciness and finished with toasted, buttered nuts and lingering spice. As the dram opened up, I got notes of minerals, birch bark, and cherry syrup, plus some orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. It was very easy drinking, and more complex than the nose suggested.

Glen Grant just released this whisky as a celebration of their Master Distiller, Dennis Malcolm, who began his career at their cooperage in 1963. Malcolm selected casks from each of the last five decades to create the limited-edition expression priced around $250.

whisky whiskey bread pudding recipe

Whisky Bread Pudding
Ingredients:
– 1 loaf Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and allowed to go stale
– 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
– 4 large eggs
– 1 cup white sugar
– 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
– 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 2 tsp. vanilla extract
– 3 Tbs. whisky (e.g. Grants)
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 3 cups half and half
– 1/2 cup raisins or currants (optional)

Directions: 
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Melt the butter and toss with the bread, coating thoroughly.

2. Beat eggs and both sugars until well blended. Add spices, vanilla, and whisky. Blend in cream and half and half until thoroughly mixed. Gently mix in raisins, if using.

3. Toss bread chunks with cream mixture and pour into baking dish, ensuring each chunk is well saturated. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until liquid has set. (It will still be bubbling, though.) Serve warm with butterscotch or hard sauce.

Thanks to Nick at Exposure for the sample of Glen Grant Five Decades.

Umami-Packed Fried Green Tomatoes

green tomatoes tomato slices fried

While the warm weather is officially winding down, and I’ve already busted out the soup pot for a batch of this soul-warming goodness, there’s still one juicy way to hang on to summer a little longer. Sure, it’s a bit tart and perhaps not as versatile as its more mature brethren, but the green tomato makes a lip-smacking treat that rivals all other fried foods.

Seriously, have you tried them? You will not be able to stop eating them.

fried green tomatoes southern fried umami

Don’t resist.

A batter would be too heavy, but a nice triple-dip in dry-wet-dry ensures that every slice is well-crusted and remains so during the pan frying. I’ve seen recipes that call for just flour and others for just cornmeal, but here I combine them, with well-beaten egg, to achieve a satisfying chewy-crunchy ratio without overpowering the fruit.

The key to this recipe, however, is the first dip in Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. The punch of umami imparted by the sauce ensures that the finished tomatoes need no adornment (although if you’re partial to ranch dressing or perhaps remoulade, go for it). And if you have any sauce left after the initial dip, try blending it into the beaten egg for an extra-strong flavor.

If you have a low spice tolerance, adjust the Tabasco accordingly. And feel free to use any other brand of hot sauce you like. To make the recipe ovo-vegetarian, find a fish-free Worcestershire sauce or substitute dark soy sauce.

fried green tomatoes southern fried umami cast iron skillet

Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients: 
2 medium green (unripe) tomatoes
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp – 1 Tbs. Tabasco (to taste)
1 large egg and 2 Tbs water, well beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup medium or finely ground yellow cornmeal
corn or vegetable oil for frying

Directions:
1. Combine Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco in a shallow bowl. Combine flour and cornmeal in another shallow bowl. Add beaten egg to a third shallow bowl. Line them up in that order.

2. Slice tomatoes in ~1/4 inch slices and arrange in a single layer on a large tray or cookie sheet. Working one by one, dip each slice into the sauce mixture and make sure it is well coated. Then, dredge in the flour-cornmeal mixture and put back onto the tray. Repeat with all tomato slices until finished.

3. Again working one by one, dip each slice in the egg mixture until well coated. (For an extra-flavorful egg dip, mix in any sauce leftover after step 2.) Then, dredge once again in the flour-cornmeal mixture and put back onto the tray. (If you need to top up the flour-cornmeal mixture, make sure it is in a ~ 1:2 ratio.)

4. In a heavy cast iron skillet, heat 1/4″ oil over medium-high heat until it is smoking hot (about 330° F), then immediately turn the heat down to medium. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd, fry tomato slices, turning over, until dark brown on both sides. Add more oil between batches as necessary, allowing it to heat up before cooking tomatoes. Drain tomatoes in a single layer on several paper towels.

Serve hot. If there are any leftovers, keep them in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator with paper towels between each layer. Reheat in the oven or toaster oven, or just eat them cold. They make a great substitute for regular tomatoes in a BLT.