“All drinks are girly drinks.”
This sentence closes Mallory O’Meara’s book and also serves a sort of double-pronged thesis. All drinks are girly drinks in the sense that women can drink what they want. Historically, all drinks are “girly” drinks in the sense that women around the globe were integral to the development of brewing, distilling, mixing, and serving alcoholic drinks.
(O’Meara is great at double meanings in subtitles. Her Lady from the Black Lagoon is subtitled “Hollywood monsters” in the horror sense, and also the Harvey Weinstein sense.)
This book is ambitious – it spans all of recorded human history. She begins with the Sumerian goddess Ninkasi and works her away through history and around the globe until landing in the realities of drinking at home during the pandemic. (The book came out in 2021.)
Along the way she explores the social mores and expectations around women and drinking (most of the responsibility with little power); pioneers and phenoms in brewing, distilling, and mixing drinks; and the politics of controlling who can make and consume alcohol.
My favorite parts of the books were the mini-biographies of important distillers. For example, I loved learned about Bessie Williamson, the “First Lady of Scotch.” She was a major player in bringing peaty, smoky Scothes from Islay to the world at large. She worked her way from temporary typist at Laphroig to taking over as owner. Not only that, but she intuited that selling the idea of the island of Islay as much as the Scotch would be key to the island’s success. On top of that, she did so much charity work in her community that Queen Elizabeth awarded her with a medal. Laphroig is my favorite Scotch, so I personally owe Ms. Williamson! (Thanks also to Rachel Barrie for revitalizing the Highlands’ Glenmorangie and Islay’s Ardberg – two more of the greats.)
Likewise, Joy Spense was similarly important to Appleton Estates rum in Jamaica, as well as formalizing what “Jamaican rum” means. This is important to protecting a region’s power – think of “champagne” only coming from France’s region of Champagne.
Despite covering so much territory, this doesn’t read like a boring timeline. O’Meara jumps around from stories and timelines a bit, hitting on certain themes or drinks in each chapter.