Shattering the Wine Glass Ceiling – Women in the Irish Drinks Industry

Group of empty wine glasses hanging in a bar

Every industry has its way to rationalise the status quo of the women that participate on it and the reasons behind the proportion of them in positions of leadership. Science, technology, finance, politics and pretty much any field that makes the world go around will have its own narrative, but the result is always an strengthening of the invisible yet pernicious barrier known as the glass ceiling. The good thing about glass, though, is that it can be broken.

Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s most respected wine authors, who has been a vocal advocate of women in the wine world wrote about this phenomena on October 2017, the same week that the #MeToo hashtag avalanched to give worldwide visibility to a movement.

Many of her words resonated with the global community, however, her quotation from an unamed woman that worked in Canada and then move to Ireland was met with very mixed reactions among the Irish trade.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, of course, but the Irish drinks industry has taken steps towards the right direction and there are many incredible and talended women worth celebrating.

A History of Outstanding Women

Let us remember that women held a place of historical significance in the development of Irish drinks. Multi award-winning whiskey author Fred Minnick dedicates a fascinating chapter to “Tough Irish Women” in his book “Whiskey Women – The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey.”

In it, he recalls how “women made poitín in the hills” and often went through great risks to distribute and commercialise it. Many went on to become clandestine distillers when England’s attempts to tax the Irish whiskey industry priced most of the smaller producers out of the market.

Minnick tells the story of Kate Kearney, “Ireland’s most famous poitín distiller”, who lived during the famine times and whose “beauty and poitín were so legendary that travelers twenty years after her death showed up for a taste” at her cottage at the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe.

She distilled a mixture of grains and herbs, which she gave to anybody during the famine.”

He also remembers “a woman simply known as ‘The Poteen Queen of Scotstown'” in Co. Monaghan, who supposedly brought in the finest ilicit whiskey in the early 1900s. When Mrs. Mary McAree was accused of being the Poten Queen she was judged, but with only loose evidence against her, the case was dismissed.

On the legitimate side, women were also leaving their mark: When Patrick Corrigan died in 1865, he left Bushmills Irish Whiskey to his widow, Ellen Jane, who was instrumental in bringing the company to international markets and is credited with introducing electricity into the distillery.

Ellen Jane turned this already successful distillery into a limited liability company, transforming it from a Northern Ireland Distillery into a serious international company that produced 100,000 gallons a year.”

Women in Today’s Drinks Scene

Nowadays, Bushmills is part of the Diageo portfolio and one of the biggest Irish whiskey brands. Its master blender is Helen Mulholand, an innovator and one of the few women to reach this job title.

Other women in leadership roles within the Irish whiskey industry include Roe & Co’s Head Distiller Lora Hemy; Process Technologist and Brand Ambassador at Irish Distillers Katherine Condon, and Louise McGuane, Founder and Director at Chapel Gate Whiskey. The three of them will gather this 6th of March at the recently renovated Café en Seine for an event called Women in Whiskey, described as “an all out, frank and fun panel discussion with Irish women, who are leading Ireland’s whiskey industry into a brand new era.”

Louise Mc Guane - Meet the Woman Reviving the Chapel Gate Whiskey Story

Other influential women and rising talent in Irish whiskey and spirits include Claire Tolan, Managing Director at Irish Distillers; Rosemary Garth,  Chair of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland; Julie Christie, Marketing Manager at the Celtic Whiskey Shop; Lisa Ryan, Distillery Manager in Royal Oak Distillery, and Lisa Doyle, On Trade Commercial Manager at Quintessential Brands Ireland.

The local beer scene is also filled with women’s hard work, talent and creativity. To name a few: Christina Wade, Founder and President of Ladies Craft Beer Society of Ireland and beer writer; author and consutant Susan Boyle and her sister, who’s a scientist, educator and Susan’s brewing partner, Judith Boyle.

Other women in leardership positions in the Irish craft beer scene include Grainne Walsh from Metalman Brewing, Michaela Dillon from Black Donkey Brewing, Libby Carton from Kinnegar Brewing, Jeanne Mahony from Hope Beer, Maudeline Black from Blacks of Kinsale, Emma Devlin from Rascals Brewing Co, Adrienne Heslin from West Kerry Brewery, and Sarah Roarty from N17 craft beers.

Bigger and rapidly growing beer brands are not without its share of female talent in Ireland. There’s Niki Maccorquodale, European Head of Beer Innovation at Diageo; Heineken Ireland’s Marketing Director Radina Shkutova; Kate Clancy, Marketing Manager at Franciscan Well.

Bartenders include Anne Gilhooley, General Manager of r.i.o.t. Dublin, Stephanie Shen from The Chelsea Drug Store, and Sinead Goulding from the Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder.

When it comes to the wine world, there are so many praiseworthy professionals that the list below is only a glimpse. Among the Sommerliers, you’ll find four times winner of the Best Sommelier in Ireland award Julie Dupouy, Martina Delaney from Whelehans Wines, Sandra Biret-Crowley from Hayfield Manor; Nisea Doddy from The Shelbourne; and Anne Marie Duignan from The Exchequer.

Women in leadership roles in wine companies include Claire O’Boyle-Gallagher from Green Man Wines; Barabara Boyle MW from Wine Mason; Emma Tyrrell from Tyrrell & Co; Lynne Coyle MW and Cora Jane Wynne from O’Briens Wine; Justine McGovern from California Wines Ireland. Educators and consultants include Harriet Tindal MW from Tindal Wine Merchants; Maureen O’Hara from Premier Wine Training and Jean Smullen.

It is also worth noting Patricia Callan, the Director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland.

The amount of incredible women working with spirits, beer and wine in Ireland is outstanding and ever-growing and along the aforementioned, there are countless professionals in different stages of their careers, giving their best and contributing greatly to one of the country’s most promising industries.

A Network for Women in the Industry

This month, a new Irish-based networking organisation named Wine Spirit Women will launch with a networking seminar on the 5th of March.

The organisation has been co-founded by two highly accomplished and experienced women in the industry: Lynne Coyle MW, Wine Director at O’Briens Wine, and Justine McGovern, director of California Wines Ireland.

The idea for the group crystalised after many talks between Lynne and Justine, who together sum five decades of industry experience. They “both felt we wanted to give something back”, explains Lynne, as she mentions that the best way to achieve that was by “giving women an opportunity to experience and bring women together is a positive and progressive way – we hoped that other women might feel the same.”

This is a trade-oriented organisation, so membership is open to those working in different areas of the wine and spirit industry. “Somms, mixologist, brand owners, brand creators, buyers, marketers, sales reps, journalists, bloggers, event professionals” are some of the fields Lynne points out. She adds that while membership is open, non-members can also attend to many of the seminars and events the organisation will be organising.

Our first and most important aim is to allow our members create networking opportunities within our industry, to keep up to date with current issues and make new contacts.

She explains that the membership fee (€165 per year) “will be used to hire venues and secure trainers and international speakers for our seminars and events.” It will also help fund a Scholarship WSET to support Ireland-based students hoping to enroll on Wine & Spirit Education Trust course, levels 1, 2 and 3, as well as a limited number of memberships for students or young women in the industry.

FEATURE BY GABY GUEDEZ

Gaby ProfileGabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.

Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.

Gabriela Guédez Gabriela Guédez

 

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