It’s International Women’s Day today and with that in mind we thought we’d publish an article about three female whisky lovers in Wales who have well and truly smashed the glass ceiling in the distilling industry as well as other successful women influencers in the world of whisky.
The all-female trio work at Penderyn, which has distilleries in Llandudno in north Wales and the Cynon Valley in the south, producing single malt whiskies in Madeira. Peated, Sherrywood, Portwood and Bourbon cask finishes as well as Merlin cream liqueur, Five Vodka and Brecon Gin.
Penderyn (The Welsh Whisky Company) became the first whisky to be manufactured in Wales in over two hundred years with its first release in 2004.
Laura Davies is now General Manager of Distilleries.
“I joined Penderyn in early 2012, fresh from university, as a trainee distiller. I knew very little about the whisky industry prior to joining the company and my position was actually advertised anonymously in order to avoid well-meaning and excited (but unqualified) enthusiasts applying.
“At my interview, the Chief Executive asked me, ‘Do you know much about whisky?’. When I said No. he quickly followed with ‘Well, this is Dr Jim Swan, one of the leading whisky experts in the world – I’ll leave you both to it for a while’.
“For the next hour or so Dr Swan took me through a fairly comprehensive nose and taste test to determine if I had the ability to conduct sensory assessments on our new make spirit, maturing spirit and finished products.
“During my time with the company I’ve seen my role grow and have become responsible for all aspects of distillery production and operations, including health and safety, technical management, staffing, quality management, supply and logistics and experimentation.
“Overseeing our process from malt intake to spirit draw and assessing that spirit to be to the Penderyn standard, my role has a great balance between the technical and very hands-on distillery operations and brand ambassador work. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to train under the late Dr Jim Swan.”
Blender Aista Phillips was born in Lithuania. She has a degree in chemical engineering and used to work for Alzeim Ltd.
“The biggest satisfaction is seeing people’s reaction when they try our whisky for the first time and to know that they love it. As well to know that the products we make are award-winning spirits.
“If you want to have pride and passion in your job, you cannot beat working in the world of whisky. The whisky world is fascinating and fun, you will never stop learning.”
Penderyn’s Distiller, Bethan Morgans, is a local girl making good whisky.
“Being brought up just minutes away from the distillery in Hirwaun, it’s an honour to be a part of a local, privately-owned, yet internationally recognized distillery.
“I’ve always had a passion for science. I was a pharmacy assistant from the age of 16-21 whilst I studied locally at Aberdare Girls’ School and Cardiff Metropolitan University, where I gained a BSc (hons) in Public Health Nutrition at the School of Food and Health.
I studied a sensory analysis and food quality module at university (although I’d never been part of a tasting panel for whisky) I thought my experience may help me with quality assessment at Penderyn.”
Heather Nelson was the first woman in almost two centuries to open a whisky distillery in Scotland. The first is believed to be Helen Cummings of Cardhu, which she founded in 1824. Nelson’s Toulvaddie micro-distillery is based at the Fearn aerodrome in Ross-shire. It is the former HMS Owl Royal Navy Air Force base.
Annabel Thomas is founder and CEO of Nc’nean on the Morvern peninsula at Drimnin on the west coast of Scotland.
She left a management consulting and strategy career with Bain & Co in London to make independent, organic experimental spirits and run a pioneering green Scotch whisky distillery with super-sustainable credentials. She spoke at Cop 26 in Glasgow.
She is one an increasing number of British female whisky influencers.
Along with Dawn Davies, MW head buyer at Speciality Drinks Group and The Whisky Exchange, Rachel Barrie at Glendronach and Ben Riach, Kirstie McCallum master blender at Crabbie’s. Macallan’s Kirsteen Campbell, Glenmorangie’s head of analytics and whisky creation Gillian Macdonald, Dewar’s Stephanie Macleod, Emma Walker (no relation) of Johnnie Walker and Anna Thomas of the world’s oldest licensed distillery, Old Bushmills.
Says Wales’s top whisky nose, Laura Davies:
“I have a BSc (Hons) degree in Forensic Science with Criminology from the University of Glamorgan – lots of maths, physics and chemistry!
“But the whisky industry is far more exciting and much less messy than crime scenes.”
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photographs courtesy of Penderyn Distillery