Nicole Pandolfo, a New York City writer, 30, remembers the first time she tasted whiskey, and it brings a huge smile to her face. Pandolfo grew up with her grandmother in New Jersey, and every night, right before dinner, Pandolfo’s grandmother would have Pandolfo make her a Manhattan, the classic cocktail of whiskey, vermouth and bitters, topped off with a maraschino cherry. “When she let me finally taste it, it was like, wow—I knew right then that whiskey was the best thing in the world,” says Pandolfo. “Later, in college, my teacher had me over to her place. She poured me my first Johnnie Walker Black. Johnnie was my gateway to scotch, and I’ve never looked back.”
Pandolfo is just one of millions of women across America who love whiskey. USA Today reports that “with the current bourbon boom, the notion that bourbon is a man's drink also seems to be dispersing nationwide. According to statistics provided by Heaven Hill, a Bardstown, Ky., distillery, about 30 percent of bourbon drinkers are women, and the total number of women who drink bourbon increased about 50 percent between 2011 and 2014.”
Jennifer Wren, founding member of Whersky—a New York City company that hosts whiskey tasting events and education classes primarily targeted to women, and has attracted more than 500 members since its launch in February 2014—says this is just the beginning of a new golden age of female whiskey drinkers. “Not many people know this, but 33 percent of all off-premises purchases of whiskey, meaning sales in liquor stores, are by women. Women are deciding, more and more, what is bought for the home” when it comes to liquor, and according to Wren, more and more, they are choosing whiskey.
Wren believes that the increased numbers of “whiskey women” in America can be attributed in part to the popularity of the hit TV series Mad Men, which showcases Don Draper and Peggy Olson regularly devouring bottles of Canadian whiskey. But another reason might be the amazing health benefits of whiskey, for women and men, if consumed in moderation.
“Dr. David J. Hanson of State University of New York states that people who consume one or two alcoholic drinks, including whiskey, daily have a 50 percent lower chance of having a stroke or developing dementia in old age,” according to Livestrong.com. “This moderate amount of drinking can also decrease the chance of developing diabetes by 30 to 40 percent. These benefits come from alcohol’s ability to increase good cholesterol and decrease blood clots.”
According to OrganicFacts.com, whiskey also “aids in weight loss, slows down the onset of dementia, increases heart health, prevents and manages diabetes, boosts good cholesterol, fights against cancer, eliminates blood clots [and] strengthens the immune system. Generally, whiskey is one of the healthiest forms of alcohol available.”
Carla McDonald, editor-in-chief and founder of the online magazine The Salonniere in Austin, Texas, has her own ritual with scotch, and it involves a cigar. “I’m not a smoker, but I do enjoy an occasional puff of a mild cigar (usually my husband’s) when I’m sipping a good, smooth scotch. It adds a level of sensory complexity to the sip that deepens the experience and is fun to watch unfold.”
Whatever the reasons why women are drinking more whiskey, their interest is growing steadily, according to Craig Bridger, brand ambassador for The Macallan. “There are definitely more women drinking scotch these days. There are more people drinking scotch in general, so that's part of it. But I do think women are becoming more confident about ordering what has been traditionally perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a ‘man’s drink,’ and discovering it to be delicious. I suppose it’s a symptom of that wider societal trend, the ongoing erosion of the traditional gender lines. And I think that’s fantastic.”
For Pandolfo, whiskey—specifically Scotch—is the best way for her to end an evening after a wonderful dinner. “There is nothing better to close a meal than with the perfect deliciousness of whiskey—straight up.”