I have known Fred Minnick, the author of this book for many years. When he was still an aspiring whiskey writer, he came into the Filson Historical Society, where I worked as an archivist at the time, to look for ideas to write about. I guided him through the collections and pointed out some licenses that were issued to a woman distiller during the War of 1812. He was excited because he had decided to write this book and was looking for this type of information. I also pointed him to the Kentucky Historical Society where a woman distiller had a recipe for sour and sweet mash whiskeys. Fred took this information and compiled so much more to write this excellent book.
Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey. Fred Minnick, Potomac Books: Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Press, 2013 Contents, Introduction Bibliography, Notes, Index, Illustrations, 195 pp.
This book is written about the role of women in the whiskey industry. Now, I don’t know about women “saving” the industry, but they definitely played a huge role in its growth and prosperity. Minnick did an excellent job in researching the roles of women in the whiskey world. This in itself was a huge task. Women, like African-Americans, played a huge role in the industry, but their roles often went undocumented. They were not discussed in the public records and men were given the spotlight in the industry.
This book works to uncover the role of women and bring the much needed recognition to what they did in the distilling industry in three major countries that produced whiskey. I would have liked to have seen more discussion of women in the Canadian whiskey industry, but I am happy with what Minnick found in the United States, Scotland and Ireland. Women were not just the people working on the bottling lines at the distilleries, they worked in production, sales and management for the distilleries and their brands.
Then there are the women who did not work for the distilleries but still helped grow the brands – madams at “houses of ill repute” who kept fine whiskey to give to their customers, and women bootleggers distributing whiskey in areas of Prohibition. And of course there are the women who work behind the bar pouring drinks and mixing cocktails. These women played a huge role in growing brands of whiskey by using them in their cocktails or suggesting a good whiskey to drink neat. Important roles that Minnick discusses in the book.
The book is well designed and well written. It keeps the reader’s attention while keeping a good scholarly style. There are footnotes and bibliography for those wanting to find out more on a subject, allowing them to go to Minnick’s sources. There are 24 pages of black and white photographs in the center of the book highlighting many of the women discussed in the book. There is an excellent index allowing the reader to return to particular subjects with ease. Whiskey Women is a book that should be in every whiskey library. It is informative, well written and entertaining. This is the book that gave Minnick the respect he deserves as a writer. He has gone on to write many other books on whiskey and other spirits, but this is the book he will be remembered for in the future.
Photo Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl