Whisky Lady in India: Carissa Hickling

Carissa is a business woman, a writer, a travel junkie and ahem… a Whisky Lady. Wondering how a woman likes her peg of whisky? Well Carissa loves the entire process of nosing, sipping and savoring the “water of life.” Carissa, originally from Canada has been living in India for over two decades now and calls Bombay- her home. First it was studies that brought the Canadian here and then work. And her love for the country kept on growing.

From Canada, living in India, travelling Asia and sipping on Whisky- Carissa Hickling

As Carissa keeps travelling extensively in Asia, sometimes for work (Her company is based in Singapore) and sometimes to satiate her desire to explore the continent, she started a blog to document her experiences- Everyday Asia. She refrains from calling it a travel blog, but says that it is essentially a collection of tales from her day-to-day life.

“Growing up in Canada, I had friends from all corners of Asia. So was exposed from an early age to customs and cuisines from many countries. It was natural to be curious and want to discover more!,” smiles Carissa.

She adds, “Everyday Asia reflects ordinary insights into life, activities, places and experiences which strikes me as possibly being of interest to others.”

In her blog, she also used to document her whisky tasting sessions. However, her whisky-love grew so big that now it has its own separate blog- Whisky Lady.

She also found that there are many other women who shared her liking for Whisky and she started having meetups every month in Mumbai just with her female friends, tasting different kinds of whiskies and talking about them.

“Like many things, it is time folks got past stereotypes!”

“I frankly started to get fed-up at being the only woman (or nearly!) at whisky tasting events. Particularly when I kept independently meeting remarkable women who quite enjoy a good dram or two!”

Tell our readers about your blog- Whisky Lady and how you came up with it?

“My whisky posts began in August 2013 on Everyday Asia, however morphed into the Whisky Lady in India avatar late 2014.

Whisky Lady shares my adventures exploring the world of whisky, based in Mumbai. I love sampling whiskies with others as we each have our unique way of translating what our senses tells us into different metaphors. The way one describes the nose or palate is directly linked to what is familiar. I may say ‘Oooh chokecherry!’ whereas someone else may pipe up ‘Is that a hint of amla’? After so many years in India, many of my reference points are also now distinctly desi.”

She first chanced upon whisky in Canada, but her trail of experiences and her love for it began in India. “I remember most clearly is the first time I fully appreciated single malt in India around 2005. Nosing, sipping, savoring and discussing to distill the different elements… I was hooked,” says Carissa.

Living in India and being a Whisky-loving woman, did you face any challenges/criticism?

“Curiosity rather than criticism. And amusement at my complete inability to mask my opinions.”

“Once folks get past the fact that I’m not your usual ‘ex-pat’ but instead a ‘transplant’ whose adopted home is Mumbai, conversation with fellow whisky-lovers turns to favourite malts, waxing enthusiastic about this or that particular vintage, finish or the difference between what was bottled in the 1980s vs today, with animated ‘And have you tried X??’ or ‘What about Y?!’”

How has the response been for these tastings?

“More enriching than I ever imagined!

Our ‘Whisky Ladies of Mumbai’ are an eclectic set who range in age from 20s to 60s and come together to explore a mutual passion. The one common thread between all of us beyond whisky is we lead what would be considered unconventional lives – be it life choices, profession, countries we have or currently live – something is remarkable about each woman. Throw whisky into the mix and you can just imagine the merriment and mischief!

Even better, from time to time, seasoned whisky women veterans such as Karen Walker, global marketing head for International Beverages Scottish brands like Balbliar, Speyburn and Old Pulteney, join our sessions to share their insights into the ‘water of life.’”

However, whisky being typically a man’s drink does not deter Carissa. In fact she proposes, “Like many things, it is time folks got past stereotypes! Women have always been part of making and enjoying spirits of all kinds – whisky is no exception.”

Have you ever felt that you are encroaching a space that is highly male-dominated?

Absolutely! However encroaching on male-dominated spaces has been the hallmark of much of my professional life, so why not whisky explorations too?

Carissa in London

Carissa with her partner in London

“I perceive no barriers and that is clearly evidence of empowerment

Your frankness is very refreshing. How does it empower you as a woman?

Being frank is simply what you get with me both on the personal and professional side!

Professionally, it is very much part of my consulting style. Clients know that with me, I will diplomatically yet firmly focus attention on some of the difficult decisions or uncomfortable realities to mutually derive practical implementable solutions.

Personally, it is an interesting thought that being direct and honest equates to empowerment. The very fact that I do not feel constrained from freely sharing my perspective on some things means in those areas I perceive no barriers and that is clearly evidence of empowerment.

However, I am sensitive that though I may consider India ‘home’, I remain a ‘guest’ and hence there are certain barriers that I as a foreign woman cannot overcome.

What does this mean overall? Like many things, we are more than the component parts of gender, nationality, occupation, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or even being a whisky lover!