• Women in Australian whisky distilling are being coveted and celebrated. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
These women are central to advancing Australia's whisky sector.
Talia Slonim

5 Mar 2020 - 10:03 AM  UPDATED 5 Mar 2020 - 5:07 PM

The Australian distilling industry is considered to be going through a sort of boom, with new distilleries opening every few weeks and local craft spirits being internationally recognised for their distinct Australian flavours.

But the industry's exciting new shift into a greater domain isn't the only changes that is taking place.

More women are getting involved in this traditionally male-dominated space, and they're being coveted and celebrated.

Just ask Kathleen Davies, owner of Nip of Courage, the first distributor to wholly represent Australian made and owned craft spirits.

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When Davies began working in the Australian liquor industry over 25 years ago, she was one of 13 women "reps on the road", compared to about 400 men. Back then, she says, no woman occupied a role higher than a representative. 

Davies, who is the first female owner of an Australian spirits distribution company, has been hard at work to change what used to be considered a 'blokey' industry.

"A lot of women have actually worked behind the scenes, but not put themselves out there as being a critical part of the businesses," she says.

"So that's why I developed Women of Australian Distilling back in 2014 – to basically put them in the spotlight… and to inspire other women to get involved in the industry."

"We're finally seeing the last of that stereotypical imagery of what role women play in spirits."

This International Women's Day, Women of Australian Distilling is one of the organisers running an event at Bloodwood Newtown to celebrate Australian women distillers. In line with this year's theme, #EachforEqual, the event will host four women distillers to discuss how women can get more involved in the emerging industry.

This is because while women may occupy a greater space than ever before, there is still a long way to go until the numbers are equal. At the moment, there are approximately 40 women distillers compared to 400 men distillers. 

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But Davies is optimistic about the future of women distilling, believing distillery owners are recruiting more women to increase their teams' diversity, and bring new skills and experiences to the craft. 

"I think with the bigger companies, like Starward, Archie Rose, Four Pillars, they're putting Australian distilling on the map full stop, but a couple of those distilleries have females that are quite prominent in their teams," she said.

"And I think that is inspiring to not only just the industry but also the consumers that follow these brands."

One such prominent woman distiller is Carlie Dyer, 27, who has worked at Melbourne's Starward Distillery for the past two years. Dyer is proud to be a part of a small but growing group of women changing the perception of what a typical distiller may look like. 

Kathleen Davies is the owner of Nip of Courage, the first distributor to wholly represent Australian made and owned craft spirits.

"There is this general misconception about being a female distiller that you don't really know anything, or just being a woman in general that you don’t know much about whisky," she said. "People think that girls don't drink whisky, which is obviously not true, but a lot of people tend to put genders on drinks."

Dyer, who started off in the wine industry, says that the creativity and freedom to experiment that has come to distinguish the Australian spirit industry is perhaps key in creating a more open culture that has encouraged an increasing amount of women to participate.

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"My experience in the spirits industry is a lot more open and welcome. They encourage growth and change and it's not very traditional in the sense of what other industries can be, like the wine industry."

Davies agrees, believing the rebranding of spirits is helping women crack into the industry. 

"People used to associate whisky with men sitting there, smoking cigars with a woman in lingerie sitting next to them drinking a dram of whisky. I think that's sort of old hat, and we're finally seeing the last of that stereotypical imagery of what role women play in spirits."

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