Whisky has been traditionally the domain of men but a lot has changed in recent years. In this interview, we have the pleasure of featuring three women from Australia’s whisky industry. “Old world” whisky meets “new world” whisky over an in-depth discussion with our own whisky writer as the women share their diverse backgrounds and experiences.
L-R: Laura Hay, Jane Overeem, Corinne Mossati
The Girl from Glenlivet, The Ambassador & The Writer
Laura Hay lives and breathes for the whisky industry. Living next door to The Glenlivet in Scotland with a step-father who was chief electrician for Chivas has fuelled her curiosity and passion for the magic spirit. After working for five distilleries (The Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Strathisla, Aberlour & Tullibardine), as SMWS ambassador and as a noser and taster for SMWS & Glenmorangie/Ardbeg, she came to Australia for a 3 months holiday in 2011 and did not leave. She is currently the Chivas Brothers, Scotch Whisky Ambassador for Pernod Ricard Australia.
Hailing from the “new world” of whisky, Jane Overeem grew up in the whisky island of Australia, just south of Hobart. She had her first taste for the whisky industry at 18 years of age after attending the Australian Malt Whisky Society Convention and subsequently began spending a few days a week in the Distillery with her father, Casey Overeem, while studying marketing at university in 2007. She is now Lark and Overeem Marketing Manager & Overeem Brand Ambassador.
A relative newcomer to whisky, Corinne Mossati developed her taste for the dark spirit in the last eight years. After successful careers in Optometry, Human Resource Management and IT Project Management, she founded Gourmantic in 2009 which further fuelled her passion for whisky. As Founder/Editor of Gourmantic, she has written over 100 whisky articles, interviewed local and international master distillers and whisky ambassadors and has judged the Australasian Whisky Awards in 2013. She is also a member of the Glenmorangie Secret Society.
Corinne to Laura: Coming from “old world” whisky, what was it like growing up in The Glenlivet?
Laura: The first time I ever went to The Glenlivet I was 17 years old. It was when my mum met my step-dad Michael. I had no clue what this building was, next door to our house. I was just annoyed that my mum had dragged me to the middle of nowhere. All my friends were down in the lowlands and this was before I had a mobile phone…not impressed at first! After I completed college, I moved back full time to Glenlivet, Hogmanay in 2001. I started working at the distillery in March 2002. It took me 78 seconds to walk from my back door to the distillery. I loved working there, I met thousands of wonderful people from all corners of the world.
However, I had a very limited social life. My night out would be every Tuesday playing darts in the “Glenlivet Darts League”. I played with the Livet Ladies team and I was the youngest member by 15 years. If I wasn’t working at the distillery, I was working behind the bar at the “Croft Inn”, one of the oldest pubs in the highlands of Scotland. Between working in the ‘still and the croft I learned most of what I know now from all the amazing people who have lived and worked up there all of their lives. I got my passion from all these people!
Corinne to Laura: What’s your first whisky memory?
Laura: When I was 17 years old, my step-dad sat me down at our kitchen table in Glenlivet. He poured me a dram of The Glenlivet 18 yo and a dram of Bowmore 17 yo. He told me to nose, sip and don’t speak…until I “got it”. That was the moment I literally fell in love with whisky. It hit me just what we were living next door to. This amazing whisky in my hand had been made right here on my doorstep and the other from Islay just blew my mind. I knew how whisky was made but I wanted to know why they tasted so different. I wanted to know everything about whisky after that….This is still my on-going mission.
Corinne to Laura: At what point did you realise you wanted a career in whisky?
Laura: As soon as I took my first tour group around The Glenlivet, actually my second tour….My first tour I was so nervous and messed it up. The second tour was far more natural and I still feel that was my best tour of my life even after working at 5 distilleries and doing 1000’s of tours and tastings.
Corinne to Laura: How did you get a start working in the industry?
Laura: My amazing, late step-dad Michael showed me the beginning of my pathway into whisky. He was the head electrician and engineer for all our Chivas distilleries. He even gave up his free time back in 2003 when we sold Benriach, to teach the new owners how to run the distillery.
Corinne to Jane: In contrast to Laura, you come from the “new world” of whisky. How old were you when your father, Casey Overeem started making whisky in Tasmania?
