Whiskey is often seen and advertised as a man's drink, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. This is why we spoke to Whiskey lover and brand ambassador for whisky brand Ballantine's, Minenhle Radebe, to find out about what her job entails and why women should not be left out of the Whisky-drinking conversation.
You’re Ballantine’s first female brand ambassador in South Africa. What responsibilities come with this role?
The responsibilities in terms of the job are all the same even if it were a male ambassador. However, I feel like I have more of a social responsibility. Being a woman in the whisky industry means you are more intentional about your role and taking up space in what is otherwise known as “ a male dominated “ industry.
What did you find attractive about the liquor industry?
The alcohol (hahaha!). On a serious note, the liquor industry offers you so much more than what you realise. A lot goes on behind the scenes but in a good way. Being a part of the ambassador team at Pernod Ricard has offered me a world of knowledge about the liquor trade, the versatility of it all and how much fun you can truly have with it.
Are there any women in leadership roles, in your industry, that you look up to?
Oh, for sure. Currently, the senior brand managers for our whisky brands are women. It was truly something inspiring to see how good they really are at their jobs and how open they are to teaching people like me the ways of working.
South Africans are gin-crazy. Has this impacted whisky’s appeal?
Not at all. There is enough space for everybody to play. What people don’t realise is that the whisky could appeal to a totally different market from gin. There is also something called “drinking occasions” where the consumption of certain spirits will be dependent on where the person is. The environment will influence the consumer on what to drink. There is also space to get creative cross categories (i,e: there has always been a whisky sour and now there is a gin sour).
Do you know how much Whisky South Africans consume?
A lot (hahaha). Whisky is South Africa’s most popular spirit drink. I’m not too sure of the exact number this year but a year ago we were sitting on 39 million liters of whisky a year.
Please share some of the interesting, yet possibly unknown, facts relating to women and Whisky.
There are quite a lot of interesting facts about women in whisky. Historically, women are always erased in history or rather their impact or contribution. One story I will share will be the one of Bessie Williamson. She managed the Laphroaig distillery in Scotland during World War 2. The Scottish government had then requested that they use the distillery for military purposes, which then meant that Ms. Bessie’s responsibility would also include military managerial duties all whilst managing an operating whisky distillery. Women in whisky and in history have always been the blueprint.
What should a consumer look out for when choosing a Whisky brand?
There isn’t necessarily that one needs to look out for. I think whisky choice boils down to what you prefer to drink and what tickles the palate. The one thing I can say is don’t get too bogged down on age statements on whisky. Older doesn’t necessarily mean better.
What are some of the stereotypes about women who enjoy whisky?
That we don’t know what we are doing. There is never not a raised eyebrow when I confidently order a whisky drink or cocktail as the assumption is that I don’t know whisky and I am often challenged. The truth is, anybody can drink whisky and I believe you can drink it how you like.
What would you say are the best settings to enjoy Whisky?
Anywhere and everywhere. Whisky is honestly best enjoyed in the company of people you enjoy. If you enjoy your people, you will enjoy your whisky.
"During lockdown I recently cooked up a Ballantine’s cocktail for the Spring season. Something really refreshing for the ladies. All you need is some ice in a glass, a double Ballantine’s Finest, lime juice, mixed berry juice, strawberry syrup and top it off with some soda and garnish with strawberry slices. Truly a hit for the Spring."