MEET THE TRAILBLAZING WOMEN REDEFINING THE DRINKS INDUSTRY
Women have always played an important role in the drinks industry, and many rise up to become important pillars in the community – sharing their knowledge and creating wonderful environments for customers and staff. We sit down with Eibhlin Colgan, Shannon Mustipher, Jo McKerchar, Anna Ngyuen, and Emily Chipperfield to hear their take on working in the drinks industry.
Make Mine a Guinness: Managing the Archives with Eibhlin Colgan
Based at the Guinness Storehouse, St. James’s Gate Brewery, Eibhlin manages the Guinness Archive. Her role is to curate the rich heritage of the Guinness brand, from its foundation in 1759 to the present. The Guinness heritage story is very much a living heritage, as the archive provides inspiration to their brand teams for strategies and activations that are happening both now and in the future.
What inspired you to work in the drinks industry?
Guinness is so much more than a beer; it is a company and brand that has been part of communities in Ireland and overseas for over 200 years. In the Archive we certainly hold records relating to brewing and raw materials, but we also hold almost 30,000 personnel files of former employees, reflecting the lives of the people behind the beer. Guinness has always been about community, and that is very much reflected in the Archive collection.
Is there anyone in the industry you look up to and has inspired your career path?
The first Guinness Archivist, Sue Garland, was a great role model for me when I first took over the Archive 20 years ago. She built the foundation blocks upon which the Guinness Archive collections have grown and expanded.
Today, I am inspired by our current St. James’s Gate brewers, who are the latest generation of brewers that can be traced back to Arthur Guinness, our founder. Their passion and commitment to creating consistently great beer and innovating within the beer category, will ensure that Arthur’s legacy will exist well beyond the 21st century.
Do you think there are still barriers for women in the drinks industry? How do you think we can best overcome these?
In the Middle Ages, brewing was considered an extension of the domestic work undertaken by women in providing ale for workers to eat and drink. Small, local cottage breweries were run by women who were known as “alewives”. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that brewing became a male-dominated industry.
In a way, women in the drinks industry aren’t something completely new. However, much progress has been towards gender inclusion since the 1980s, with more still to be done.
What positive changes have you seen for women working for Guinness?
At Guinness, the first female brewer was appointed in the 1980s, which was considered groundbreaking at the time. Now, it’s considered perfectly normal for both male and female brewers to have equal employment opportunities, so we have come a long way in a few decades.
At St. James’s Gate, there is a very inclusive culture that celebrates employees as themselves. This benefits the business as a diverse and inclusive workforce can only lead to greater innovation and collaboration.
Want to know more about the archives? Here is Eibhlin at work:
‘Hers is a Tonic and Mine is a Gin’: Malts and Gins with Jo McKerchar
Jo McKerchar has been working at the Diageo Archive for the last 16 years. Her role is managing Malts and Gins in the Diageo brand portfolio. She is involved in all types of operations but has, most recently, been working on the re-opening of Brora and Port Ellen, four corner distillery experiences, and new product innovations such as Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale. Jo gives us an insight into malts and gins with Diageo.
How did you get into the spirits industry?
Like many Scots, the spirits industry has always been in my family. My Grampa used to work at the site where I am now based, and my Dad worked in the whisky industry for over 25 years – so growing up I was always aware of the whisky industry and the women that were involved in it.
I remember going to visit distilleries on family holidays, so I guess it was kind of inevitable I would continue the family connection into its third generation. My personal journey is a bit of a unique one. I am a huge believer in following your passions in life, so when choosing a university degree, it had to be History. I followed that with a Masters in Archive and Records Management, following a year’s placement at the National Archive of Scotland.
I was incredibly lucky that the job at the Diageo Archive came up just as I was about to graduate. 16 years later I am still here, doing what I love.
What has your experience as a woman working in spirits been?
Women in the spirits industry are incredibly supportive of each other, and they will go out of their way to do what they can for you. Occasionally you will find yourself at events where there are very few women there, but we always seek each other out for a friendly hello.
As the industry is quite small, it’s lovely as you always bump into the same friendly faces. You see the success of women in the spirits industry from all aspects, whether it be female coopers or coppersmiths, distillery managers, marketing directors, or running the archive, the women of this industry succeed.
