When you think of a whisky drinker, what springs to mind? Is it a moustachioed, tweed wearing gent, taking sips between puffs of his cigar? Or is it the bearded hipster bartender from the bar around the corner? Who do you picture when you imagine the people actually making whisky – gruff and tough Scotsmen heaving barrels and buckets of malt? Or Kentuckian cowboys?
Well, the world is changing, and so is the whisky industry. For International Women’s Day 2021, Liquor Loot are celebrating the women working to produce superb spirits right here in Australia. In a series of blogs, we’ll profile some of the leading ladies of the Aussie distilling industry, starting with Naomi McIntosh of Chief’s Son Distillery.
Naomi McIntosh is a trained scientist who decided to repurpose her skills in the whisky-making world. For Naomi, it was the simplicity of whisky making that first enticed her: “The process of distilling, changing three ingredients plus a barrel, appealed to my science background.” She caught the bug after her husband won a competition to visit Scotland – the spiritual home of single malt whisky. After moving to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Naomi, and her husband Stuart, were inspired to establish Chief’s Son by the flora, peace and space of the Aussie bush.
Chief’s Son might seem like quite a masculine name for a distillery operated by a woman, but distilling duties are shared between Naomi and Stuart. They also share a surname – McIntosh, which literally translates from the Scots Gaelic as… “Chief’s Son”!
Naomi only wants to make whisky she enjoys. With this in mind, she was intimately involved with the creation of every aspect of the new distillery, down to the design of the stills themselves: “Still design was an integral part of our journey. Our still is electric and delivers distinctive whisky, with caramel flavours”. According to her, there was only one choice when it came to choosing a cask variety – French oak former Sherry barrels. These casks impart beautiful ripe fruit and warming spice flavours, which work perfectly with Chief’s Son’s naturally sweet malt spirit. Naomi again – “this combination of ingredients, system and still design and very particular barrels are all part of the science and the reason our whisky is so unique and distinctive.”
Of course, working as a woman in a predominately male business brings its challenges. “There are enclaves within the broader alcohol industry where it is difficult to be heard and respected as a female”, Naomi says, but nevertheless “the industry is accepting of women […] as more women enter the industry in a variety of roles.” That’s why it’s so crucial that women continue to join and work in the whisky business: with Australia’s industry still quite small, each female distiller is a trailblazer.
It’s also why we decided to showcase the work of Naomi and other women distillers in our International Women’s Day tasting box. As Naomi says: “Liquor Loot’s shining and showcasing the great work that female distillers do is fantastic – not only for the industry, but for young girls that may be considering distilling as a profession.”
Of all the many delicious drams produced by Naomi and co, there was one bottling that particularly caught our eye – the Cask Expression Release 3. This juice begins life as Chief’s Son’s classic 900 Standard expression, slightly peated and matured in French oak casks. The dram was then finished in Russian Imperial Stout barrels from the Mornington Peninsula Brewery, producing a thick, lusciously flavoured and almost dessert like dram.
There’s no better way of getting to know the work of female distillers than purchasing our special International Women’s Day box. We’ll let Naomi do the talking: “I hope that these activities [Whisky Loot’s Box] chase down the bias and that more people believe the same mantra and that we can all connect over a beautiful Australian whisky.”
We’ll drink to that!