Cheers to Women!

24th May 2017

Posted In: The Topic

Ireland is seeing something of a revival when it comes to the alcohol industry, with craft breweries springing up across the country, and within four years the number of distilleries growing from four to 17. Women have contributed to this resurgence of indigenous beverages, both as consumers, with spirits and beers becoming more popular with women, and as more women take leading roles in independent distilleries or breweries.

Words: Ruth Doris

WMB delved deeper into the world of brewing and distilling and talked to three ladies who have made it their passion.

Susan Boyle, one half of Two Sisters Brewing, brews St Brigid’s Ale with her beer sommelier sister Judith and sells it from their family pub in Kildare town and at beer festivals. The sisters’ business model is a bit different to that of other craft brewers, Susan says, as they have their own licence through the family pub. As “gypsy brewers”, they use the facilities of neighbouring Trouble Brewing, which reduces production costs.

However, quantities are limited by the inclusion of their own honey – as well as being publicans, the family are beekeepers – to the ale which is made from locally-grown barley.

Women’s palates tend to be more skewed towards sweet drinks due to an “evolutionary tic”, however, they can acquire a taste for bitterness, Susan says. It took her a while to get into beer. “When I really started to taste beer in other countries, Belgian and German, I was so astounded that you could get such a wonderful variety of flavours, tastes and textures.”

She says malt-based Irish whiskies with caramel and sherry notes are very appealing across genders.

Susan believes being a female in the industry gives her an advantage as there is a perception women are more approachable. “At beer festivals it’s really easy to get chatting and develop a rapport with both male and female beer drinkers.”

Adrienne Heslin’s foray into brewing was purely accidental, she says. Following the sudden death of her husband Padraig in 2001, the artist and sculptor, left with a five-year-old daughter, took on the running of the family pub and bed and breakfast. She says she doesn’t see herself as a female businesswoman but as a survivor. “Essentially it was needs must, carrying on trying to raise a daughter, keep the business afloat.”

West Kerry Brewery was the first brewery in Kerry and Tig Bhric is currently the only brew-pub in the county. As the only woman in Ireland who’s both a publican and a brewer, as far as she knows; Adrienne had, at one stage, five businesses on the go, including a shop and a petrol station, when the idea of a brewery began to ferment. “Somewhere along the way it occurred to me, because I had my own well, and beer is mostly water.”

The brewery, she says, has injected a new lease of life into the bar. What makes the beers unique, Adrienne says, is that she adds botanicals from her garden; rosehips and elderflower in summer and blackberries in autumn, with her mother doing the foraging and the labelling of the bottles.

As a sculptor, Adrienne feels comfortable within the environment of pumps and valves. “I work with metal, so I’m very used to cutting and grinding and taking things apart and putting it together, because when you’re brewing you really have to mix that whole idea of alchemy and industry. There’s magic and there’s also mechanism.”

Growing up in Scotland beside the distilleries where her father Stuart worked, Jennifer Nickerson visited her first one when she was two days old. “So I guess you could say that whiskey is in my blood,” she says.

Tipperary Boutique Distillery, which Jennifer co-founded with her father and her fiancé Liam Ahearn, launched with a single malt, The Rising, to coincide with last year’s centenary.

Speaking of a growing interest among women in whiskey, traditionally seen as a ‘man’s drink’, Jennifer says: “It’s a drink that can be flavourful and complex, and there is such variety out there that there is really something for everyone.”

Jennifer thinks the resurgence in distilleries has been a long time coming. “Ireland has the ideal conditions for amazing whiskey and I think there’s still room for more growth.”

Although distilling is an industry dominated by men, Jennifer has found it to be really welcoming. “I’ve not had any negative feedback on being a woman in whiskey, and I think that people are genuinely happy to see more diversity in the category, whether that’s a distillery run by a female, or using our own barley to make our spirit.”