OurWhisky Foundation are partnering with Whisky Auctioneer to host an auction dedicated to women in whisky. Named the Demeter Collection, the auction will feature 18 unique lots showcasing the past and present female influence within the industry. The auction will run from 29th March to 8th April (catching the end of Women’s History Month in March 2024) and all proceeds from the auction will be donated to the OurWhisky Foundation.

Founded in 2022 by journalist Becky Paskin, the OurWhisky Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to support women in whisky and promote inclusivity throughout the industry.

Whisky has long been an industry dominated by men. From producers to consumers via commentators and collectors, the whisky world is largely male orientated. This auction is part of OurWhisky Foundation’s efforts to redress this balance by showcasing the incredible achievements and significant contributions of women in whisky.

The 18 lots pay homage to the trailblazing pioneers of the past. Included in the auction is a 25 Year Old Laphroaig dedicated to their iconic former distillery manager Bessie Williamson. Dalmore have also donated a 44 year old malt dedicated to whisky maker Margaret Nicol who will soon celebrate 50 years in the industry.

However, the ongoing involvement of women can’t be overlooked and much of the whisky curated for the auction celebrates those leading the way in the present day. Rachel Barrie, Master Blender for Brown-Forman and one of the most respected names in Scotch whisky, has hand selected a Glendronach 30 Year Old for the auction. The team of women working for one of Speyside’s up and coming brands The Cairn distillery have crafted a 57 Year Old blend for the occasion.

Other whisky highlights include an Aberfeldy 44 Year Old, an Ardbeg 20 Year Old and a selection of intriguing drams from brands on the rise such as Nc’nean, Wire Works and Cooper King.

The name for the collection comes from Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain - a fitting name for an auction celebrating women and whisky. More than just a good name, Paskin notes how Demeter’s story is somewhat symbolic of the story of women in whisky:

“Despite her important role within Greek mythology, Demeter remains one of the lesser-known of the Olympians, her story largely untold in popular culture. Yet her heroic tale of overcoming obstacles to support her daughter, all while sharing her knowledge and wisdom with others, embodies many similar values to the OurWhisky Foundation.

“Just like Demeter’s side-lining in pop culture, women’s contributions to whisky have been vastly under-recognised. Through the Demeter Collection, we want to honour the grain goddess and tell the untold stories of women in whisky, while raising much-needed funds to enable the OurWhisky Foundation to support, recognise and empower future generations of women in the industry.”

As stated earlier, whisky suffers from being, or at least being perceived as, a masculine monoculture. Data from different studies give slightly varying figures, but research suggests that women make up 30-40% of whisky drinkers in the USA and the UK. This is a significant increase when compared to previous decades. However, it feels as if little is done to promote whisky to a female audience.

OurWhisky Foundation also discovered significant barriers and difficulties faced by women within the industry. Their 2023 survey of 600 women working in whisky found that 81% had faced the question of ‘do you even like whisky?’, which is just one example of the prevalent unconscious bias facing women in the industry.

It feels glib to throw out a cliché like this, but it holds true: whisky is best shared. With that in mind, anything that can be done to get more people involved with whisky - either professionally or just as a casual enthusiast - can only be seen as a positive.

The whiskies donated to Demeter Collection prove that there is an appetite for real change within the industry. Similarly, the auction itself will raise important funds for and boost the profile of a worthwhile cause.

Of course, the world won’t change overnight. Nevertheless, these inspiring efforts are signs of positive progress in the industry and should be celebrated.