women in whiskey
Covering both the science of distilling and the history of women in whiskey is less like a boring lesson and more like a great conversation over whiskey.
A Chat with Amber Aristy: Find Your Whiskey
Before Amber Aristy earned the enviable role of a Brand Ambassador introducing Brown Forman’s Slane Irish Whiskey, BenRiach Scotch Whisky, and Glendronach Scotch Whisky to the whiskey curious and whiskey informed alike, she was a college student studying Biology at Georgia State University that needed a job.
Like most college students, Amber looked for a part-time job that would both fit her schedule and provide a steady income. Then, one of her friends told her about opening at Holeman & Finch Bottle Shop in Atlanta and she decided to go for it.
Amber- a girl with
"a love for all things distilled"
Spirits education trial by fire transformed into a lifelong passion for Amber. Holeman and Finch (aka H&F) is not your typical liquor or package store; a boutique spirits shop, H&F Bottle Shop is part of a hospitality group Hopkins and Company that also operates several restaurants and bars. Owned by James Beard Chef Linton Hopkins and wife Gina, a certified sommelier, the Hopkins are known in the Atlanta community as being strong community supporters who also co-founded the Peachtree Road Farmers Market.
So it was no wonder that Amber’s spirits education spanned across different categories and included knowledge about the production and thus was born her “love for all things distilled”. She describes H&F Bottle Shop as “catering to adventurous drinkers on the hunt for quality imbibe-ables” and fondly remembers how supportive they were of her career development.
What’s in a Name?
Bottle Shop, Liquor Store, Package Store, ABC Store, Party Store...where did these terms come from and are they all the same?
As someone who grew up in New York City with the term “liquor store”, I went down the research rabbit hole of whether the term “bottle shop” had any sort of legal standing in the United States either on a federal or state level. The short and dirty answer: it does not.
However, “Package Store” (sometimes called “packies”) refers to the fact that purchased liquor must be packaged in sealed bottles or other containers when it is taken from the store.
Then there are “state stores” or “ABC stores” (i.e. Alcohol Beverage Control); these are liquor stores located in one of the 17 states that requires you to purchase liquor in a store that is owned and operated exclusively by the state government.
Arguments for and against privatization for this set up abound from state control acting as an entry barrier to craft spirits that may lack resources to navigate government red tape to the revenue from state stores providing income for the state towards things such as infrastructure and education. Numerous research is available on the rise of state liquor laws in general after Prohibition was repealed.
But one former ABC state, South Carolina, boasts a unique slang “Red Dot Stores”. The story goes that while the allowed liquor sales in 1935, severe advertising regulations were enacted that allowed the stores to have signs reading “Retail Liquor Dealer” and banned the use of bottle displays, price advertising, and neon signs.
They say that a sign painter from Charleston, Doc Wansley, came up with the idea of painting a big red dot, inspired by the Lucky Strike cigarettes and other stores followed suit. Of course, this was later determined to be advertising and thus banned...then subsequently “unbanned” and to this day you can still spy them if you’re ever in the state.
Regardless of what you may call your store, in case you’re curious how a modern day liquor store owner thinks, visit the Whisk(e)y Network’s YouTuBe channel and watch our own Chad Cadden of Whisk(e)y Network interview with store owners George Fortis of Drug City Liquors (Baltimore, Maryland) and Justin Jarvis of Allview Liquors (Ellicot City, Maryland) as they chat about
Establishing good relationship management with distributors
Choosing products for inventory that make business sense
Handling consumers new to the world of whiskey
Thoughts on “unicorn hunters” only looking to flip
How to be a good customer
Moving “On” to On-Premise
After few more stints in the world of off-premise sales Amber moved to an on-premise position at Mac McGee Irish Pub. (Off-premise and on-premise refers to where the liquor is to be enjoyed. Example: off-premise = liquor store, on-premise = bar). Mac McGee boasts one of the largest whiskey selections in the state of Georgia (500+), listed in what Amber refers to as their “Whiskey Binder”. Armed with both her deep spirits knowledge and personal love for whiskey,
she embraced her new role at a place that has been deemed one of “American’s Best Bourbon Bars” by Bourbon Review.
The pub was a different environment than the bottle store and Amber was able to engage more with people about whiskey that included cocktails and food pairings. It was here that Amber then realized that her first true whiskey love was for Irish whiskey. (Though she admits the first whiskey she drank neat had been Rye.)
At the time Slane was relatively unknown and when a Brand Ambassador role opened up whose portfolio included Slane (along with the Scotches BenRiach and Glendronach) there was no question she had to go for it.
