In an age where all the emphasis is on equality and diversity within all aspects of life we constantly hear about all the failings from companies towards a fair working environment for all involved, a lack of a equal opportunities and a very bias leaning towards a male dominated industry..
We see the efforts being made from some of the leading companies in the world to make sure they give more opportunities to the oppressed, but all we hear about are the negatives.. I fully understand that a negative story will probably gain more emphasis for a movement but there has to be a balance..
Diageo, one of the largest Drinks companies in the world has for a long time embraced the equal opportunities and if you go over to their Youtube channel ( link below ) you can get an insight to just how successful they have been at embracing all cultures as one..
Don’t get me wrong there are many many more companies out there but my point here is that if a company like Diageo can embrace change then any company can! Many of the distilleries have women for instance in a leading role, maybe not enough but they are there, things are changing for the better, unfortunately these things do take time, we have to look at tomorrows workers as it might be too late to change todays..
Id now like to go the opposite way and talk about some positive movement and discuss a little about some of the next generation within our industry, the ones that are actually role models of today and tomorrow, the ones that are going through the process now..
Lets move on and focus on what can only be positive for the industry, lets praise the companies that offer equal opportunities, lets promote the companies that give a fair chance to everyone, that offer apprenticeships to our youth, that go into our schools and talk to people about their futures and what that company can do for them rather than just what those people can do for the companies. We want to encourage all diverse groups to work for those companies, the ones that will help each other become our tomorrows not dwell on what was our past, the companies that are not just trying to tick a box because its now expected..
That said we cannot stop pushing for equal opportunities within all aspects of life, its not just about having more types of a certain gender within important roles it is about accepting all types of people however they come across, whatever their beliefs and whatever their circumstances are..
The interesting thing for me is seeing what comes across as a demand to include people no matter their qualification just so we can now tick that all important box to say we have become diverse, surely this is more detrimental to any cause, its demeaning to those who have been approached.
So my first of what i hope will be many interviews / discussions with the next generation of people entering the whisky industry will be with Sophie..
Sophie is a young woman entering the whisky industry, her enthusiasm is infectious, her drive to succeed is unquestionable, and the most important part is she was the best person for the job because of these qualities…
The company behind employing her understands that taking on someone like Sophie was not about gender, it wasn’t about ticking boxes it was pure and simple all about right person, right time.. Well done Cooper King Distillery..
Please can you explain a little about your journey into the whisky industry.
It all started when I was a kid, messing around in peat bogs on Islay during the school holidays. Both my Mum and Dad drank whisky, so I managed to sneak in a few snifters, and over time I grew to love it more and more. At 19 I started work at a wine and spirits merchants – The Wright Wine Company in Skipton – near where I grew up. It was during my time there where my eyes were truly opened to the incredible variety of wines and spirits out there. A year later I sat my first WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 Wines & Spirits exam, then a year after that I sat the more specialised WSET Level 2 Spirits Production.
After gaining a wealth of experience there came a tipping point where I wanted hands on experience. I decided to email every distillery, brewery & vineyard asking for some voluntary or part-time work.
Skip forward 18 months, a lot of hard work, a few helpful friends and family, a healthy portion of volunteering, a WSET Level 3 Spirits qualification and a good pinch of luck and here I am, an Assistant Brewer & Distiller at Cooper King Distillery and living my dream!
Do you feel you have been treated differently in the whisky industry because you are female? If so, how?
Absolutely. Believe it or not, I was once told by a female who works within the industry that I would never be able to become a whisky distiller, as there were no opportunities for women & that I should consider another career.
This is just one example, and unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon. During trade events, whisky shows, tastings and in the pub, I have been told this was an industry that I wouldn’t be interested in, couldn’t get into and finally, shouldn’t be in. It takes a lot of confidence to talk so openly about sexism in any industry. Many people have been talking about it in the whisky industry for years, but it’s never really gained momentum up until now.
Fortunately, I feel there has been a real turn of the tides recently, at least in the English whisky scene. Things are moving quicker in the right direction – all be it with quite a way still to go. We’re seeing far more inclusivity during whisky social events, I see more and more women being involved in the industry itself, whether in production, sales, marketing or journalism.
