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The Rhythm and Booze with Felipe Schrieberg

Women Make Better Whisky Tasters Than Men, Science Says

Editor: This article was first published on Forbes on 15/05/2016. Find the original article here


Felipe Schrieberg

Felipe is an award-winning London-based whisky writer, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He is also a musician and co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo that fuses live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events and multimedia.

Follow Felipe on Twitter, Linkedin or his website.


In the many whisky tastings I’ve been to, I’ve often heard certain whiskies described as ‘one that women might like’ or ‘a ladies’ whisky’. The assumption is that said ladies will not know their whisky, and they can't possibly handle such a strong drink.

Certainly, whisky is often marketed as a manly drink, for men. Examples include Javier Bardem’s baddie in Skyfall informing us that Macallan is James Bond’s favorite drink, David Beckham as the face of Haig Club, and plenty more. 

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge try some whisky during a tour of The Famous Grouse Distillery on May 29, 2014, in Crieff, Scotland. (Photo by Andrew Milligan - WPA Pool /Getty Images)


However, the fact is that women probably make better whisky tasters than men. Science says so.

Simply put, women generally have a better sense of smell than men. Various studies prove this, but probably the most famous - ‘the sweaty t-shirt experiment’ - was conducted by Dr. Claus Wedekind in Swizerland in 1995.

By smelling sweaty t-shirts worn by men for two days straight without knowing who they were or what they looked like, women preferred the smell of men whose genetic makeup was further from their own. This experiment dealt with a set of genes called the major histocompatability complex, or MHC, which is an important part of our immune system.

MHC genes also determine our “odor imprint,” an odor signature unique to each person caused by a mix of chemicals that we secrete throughout our bodies, most notably through our armpits.

So what do smelly t-shirts have to do with whisky?

Well, our sense of smell is overwhelmingly important, and accounts for as much as 90% in determining what we taste. A simple experiment that you can do at home proves it.

All you need is a cheap, low-quality, generic supermarket whisky and something really lovely - say, a Glenlivet 18 (one of my dad’s favorites), or one of these five delicious choices. If you pinch your nose and have a sip of each of these whiskies - no cheating; you’re not allowed to know which is which - it’s pretty much certain you won’t be able to tell them apart. Science! 

A Brazilian study found strong biological evidence that women are far better equipped than men for nosing. The study examined the number of cells in the olfactory bulbs - the first region of the brain to receive signals from the nose - in post-mortem brains of both women and men. The researchers discovered that women have on average 43% more cells in this structure and 50% more neurons than men.

All this science is pretty well in line with my own personal experiences. If I’m leading a tasting with whisky newbies, it's often the women who first identify the richer, fruity flavours of a sherry cask-aged whisky like the Aberlour A’bunadh, or the creaminess of a single bourbon cask Ben Nevis.

This doesn’t mean that guys can’t have sensitive noses. However, most men do have to play catch up and train their senses in order to keep up with women. It means men probably need to smell and drink more whisky.

And that’s just fine by me.


By Felipe Schrieberg

Felipe is a London-based whisky writer, musician, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He writes for internationally renowned publications such as Forbes, Whisky Magazine and The Whiskey Wash. He has been awarded the Icons of Whisky Communicator of the Year award at Whisky Magazine's 2022 World Whiskies Awards.

He is the co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo fusing live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events, and multimedia. His past projects encompass performances at the Edinburgh Fringe of the band's own show Two Guys, Three Drams which combined live blues with whisky tasting, and building the world's first bass drum made from an entire Scotch whisky cask with a barrel of Lagavulin.

He is also a judge for the World Whiskies Awards and The Independent Bottlers Challenge. Through his online tastings hosted at The Virtual Whisky Masterclass, he has welcomed over 3,000 guests across 250+ tasting events.

His first book, London Cocktails, is now available worldwide. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @schriebergfr, or at www.felipeschrieberg.com