A matter of taste | The women behind the drink

Let’s raise a glass to the women who have shaped the world of drinks with their taste, talent and dedication

Updated - March 13, 2024 10:43 am IST

Published - March 08, 2024 12:34 pm IST

A cocktail being prepared

A cocktail being prepared

Put a woman behind a bar and find an elderflower in the gin and an elegant orange peel in an old fashioned. Historically, women have contributed to the world of spirts through steely leadership and a sense of shared knowledge. Here is a flashback to the instances when women have championed the cause of the elixir:

1. The Grand Dame of Champagne: The widow of François Clicquot not only took over their eponymous champagne house, but is also credited with inventing the riddling table (standard wine-making gear that helps yeast sediment to settle in the bottle so that it can be removed during the maturation process). This did much to help scale the production of champagne . She further shared the invention with other houses so help advance the region and its local wines.

Madame Clicquot par

Madame Clicquot par

2. Other ladies of Champagne: Women played a pivotal role in the region of Champagne. Many house lords died due to diseases of excess (or at wars) and that left the ladies to fend for themselves and their surviving family. Either they could take over their family businesses or else starve and wither away. Faced with such dire situations, women always stepped up to the occasion. From Lilly Bollinger and Louise Pommery to Odette Pol-Roger, who’s maison (house)Winston Churchill called the, “Most drinkable address in the world”, these ladies helmed their champagne houses and saw them through periods of wars and crises, steering them clear of financial ruin and eventually establishing them as formidable business internationally. Champagne, apart from making great wines, is also the one place where the first generation of women CEO thrived so that is one more reason to raise a toast to the region.

Lilly Bollinger

Lilly Bollinger

3. The Hop Abbess: Hildegard of Bingen was an abbess of the Benedictine order and is credited with not only contributing to the fields of philosophy, music and medicine, but also with studying and understanding (and documenting) the use of hops in beer-making. This was way back in the 1100s when the men were merely tinkering with malt and hops and were far from brewing perfection. Her written records are among the first (and finest) and helped shape the future profile of beers, moving it in a direction which brought them close to how we know and drink them today.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

4. The Stars of Prohibition: During the dark period for alcohol in the US — the dreaded decade of Prohibition — a lot of bootlegging activities were carried out by women. Not only were they more adept with bathtub gin recipes, they also did most of the legwork and sales since, unlike men, women were not subjected to spot-checks by the police on the road. This allowed them to hide a lot of contraband liquor under their dresses and go about their business niftily, thus delivering heady joy to many. Many a gin recipe today (as also speakeasy cocktails) owe their origin story to these brave businesswomen of the times.

A cocktail being prepared

A cocktail being prepared

5. Cocktails: Not attributed to any one single woman, but it is believed that women contributed a lot to the creation and establishment of a cocktail culture. Men, in general, did not mind knocking back the harsh moonshines that most bars would serve. They did not care much for mixers as long as the liquor was stiff and got the job done. Women, back then, still had to drink in private, as they were not allowed to frequent bars. More pertinently, they found most of the hooch of the times generally unpalatable. Given such insipid drinks, they set themselves about to finding ways to hide their inherently awful taste. This was perhaps how the first cocktail came to be made.

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