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08 March 2019

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women In The Rural Economy

Karen Betts
Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive, Karen Betts

Greek philosophy tells us 'the only thing that is constant is change’. 

This, of course, is as true for Scotland’s national drink as anything else, as the industry navigates its way through the changing tastes of consumers, innovation in production, and the changing shape of our global competitors, not least American, Irish and Japanese whiskies.

If you were asked to describe the archetypal Scotch Whisky drinker two decades ago, you would likely think of a man, probably middle-aged, sitting in a worn leather armchair, dram in hand.  

But let’s face it, many things that used to be associated solely with men – working in the City, being a bus driver, a doctor, a postman, a CEO - have changed. And so too, the Scotch Whisky industry is changing.

Not only are more women enjoying whisky more than ever, today making up a third of whisky drinkers in the UK, but the people who craft Scotch Whisky in communities across Scotland are changing too.

Rachel Barrie Master Blender at work

Think of Scotch today and you’re as likely to think of Stephanie Macleod or Rachel Barrie (pictured); both master blenders with skills revered by whisky lovers everywhere. You might think of Rebecca Weir, a determined female coppersmith. Or you might think of Georgie Bell and Becky Paskin, whose “Our Whisky” campaign is challenging stereotypical assumptions about the industry.

These women and many more are changing perceptions about Scotch Whisky and shining a light on womens’ contribution to the industry – and right in the heart of our rural economy – in the past and into the future.

Of course, change takes time and the image of the man with a dram in his armchair does linger.  I’m still surprised by how often, even in my role, I’m asked: “Do you actually drink whisky?” (Yes, I do and I like it).

Do you actually drink whisky? Yes, I do and I like it

But the Scotch Whisky industry has been 500 years in the making and in that time it has evolved a great deal. I’m determined to play my part in ensuring that it keeps on doing so and that both women and men are placed squarely at its heart.