SPIRITS AND STORIES: THE WOMEN PRESERVING THE DIAGEO ARCHIVES
Protecting the history of spirits and alcohol is important. Not only for passing down recipes and processes of distilling and brewing, but to remember the names of the important people who were involved in that process. Jo McKerchar and Eibhlin Colgan both hold important roles with Diageo in preserving that history. Learn more as part of our 'Inspiring Women' series.
Don't miss out on the opportunity to learn how to face adversity and develop your career path with Shannon Mustipher, as well as getting career tips for when you're starting out with Anna Nguyen and Emily Chipperfield.
‘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.
Is there anyone in the industry you look up to and has inspired you in your career path?
I have had the great pleasure of working alongside many fantastic women at Diageo, and within the Spirits Industry. Diageo is proud to advocate for equal rights and gender equality, and as a result it attracts inspirational women who have helped shape my career. I have learned from other women about staying strong and voicing my opinion, and more recently how best to manage that all important work-life balance when my kids came along. In fact, the Diageo Archive team is all female, and we have a brilliantly cohesive and supportive work environment based on mutual respect and genuine care for each other, both in the workplace and at home.
Do you think there are still barriers for women in the drinks industry and how do you think we can best overcome these?
To be honest I think the Spirits Industry has always been very welcoming to women. We have some amazing historical examples of female empowerment at the Archive going back over 200 years. There might still be facets of the industry that can feel a little male dominated, but I do see this changing. You can’t stand on the side-lines and complain; if you want to see change you need to make that happen and, more often than not, I find that this approach is actually welcomed by everyone rather than resisted.
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.
How to you get started in the drinks industry and why Guinness?
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.
Do you think you were inspired by anyone in your career?
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.
Are there barriers in the drinks industry for women or do you think things have progressed within it?
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:
Five Key Takeaways
- Inclusivity and diversity will not only encourage the growth of women in the drinks industry but the industry as a whole will benefit.
- 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.
- The Diageo Archive team is all female with a cohesive and supportive work environment based on mutual respect and genuine care.
- There are amazing historical examples of female empowerment at the Archive going back over 200 years.
- Don't stand at the sidelines - be the change you want to see.
THROUGH THE ARCHIVES WITH JOANNE MC KERCHAR
Joanne is a Senior Archivist at the Diageo Archive in Scotland. The archive contains a wealth of historical literature, accounts, advertising and personal notes relating to Diageo’s range of brands, with particular focus on Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Johnnie Walker and other whisky brands. In this episode Tristan and Joanne discuss stories behind these famous names, the purpose of the archive and how the information there is being used to inspire new brands and expressions.
A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
Australian Ambassador Sean Baxter took a trip to the Scottish Highlands to follow in the footsteps of the legend that is John Walker. Here he shares the myths and fables he picked up along the way…
WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF GIN
With 42 years of experience in distilling, Tom Nichol is a walking encyclopaedia on the subject of spirits and on TANQUERAY™ London Dry Gin in particular. Brush up on your gin knowledge with this insider’s view of the industry.
COCKTAIL ORIGIN STORIES: TEST YOUR DRINKS HISTORY KNOWLEDGE
Are you a cocktail connoisseur who likes a challenge? Do you know how your French Martini differs from your Gibson? Check out our quiz, Cocktail Origin Stories: Test Your Drinks History Knowledge, to see if you are a Bartending Master.
Check out our quiz, Cocktail Origin Stories: Test Your Drinks History Knowledge, to see if you are a Bartending Master.