I think you need to ensure that inclusivity and diversity is at the heart of all you do. By promoting this through all levels of your company, and holding your partners to the same standards, will not only encourage the growth on women in the drinks industry but the industry as a whole will benefit.
More than Cosmopolitans: Women and Bartending with Anna Nguyen
While working as a waitress in university, Anna Nguyen met some incredible bartenders who taught her about the history and wondrous world of cocktails and spirits. After they encouraged her to get behind the bar, she continued her journey in cocktail making. Now working as the Restaurant Manager for Door Knock, Sydney, Anna shares her insight into bartending.
Do you have someone that you look up to in the bar industry?
Natalie Ng (Door Knock) has been a long-time mentor and close friend of mine. She is an incredible woman to work for.
Do you think it is harder for women to make a career in the drinks industry?
Being a woman in the industry has its challenges - and being an ethnic woman has not made it any easier. However, I believe that the industry has shifted to a more inclusive mindset in the last few years, and female empowerment is currently at an all-time high meaning there are more opportunities to climb the ladder.
What’s your favourite bar?
Atlas, Singapore - gorgeous venue and even better Martinis.
Is there a spirit you’re passionate about in particular?
I've always been fascinated by the rich global history of spirits, the nitty gritty details of the production process, and of course, the integral role it plays in cocktails.
I absolutely adore whisky, and so does my father - it's a bonding tool for us and so has a very special place in my heart.
How would you encourage women to get into the drinks industry?
I think that more women in the industry (whether they be distillers, brand ambassadors, journalists, or bartenders) need to be acknowledged for their achievements to show young women all the different things that they can aspire to achieve.
It is important to champion inclusivity for everyone, no matter where they are on the gender spectrum. Healthy workplace environments where ALL are welcome to join and have a great time is key!
A wonderful example is Speed Rack - Lynnette and Ivy have created an incredible program that helps to support, educate, and showcase the skills of women across the globe.
How can people break through as bartenders?
Don't doubt your worth and always continue to educate yourself! Sign up for training programs, apply for jobs at venues that inspire you, don't be scared to enter a competition or to reach out to fellow females in the industry.
You miss 100% of the shots you don't take, and you never know which tiny little decision can take you down an amazing career path.
What did you wish you knew when you first started bartending?
I wish that I stood up for myself more. It took a long time for me to be confident in my skills and comfortable in my own skin. I'm so grateful to have had unwavering support from colleagues who stood up for me when I was too scared to stand up for myself.
Muddling through the Drinks Industry: Working in Hospitality with Emily Chipperfield
Starting off in hospitality, Emily Chipperfield soon fell in love with how fun it was to call a bar “work”. Hailing from an area that didn’t have much appreciation for cocktails, her first margarita at age 21 was a game changer.
She quickly understood cocktails would open her mind to a lot of new flavors – she didn’t like sour foods but loved citric drinks. Getting to learn about spirits and the dynamic style of content available, she realised she could never get bored in the drinks industry.
What is your favourite cocktail to make?
Charlie Chaplin. It’s also my favourite cocktail to drink, and doesn’t get ordered enough.
Do you think bartenders should stick to their specialities or branch out?
I believe every bartender should have basics in wine and beer as well as spirits, but I specialize in spirits because I don’t drink wine or beer. That’s the main reason I struggled to deepen my interest. I remember the first whisky I ever had was a cask strength peated whisky and it blew my mind. I had never tasted anything like it. Then learning about it never felt like work.
Do you have any advice for women trying to break through as bartenders?
Reach out to other bartenders. You’ll be surprised how supportive and helpful the bartending community can be. You might even end up giving back to the community in some capacity.
What sage wisdom would you give to someone starting out bartending?
So much of our personal and professional life intertwine, make sure to keep some separation between both. Keep hobbies. Giving 100% of yourself doesn’t mean 100% of your time.
Five Key Takeaways
1. Don’t be afraid to get started – reach out for support from other bartenders and you will get the support you need.
2. Learn the basics first – from here, you can build out your own offerings.
3. The drinks industry is an exciting, fast paced environment with sociability at its heart - enjoy interacting with your customers and colleagues.
4. The bar industry has more opportunities than meets the eye. Find out about seminars and other educational opportunities to push you further.
5. Acknowledge the achievements of women in the industry to inspire others and also to encourage them to continue being the best that they can be.