The world’s first auction honouring women in whisky

The launch of a new biannual whisky auction called The Demeter Collection, containing one-off blends and collectable special releases, will help tell the stories of women's achievements in the whisky world

Words by Johanna Derry Hall

The Demeter Collection

The end of this month sees the launch of a groundbreaking biannual whisky auction called The Demeter Collection. The timing, coming as it does at the end of Women’s History Month, is significant, as every one of the collection’s carefully curated 18 lots has been created by women, making it the world’s first auction dedicated to recognising the achievements and contributions of women to the whisky industry.

Hosted by Whisky Auctioneer, the aims of the auction, which runs from 29 March to 8 April are twofold. The first is to raise funds for the work of the OurWhisky Foundation, a non-profit organisation supporting women in the global whisky industry. The second is, as Becky Paskin, the foundation’s founder explains, ‘to raise awareness of the incredible talent and skill that women in whisky have, to make a big splash that puts these women at the top of people’s minds.’

The collection takes its name from the Greek goddess of grain. ‘Though Demeter is Zeus’ sister, her story is not very well known,’ says Paskin, ‘just like that of many women working in whisky.’

House of Hazelwood Long View
House of Hazelwood's The Long View, named in honour of Grant family matriarch Janet Sheed-Roberts

But the stories these whiskies tell are exceptional. Take for example, House of Hazelwood’s The Long View, made by blender Eilidh Muir from a parcel of stock originally blended to mark Grant family matriarch Janet Sheed-Roberts’s milestone 110th birthday.

‘Janet Sheed-Roberts was a truly inspiring lady, the only woman in her class studying Law at Edinburgh University,’ says Kirsten Grant Meikle, a fifth-generation descendant of the William Grant family. ‘She was always a believer in gender equality and living to 110. she had a long view of the business and how gender roles evolved over time. The Long View beautifully encapsulates this tradition enabling us to support the OurWhisky Foundation on its journey towards gender equality.’

Wire Works
Wire Works’ Love, Sweat and Tears, chosen by Claire Vaughan, co-founder of the White Peak Distillery

Or consider Wire Works’ Love, Sweat and Tears, chosen by Claire Vaughan, co-founder of the White Peak Distillery and an OurWhisky Foundation mentor. ‘Bottle number one from cask number one seemed the obvious choice,’ she says. ‘It tells the story of our journey to create a single malt whisky, a product we love, founded on the DNA of the place we love.’

In fact, many of the bottles in this collection are one-of-a-kind releases, like the Ardbeg Twenty, created for the auction by Gillian Macdonald, master blender and head of whisky creation for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, another OurWhisky Foundation mentor. A celebration of her 20 years in the industry, Ardbeg 20 is a one-off bottle which represents her very first encounter with Ardbeg Uigeadail back in 2004.

‘That first taste was phenomenal and so memorable,’ she says, ‘an assault of the senses and like nothing I had tried. Making this has been a wonderful opportunity for me to take stock of where I started and where I am today, to reflect on my career and remember the many people who’ve inspired, supported and believed in me throughout it.’

An Aberfeldy 40-year-old whisky is part of the collection

There’s no doubt about the collectibility of the whiskies: an Aberfeldy 40-year-old and a single cask bottling of a 30-year-old Glendronach, as well as bottles that celebrate luminaries like a 25-year-old Laphroaig honouring Bessie Williamson and a 44-year-old Dalmore with Margaret Nicols’ name on it, in honour of her 50th anniversary in the industry.

But beyond the headlines about one-off liquids, the auction should have an even greater impact, allowing the OurWhisky Foundation to continue nurturing and celebrating the talent of women and non-binary people working in whisky through its mentor programme. The money raised will also support initiatives like the Modern Face of Whisky stock image library, which launched last year as a free-to-use collection more accurately representing the diversity of whisky drinkers. It will allow the foundation to continue research such as its 2023 survey of over 600 women for its Do You Even Like Whisky? Report, which revealed the extent of sexism and unconscious bias prevalent in the industry, and which has since led to policy changes within many organisations.

Antonia's Legacy
Atonia’s Legacy, a specially created blend for the Demeter Collection made by Sarah Burgess, whisky maker at the Lakes Distillery

Testament to all this work is perhaps the most unique bottle in the collection, Atonia’s Legacy, a specially created blend from a different master blender for each edition that will feature in every future Demeter Collection.

‘I wanted to create a whisky for the Collection to signify the amazing people, both mentees and mentors, who’ve gone through our programme,’ explains Paskin. Mentees proposed single malts which, for this edition, Sarah Burgess, whisky maker at the Lakes Distillery, then brought together into a one-of-a-kind blend.

There are so many stories that we can tell about the contribution of women to whisky

The bottle for Atonia’s Legacy was also created by a woman. Kirsty Nicholson at Glencairn Crystal designed both the decanter and the oak tree logo in reference to the name Atonia, which means ‘strong as oaks’. Finally, for its bottling at ACEO in Speyside, cask and services specialist Helen Abbott ensured she was on site for the filling, meaning only the hands of women had carriage on the liquid from blending through to bottling.

The tales go on. As Paskin says, ‘We’ve not even scratched the surface. There are so many stories that we can tell about the contribution of women to whisky. The Demeter Collection is going to have a very long future.’

The Demeter Collection whisky auction will run from 29 March to 8 April at www.whiskyauctioneer.com, with funds raised from the auction, including Whisky Auctioneer’s buyer’s fees, donated to the OurWhisky Foundation.