Whiskey has long been considered a man’s drink. In the saloons of the Old West, to the smoke-laden back rooms of Washington where political deals were struck, whiskey long has been associated with real men doing manly things. Yet, in recent years, the beverage that once was said to “put hair on your chest” has seen a surge in popularity with women.
Whiskey, or whisky as it is spelled in Scotland, Japan and Canada, is an amber-colored spirit distilled from fermented grain mash that is then aged in wooden barrels. A variety of grains, including wheat, rye, barley and corn are used in the creation of whiskey, which has been made since at least the 15th century.
The first historical reference to whiskey comes from the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494. While this aqua vitae, or spirit alcohol, originally was deemed a medicinal, it did not take long before its popularity as a beverage brought it to the attention of kings and commoners alike.
Today, whiskey is made all around the world, with Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the States leading the charge, and it is a spirit that has become as expansive and varied as wine. Ask a group of aficionados to name their favorite whiskey, and you’re as likely to receive as many hotly defended answers as the number of people in the room.
While the craft beer movement launched to prominence in the ’80s, and flavored vodkas and rums took the world by storm in the ’90s and 2000s, whiskey remained relatively static. The same named ruled the roost for decades. From Jack Daniels to Jameson, from Johnnie Walker to Seagram’s, the world of whiskey didn’t evolve all that much — until recently.
When things began to change, it was pop culture that once again drove the whiskey craze.
“I think we can start off by thanking Don Draper (of Mad Men fame) for fueling the whiskey boom in general,” said Kristen Guerreva, a whiskey expert from the Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Lounge in Las Vegas. “You also see ads with Christina Hendricks pitching Johnnie Walker, and you become intrigued.”
The Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Lounge, which has two locations in the Las Vegas Valley, including The Palazzo and Town Square Las Vegas, “is an unrivaled destination for great food, unique drinks and a dynamic social scene,” Guerreva added. “The 2,800-square-foot space features a full bar serving 60 wines by the glass, 180 whiskey labels, custom cocktails, and wine and whiskey flights poured by expert bartenders.”
The surge in the overall popularity of whiskey does not alone explain why whiskey has grown to be so popular with women, however. Again, Guerreva thinks she may know a part of the reason why women’s interest in it recently has increased.
“There is more attention to it, which generates a natural buzz to want to try it. Women have exceptional palates and sense of smell; therefore, women are finding there’s a lot going on with whiskey for them.”
“No longer should it be intimidating for a female to order whiskey at a bar,” she said.
Bourbon, a substyle of whiskey with a very specific “grain bill,” has led the way in both upping the game of whiskey and proving its wondrous variety of flavors and scents. Now brewed in all 50 states, bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn in the mash; it should be distilled so that, in the bottle, it has no more than 80 percent alcohol on the basis of volume; and it must be left to ferment in charred new oak barrels.
Much of the complexity of bourbon comes from the master distiller’s choice for the remaining 49 percent of the mash, as well as the type of barrel in which it is aged. Time also comes into play, with the general rule of thumb being that the longer bourbon — and all other whiskeys, too — age, the smoother and more complex they become.
Whiskey is here to stay, and it is no longer just the province of cigar-smoking fat cats in private clubs. It crosses boundaries, ignores old stereotypes and appeals to a wide swath of the population ever hungry to experience life.
So the next time you’re in Vegas grab a couple of girlfriends, head down to the Double Helix, sidle up to the bar and let the talented, knowledgeable bartenders lead you on a journey of discovery into the wonderful world of whiskey.