Are women overlooking Whiskey? It’s a question that Double Helix Wine and Whiskey Lounge is exploring in great depth and detail in Las Vegas. Located in the Town Square shopping plaza just south of the Strip, Double Helix recently hosted a Whiskey tasting marketed exclusively toward the female drinker.
Women are often apprehensive about trying Whiskey.
About a dozen guests gathered around three tables pushed together—all woman and all ready to expand their appreciation of fine spirits. With more than 180 Whiskeys to choose from, Double Helix took great care in putting together five tastings for the evening. The goal was to offer Whiskeys from different regions with not only their own distinct characteristics but also a common approachable taste. “You can pick out subtle hints of oranges, vanilla, and caramel,” said General Manager Michael Pierotti. “Whiskey is fun.”
The trouble is getting the message out. Women are often apprehensive about trying Whiskey, which doesn’t have the image of being fun and social like a colorful cocktail or a glass of wine. “It’s easy to say ‘I like red, I like white,’ but Whiskey tends to be very similar in color and very similar in style,” said Pierotti. “Unless you have a good bartender like Kyle.”
He’s talking about Kyle Mahan, who led the tasting at Double Helix. Dressed in a Scottish kilt and a T-shirt that read “Whiskey is my Spirit Animal,” Mahan spoke with knowledge and passion in telling the story behind each sample. He also went into detail about the production methods, discussed tasting notes, and answered questions. “I was told it was more of a wine group that was looking to try a few Whiskeys,” he said. “So we featured some mellow ones, rather than bringing out the really heavy 130-proof stuff.”
First on deck was SIA Scotch, chosen for not only its smooth accessible taste but also because it was developed by a woman—Carin Castillo. She used Kickstarter as an online crowdfunding tool to turn her own blended Scotch into a thriving brand. “I think it’s got the best balance of any Whiskey on the shelf,” said Mahan. “It’s not too smoky. It’s not too sweet. It falls right in the middle.”
Next up was the limited edition Wheat Whiskey from the Las Vegas Distillery. “It’s unique in two ways,” said Mahan. “It’s local and it’s a wheat Whiskey. You don’t see either one of those on the shelf too often. We love supporting local when we can, but only if it’s a good Whiskey.”
To mix things up even further, Mahan poured everyone a taste of Brenne, a single malt Whiskey from France. It was actually developed by Allison Patel—a former ballerina from the United States who became such a fan of Whiskey, she went to Scotland to learn the distillation process. She then took her talents to France and had her own creation aged in Cognac barrels.
“Whiskey has been a male-dominated thing for hundreds of years—not only the people making it, but the people drinking it,” said Mahan. “It’s very cool to now see women distilling it, which is dirty work. It’s not glamorous at all. It’s like working on a farm. To see a lot of women getting into the industry shows it’s not a gender-exclusive thing.”
People are interested in Whiskey right now. It’s on fire.
As the night began to wind down, Double Helix brought out a bottle of Basil Hayden’s light-bodied Bourbon. “Basil Hayden’s is our best-selling Bourbon for good reason,” said Mahan. “It’s a nice legit Kentucky Bourbon.”
Up until this point, the tastings were served in wine glasses. According to the general manager, it wasn’t a way to present Whiskey in a familiar vehicle, but to enhance the aromatic qualities of the spirit. “I wanted people to not be intimidated,” said Pierotti. “I wanted them to pick up the wine glass and experience the subtleties and differences.”
Finally, the tasting wrapped up with a taste of Bruichladdich—served in a shot glass. “It’s an Islay Scotch Whisky, which is extremely smoky,” said Mahan. “Even though it was the most intense one in front of us, it’s among the most delicate Islay Whiskies.”
The tastings were paired with food prepared from scratch by Chef Doug Vega. “We had the margarita flatbread with roasted garlic that went well with smoky Scotch,” said Mahan. “And we had brioche beignets that paired perfectly with the French single malt Brenne.” Other highlights included seared yellowfin tuna with jalapeño on toasted lavash and crispy olives stuffed with chorizo and goat cheese.
Ultimately, the Whiskey selection was based more on experience level than gender. If it was a group of men who were mostly unfamiliar with the spirit, Mahan said he would have picked the same tasting selections. The evening proved to be a big success and Mahan believes he helped the guests develop a legitimate appreciation for Whiskey. “I was impressed by their level of knowledge right out of the gate,” he said. “There weren’t any silly questions.”
Long after the last serving was poured, the guests continued to mingle around the tables—far more talkative than when the event first got underway. The lively scene was also a far cry from the stereotypical image of rugged reserved gentlemen sipping on Whiskey in a dark cigar room.
As general manager, Michael Pierotti will continue to work with Kyle Mahan and other members of the Double Helix team to educate their customers and develop new ways to introduce unique spirits—regardless of gender. The strategy includes an adventurous happy hour that runs daily from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. as well as a “Whiskey of the Month” that highlights an exceptional choice for just $6 per serving. There will be more tasting events to come and the bar has also developed new Whiskey and Bourbon cocktails.
“People are interested in Whiskey right now. It’s on fire,” said Pierotti. “But it’s not just for the man’s man who has a mustache and eats steak. Anyone can drink it.”
Photo Credit: Rob Kachelriess