Jane: He was actually making it before I was born in the mid 80’s. But legally, he secured his distilling license in 2005 when I was 18 years of age.
Corinne to Jane: How much influence did that have on your choice of career?
Jane: Huge! I’m now in a full time position / career all because of Dad’s love for a good whisky!
Corinne to Jane: How did you get a start working with whisky?
I was working as a marketing assistant for an agricultural financing company in Perth, WA but via correspondence. I was assisting dad and working with design and branding agencies in preparation for the launch of Overeem Whisky in late 2011. Six months before the launch of the first barrel, Dad said I’d better come home to Tasmania and help with the initial release. So I did – and I grew to love the industry very quickly. I never went back to WA and have been full time with the business ever since.
Corinne to Jane: In 2007, you started distilling whisky with your father, Casey. Tell us a little about that experience.
While studying at Uni, I would spend 2 days a week distilling with dad from home. It was really great to watch and learn from dad who is so passionate about whisky. It was great bonding time too!
Laura to Corinne: What was your first whisky memory?
Corinne: Unlike you, I didn’t grow up with whisky. My parents rarely drank wine let alone spirits. In fact, I didn’t start drinking socially until I met my other half, Kevin Burke. I simply didn’t like the taste of alcohol. My first dram was a popular brand of blended whisky and I didn’t like it. Kevin was always into single malts but I had no appreciation for it. Until one day, I started joining him in a dram after our famous dinner parties and I progressed to peated whisky.
Jane to Corinne: How did you get started writing about whisky?
Corinne: My first whisky article was back in March 2011. It was a masterclass with Bill Lark thanks to The Oak Barrel. I was very excited to meet the godfather of Australian whisky. The next article was Singleton of Glen Ord tasting at Eau de Vie Bar, which was incidentally presented by Laura Hay. I was fortunate to be invited to review various whisky shows, attend masterclass and I have interviewed several local and international whisk(e)y identities. The rest was history or I should say, is in the Archives.
Corinne: Your whisky careers have many highlights. What achievements are you most proud of?
Laura: I am so, so, so blessed by the experiences I have had throughout my life so far. I have never and will never take anything for granted. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that I would be on the other side of the world talking about the whiskies I know and love so much. I am a strong believer in if you work hard enough, you will get to where you want to be. I have had a great deal of challenges along my way. I really did want to give up a few times and go work in a shop….but I battled through. All for my love for the whisky industry!
Jane: In a very short time the Overeem brand and whisky sales grew faster than we ever imagined. Through face-to-face communication, participation at whisky shows, tastings and master classes (all the fun ways of doing business rather than over email or the phone!) I established a following of amazing and dedicated people. By handling the Distribution of our whisky in-house, I was able to build great relationships with whisky lovers, people new to whisky, retailers and wholesalers, media and bloggers, and I have made some awesome new friends along the way. And you, Corinne?
Corinne: It was in 2013, when I was invited to judge the Australasian Whisky Awards by World of Whisky, and again in 2014. And in a non-whisky specific way, when I was named in the Australian Bartender Most Influential List for 2013 by Australian Bartender Magazine. Both were totally unexpected and very humbling experiences.
Corinne: What are the challenges that you both face as women working in the industry?
Jane: Trying to keep up with the quantity of whisky men consume at trade shows! No serious challenges so far which is great. And you?
Corinne: Having worked in male-dominated industries all my life, I’ve always dealt with gender issues. People often quiz me about my experience, credentials and knowledge. It’s no different than when I was a new Optometry graduate or sitting in board meetings with off shore IT managers. I just do my work and let’s say, I often surprise people. Laura, have you experienced something similar?
Laura: I have worked in this industry most of my adult life and it has been a very male-dominated industry but it has changed so much over the past few years! When I first started it was really tough. Doing tours at the distilleries and watch peoples faces fall when I introduced myself as their guide, I had a lot of “are you old enough to round the still”. The biggest ones were when I was hosting tastings or tours and there was always a guy who knew “everything”. They would try and catch me out with certain questions so they would look good in front of their friends/family….I quickly caught on and that’s what drove me to study into the history and production of whisky, so I was able answer most questions with confidence!
Corinne: How would you like to see it change?
Laura: I don’t think it needs to change. I think we are at a great stage in the legacy of the whisky industry where all people are respected equally in what they give to the whisky world.
