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Wine and Spirits

Whisky continues to gain popularity in the Asian market, with a growing number of female enthusiasts

The globally popular spirit is shedding its old-fashioned masculine image in pursuit of a growing number of women who whisky

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 May, 2016, 11:22am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 4:31pm

Whisky has long been considered a man’s drink - at least judging by the advertising campaigns that cater to men. But as the spirit continues to gain popularity in the Asian market, it is also drawing keen interest from women.

“A lot of people think a whisky bar is a place where you have a fireplace with old men sitting with their whiskies and cigars. But this is not [the case] anymore,” says Christian Eggers, beverage manager of Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge at Galaxy Macau.

“Now [people of all ages] are drinking whisky.” As whisky brands reinvent their image, their marketing tactics are shifting towards a female audience.

In the past, women were not the target customer – they were usually featured on whisky ads as sensual pin-up girls – but times have changed.

A recent advertisement stars actress and whisky enthusiast Christina Hendricks, who has been appointed brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker.

Women are also making their presence felt behind the bar. “We see more women in these jobs,” says Audrey Eschemann, bar manager at Aberdeen Street Social.

Eschemann, who recently entered the finals of the Hong Kong Chivas Masters bartending competition, serves as a perfect example of this trend. “Women today have the education and access to [whisky] to appreciate it. Not only are more women starting to really enjoy whisky as consumers, but [many have also taken up jobs] in the manufacturing and distribution sectors.”

Then there are those who take the idea of “women who whisky” to the next level. “There is a lot of potential in investing in whiskies, as we have been seeing prices that have almost doubled within the last two years, mostly Japanese rare collectibles,” says Terrence Tang, senior wine specialist at the wine auction house Zachys. “We are definitely seeing more female collectors, those who are buying [whisky] as art collectibles and who are really passionate about it.”

But what is the reason behind women’s sudden thirst for malt? Tang suggests that it is a matter of change in taste from wine. The increase in women taking leadership roles in the workplace has also been an important factor. Eggers notes that “the demand is getting higher… [and] whisky is getting [increasingly] fine, rare and expensive”, and Jerry Lo, Whisky Bar manager at StarWorld Hotel, believes that sends a strong message.

“The advertisements take the high-end approach,” he says. “So to a certain extent, it conveys the message that you need to have strong consuming power to be able to afford whisky.

“Most of the female drinkers are career women. Usually they come for business meetings and try whisky when the clients order a bottle. That’s how they start drinking whisky,” Lo adds. “We also see management-grade women come alone after work during happy hour and order a glass of whisky.”

Addressing the booming demand, promotions and events targeting female drinkers have sprung up in recent years. Women-only whisky appreciation clubs are growing in number, as well as master classes held by numerous distilleries and hosted by brand ambassadors in Hong Kong or Shanghai, according to Eggers.

Eggers says this trend is still in its infancy, as some women find the spirit too strong to appreciate at first: “After one glass, men [might] continue drinking the whisky, but women may order a fruity cocktail.

[The culture] is still at the beginning stage.” If you’re just dipping your toe into the world of whisky, Lo recommends starting with a cocktail, or mixing whisky with Coke or ginger ale to suit those who are used to sweeter concoctions.

“Taste is very personal - you either like it or [you don’t],” he says. Novices can also try sampling a selection of whiskies. Eggers suggests varieties such as the Balvenie 21 from Scotland’s Speyside region, which produces fruity and floral flavours. Japanese whiskies are at the opposite end of the spectrum, and many have one-of-a-kind flavours due to the unique water and minerals of the different regions. With so many options out there, there’s truly a whisky for everyone.