Getting spirit(ual) at Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Bar
Double Helix owner and whiskey-flight pilot Ray Nisi
Scores of country songs praise whiskey-drinking women, but it’s only in the past few years that, as a demographic, women have embraced “brown” spirits like Scotch, rye, and bourbon.
“There were, essentially, no newbie women to whiskey five years ago,” says Heather Greene, a whiskey specialist and ambassador for Glenfiddich. “When I hosted tastings back then, there might be two women out of 100 people. Now it’s more like 60 men, 40 women.” Greene recently launched the Mrs. Roberts Society, a traveling whiskey seminar specifically for women and named for Janet Roberts, the 110-year-old granddaughter of Glenfiddich founder William Grant.
Greene’s anecdote is corroborated by the numbers. In 2010, women made up 29.4 percent of Irish whiskey drinkers and 30.4 percent of bourbon drinkers.
“Whiskey is near and dear to my heart,” says Mariena Mercer, bar manager and mixologist for The Cosmopolitan. She credits the resurgence of the classic cocktail along with increased exposure (via shows like Mad Men) with drawing women into the fold.
“In the 1950s, women had a more open mind about whiskey,” Greene says. “That’s the beauty of nostalgic shows like Mad Men: We see strong women drinking hard spirits.” In fact, while Don Draper slugs back Canadian Club, it’s actress Christina Hendricks who in real life stumps as a brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker.
Nor is the industry ignoring this newfound interest. Jack Daniel’s brand manager Jennifer Powell noted last year that 21 percent of the whiskey’s consumer base is female. The company has launched a marketing initiative geared toward women, producing commercials highlighting social bonding while promoting specific cocktails like Jack and Ginger.
Make no mistake: These aren’t just girls doing girly drinks. “Women are drinking it straight,” says Adam Carmer of the Freakin’ Frog and Whisky Attic near UNLV, home to more than 600 different whiskies. Many bartenders point to whiskey’s diverse flavor profile compared with, say, vodka. “We do wine flights, and we also do whiskey flights,” says Ray Nisi, co-owner of the Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Bar at Town Square and The Palazzo. “It’s a great opportunity to discover what you like and what you don’t,” Nisi says. “Whiskies are more like wine than other spirits, where the terroir may not be as dramatic.”
Another factor may come into play: Some women worry that ordering a single malt might be construed as too masculine. That perception is changing rapidly.
“My female servers say they’ll order a Jameson on the rocks when they’re out on dates, while the guys are ordering fancy cocktails,” Nisi says. “A guy might raise his eyebrows, so they’ll say, ‘Hey, I work at a whiskey bar; this is what we do.’”
Alexandra Sklansky, a public relations executive, says she loves whiskey and counts Mandalay Bay’s Burger Bar as a regular haunt. “There’s an air of mystery around the aged spirits, especially whiskey,” she says. “I love the inherent irony—it’s such a standard, masculine choice. But I think it takes a confident woman to break down that gender stereotype. It feels a little naughty."
photographs by leila navidi; styling by christie moeller; hair and makeup by krystle randall. blouse, rachel zoe ($175). skirt, alice + olivia ($253). P umps, christian louboutin ($695), all neiman marcus; neimanmarcus.co