Jane: There are certainly more women drinking whisky and attending whisky shows than there was a few years ago, but of course it would be great to see that continue to grow.
Corinne: I’d like to see more women enjoy whisky because they like it and appreciate it. Not because it is the latest trend and they “should get into it” as some often tell me. I believe whisky is like classical music. You appreciate it when you’re ready.
Corinne: Whisky has recently been enjoying widespread popularity amongst the younger population including women. To what do you attribute this rise in popularity?
Laura: The world we live in now is so overwhelming in terms of education and information. We have it at our finger tips 24/7. People want to experience more things and learn a lot more. It’s now more about buying an experience rather than just a drink. People want to spend a little more on quality drinks that have history and depth rather than a fast drink. Quality over quantity now I feel.
Jane: Young people (25-35) with disposable income contribute to a large portion of our whisky sales. We are spoilt with choice these days, and high quality food and beverage is what we want. Younger age groups are becoming more selective – we want and appreciate gourmet, specialist, boutique rare and quality products. In regards to whisky, it’s also fun and impressive to know the history, story, tasting notes and facts about the whisky you’re drinking with your friends at a trendy bar. Whisky in Australia is also becoming very well known. There are now many whisky shows, media and hype around the rapidly-growing industry which is resulting in more young people wanting to try it and get involved.
Corinne: Which whisky would you recommend to a newcomer who tells you they don’t like the taste of whisky?
Laura:I believe there is a whisky out there for everyone. My go-to “beginners” whisky has always been Strathisla 12 yo. It’s well-balanced malty single malt, very fruity with strong hints of milk-chocolate. I tend to get the person to rub a little on their hands first (we did this at the ‘still), that way they get all the lovely underlying aromas without the alcohol.
Corinne: Despite my initial experience, I often recommend that they start with a premium blended whisky, one with fruity notes, honey and vanilla, like Chivas 12 yo, or Glenmorangie Original with citrus notes and vanilla sweetness. By the description alone, I can tell that I’ve sparked an interest.
Corinne: What advice can you give women wanting to work in the whisky industry?
Jane: First, the industry offers so many different opportunities – from brewing to distilling, production, marketing, sales, operations, events. Rather than trying to do too much, identify the area you are most passionate about and focus on doing it well. Second, know your customers. Keep up personal communication as much as you can. Without them, we don’t have an industry. And third, work hard. The whisky industry is a lot of fun and very rewarding!
Laura: Do it! It is a fabulous field to work in! I recommend, as Jane said, find out which area of the industry you finally want to work in and start there. I often give people advice on how to get into the whisky world. I always say to them, read as many whisky books as possible. Ask lots of questions to as many people and if able, get yourself a job at a distillery. Nothing beats working your way up through the different steps of the industry! If you love it. You will get there.
Jane to Corinne: If you were to start a new position, in which area of the whisky industry would you work and what would you want to do:
Corinne: As a writer, I’m always learning from experts and if I had to consider at a specific area, it would look into food and whisky matching as well as a couple of projects that involve writing about whisky outside of Gourmantic.
Corinne: Finally, what’s your favourite whisky experience or memory?
Laura: Having a cheeky Glenlivet 12 on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town was pretty up there, so was my first whisky masterclass in Darwin in 42 degree heat. However, my most cherished moment was my first ever whisky panel for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith, Edinburgh. I went on to do over 50 panels but my first was amazing. Walking into the room with 3 of my mentors sitting there and for them to actually want to know my thoughts and record my tasting notes. It was a dream come true for me. From the young girl from the Livet to the tasting panel of the most prestigious independent bottlers in Scotland. I was blown away! Each panel I did, was the best ever!! It is one of the main things I miss about home!
Jane: With Dad, in the Overeem Bond Store when we decanted our very first barrel of whisky. It was so special to see dad’s excitement and the anticipation after all his hard work and patience (waiting for the whisky to mature). I still remember the colour… and the aroma. It was wonderful! I captured this special moment on my iPhone too thankfully!
Laura and Jane, thank you for your time.
Photography © by Kevin Burke for Gourmantic – Copyright: All rights reserved.
This article is posted on Gourmantic.com - All rights reserved - Copyright © 2016.