Slane Whiskey is aged using their signature ‘Tripled Casked’ method: Grain and Malt whiskies between three different cask types; Virgin Oak, Seasoned Oak (Tennessee Whiskey, Bourbon) and Oloroso Sherry (from Jerez, Spain)
Slane Irish Whiskey
The Irish are known for their storytelling and the story of Slane begins with a castle and a little bit of rock and roll. The Conyngham family owns the castle, which was renowned for its proximity to where The Battle of the Boyne (the last time two crowned kings of England, Scotlan, and Ireland) took place in 1690 between William of Orange and James II.
Henry Conyngham would make it famous beginning in the 1980s when he decided to start hosting concerts headlining artists such as U2, The Rolling Stones, Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queen, David Bowie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, R.E.M., Celtic Woman, and Metallica.
Meanwhile, his son Alex had been working for Jameson and recognizing the return for Irish whiskey love made the bold step of manufacturing their own distillery on their land, using their estate grown barley and water from nearby Boyne. Brown-Forman acquired shares of Slane Castle Irish whiskey and invested $50 million USD in the distillery construction.
While Amber does cover Glendronach, for an in-depth article on this Scotch Whisky, please read Tyler West’s One on One with Rebecca Gardiner.
The BenRiach Distillery is located in the ‘Heart of Speyside’, in the North-East region of Morayshire, drawing its water from the Burnside springs below the distillery. Like many other distilleries in Scotland, although they were making malt whisky in 1898, due to the ‘Pattison crash’ (when independent bottler and shady business Pattison, Elder & Company declared bankruptcy) they were forced to close.
As they stayed closed, Longmorn, their sister distillery,
sourced from their still operational malting and they
ended up reopening in 1965 and after changes in
ownership released their own single malt whisky in
1994. They would go through a few more starts and
stops going on to win the Global Whisky Distiller of
the Year in 2015 and then joining Brown-Forman the
While we chatted about whiskies around the world
and her love for Irish Whiskey, Amber continually
expressed her appreciation and respect for the
complex history and profiles of Scotch Whisky,
especially BenRiach, that features both peated
and unpeated expressions.
She mentioned that for the US Market, the following will be made available in September
The Ten: Aged in bourbon, sherry, and virgin casks
The Smoky Ten: Peated and aged in bourbon, virgin and Jamaican rum
The Twelve: Aged in bourbon, and port casks
The Smoky Twelve: Peated and aged in bourbon, sherry, and Marsala casks
Amber and I then chatted about what it’s like meeting people new to whiskey that are curious or prefer other spirits. For example, she stated that people who like to drink vodka tend to be brand loyal and may have had a “one note, one experience” with a whiskey that may have left a bad impression. Even in the world of whiskey, there are Scotch heads, or even more specific peat heads or hardcore Bourbon people that enjoy the “unicorn” (hard to find bottle) hunt that seems to be more vocal on social media vs. people collecting Scotch.
Amber's Whiskey Cheat Sheet
For this interview, we decided to play a game of “If I drink this,
what whiskey [of yours] should I drink”. Feel free to try this with
your nonwhiskey drinking friends!
If you like Vodka Soda,
Try a Whiskey Soda with BenRiach 10 year original with a lemon garnish
(“It gives that fresh, clean taste.”)
If you like a Cosmopolitan,
Try Amber’s Cocktail featuring Slane Irish Whiskey
Ice (for shaker)
Glass (your choice)
Lemon, for garnish
1 ½ oz Slane Irish Whiskey
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
¼ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
¼ oz Chambord
1 tbsp Cane syrup (or simple syrup)
Combine all ingredients in your shaker over ice and shake until chilled (20-30 seconds). Strain into glass and garnish with a pre-cut lemon slice.
Shake, strain, and serve down in your prettiest glass.
If you like Gin & Tonic,
Try BenRiach 10 year, neat or on ice
(“It’s a brighter flavor profile; off the still you get the tropical, pineapple, honey, stonefruit orchard; it’s on the ‘springier’ side of complexity.”)
If you like Tequila (it should be noted that Tequila is a type of Mezcal),
(“Tequila drinkers are usually either serious that sip it neat or prefer it as an alternative to vodka in cocktails.”)
For the Serious Sipper: Try 12 year old Glendronach (“It gives you that viscosity often found in well made tequilas.”)
For the Cocktailers: Substitute Slane Irish Whiskey (“It’s approachable and fun for cocktails.”)
If you like Mezcal,
Try BenRiach 10 year old peated
(“It seems obvious but unlike other peated Scotches, you get those fruit notes and is absolutely not a ‘punch in the face’ at all.”)
If you like full-bodied red or white wine,
Try Glendronach 18 year, neat
(“Its complexity is definitely like a fine wine.”)
If you like Rosé
Try Glendronach 12 year on the rocks with a splash of water
(“The sherry notes will appeal to your palate.”)
Finally, if you’re a distilled spirits virgin with a sense of adventure, maybe more of a beer person
Try Slane Irish Whiskey paired with Wells Bombardier Beer
No matter what spirit you enjoy, Amber remains confident that you can always “find your whiskey”.
Until next month, Cheers!