I love and have always loved whisky; inappropriate comments are not going to put me off, and nor should it youbut that doesn’t mean we should excuse them.
What made you want to get involved with whisky?
I utterly fell in love with it! The more I learnt from my WSET books the more I learnt to appreciate the complexity of each dram in its own way. I started attending tastings and visiting distilleries as much as I could and met so many people, on every side of the industry: ambassadors, bartenders, blenders, distillers, writers & drinkers. Many of these were women, which made me realise there was definitely a place for me in the industry.
Another reason has to be The Whisky Circus. This group of enthusiasts from all around the world are the best bunch of friends a whisky nerd could ask for. I adore how whisky can bring people like this together, creating the safe and inclusive environment that it should be.
What opportunities were available to you to get involved?
A few people have reached out to me directly over the years, primarily due to being active on twitter. I have worked for Mackmyra, hosted private tastings, ran a whisky club and worked at many gin and whisky festivals.
The WSET Level 3 in Spirits Production was one of the hardest exams I’ve ever studied for. I desperately wanted some hands on experience to better understand the production side of things, so I emailed Abbie and Chris at Cooper King Distillery, asking if I could come in for a few days of shadowing. They said yes, and after about an hour of being there, I knew I desperately wanted to make the stuff, not just drink it!
I have been turned down from a few jobs in the industry as I was told it would be too physically demanding and I didn’t ‘fit the bill’. But I wouldn’t let that stop me, and nor should it stop anyone else. I persevered and now work in a very physically demanding position, but with the correct technique, equipment & support, anyone could do it.
What experience would you offer others wanting to get involved in the industry?
Regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other social or personal characteristics, we should all be given the opportunity to work in an industry we love.
There are a few things I’d suggest. Firstly, try tweet tastings. Twitter is one of the main ways I managed to taste such a wide spectrum of whisky, and was able to speak to the distilleries themselves. Secondly, volunteer: there is no better way of opening doors than meeting people face to face.
Finally, if you’d like to gain in-depth knowledge of the spirits industry or want to further appreciate what you’redrinking, approach the WSET. The educator’s knowledge & passion is highly intoxicating & I’m sure you’ll be absolutely hooked!
How can we start to tackle the issue of sexism in the industry?
I think firstly people need to be brave enough to call sexism out when they see it, be it during a whisky tasting, a festival, at a bar, watching a tv advert, in a book or in magazines. When the exclusion of women goes unchallenged, it will continue to happen and we will not see the progression in the industry that I feel is so desperately needed.
A great recent example would be Becky Paskin calling out the inappropriate language used within the Whisky Bible. The Bible is one of the most referenced books in the industry, though within a week of Becky calling out the sexist language via a few tweets, thousands of people backed her and condemned the language used. Not only that, businesses recognised the issues with the book and stopped stocking it, publicly announcing their separation from it because of its sexist content. This ensures that the views in that book are not passed onto the next generation of whisky enthusiasts. That’show progress is made and how the world becomes a more inclusive place.
What ambitions do you have for the future?
One day I will make the world’s best whisky! We use 100% floor malted Maris Otter barley, ferment for 6-7 days and slowly distil in a 900 litre Tasmanian copper pot still (the only one of its kind in the northern hemisphere). Our oldest casked malt spirit will be 2 years old in August 2021, and isalready tasting superb. The flavours being creating within ourmaturation warehouse are bloody incredible, even if I do say so myself. Think caramelised pineapple, fresh mango, black forest gateau, golden syrup porridge to name a few. I’m so excited for what the future holds for Cooper King, and for my part in it.
We have some outstanding casks maturing: Armagnac, Cognac, Agave, Virgin French, Virgin American and manymore. I cannot wait to start playing with fermentation timesthis summer and showcase how small changes made during production can influence the character of your final dram.
What is your favourite dram?
My favourite dram would have to be Bruichladdich Classic Laddie, because it brings back a beautiful memory of my mum and I drinking it on sunny Islay during the Feis Ile, the islands famous whisky festival. We were sat on the pebble beach at Bruichladdich, I’d just turned 18, and we were picking out every tasting note we could find. It was the dramand distillery that started my whisky journey, so I will always be grateful for them.