Young, female whisky ambassador on changing perceptions about the spirit

Minenhle Radebe, the first female brand ambassador for Ballantine's whisky in South Africa.
Minenhle Radebe, the first female brand ambassador for Ballantine's whisky in South Africa.
Image: Minenhle Radebe/Instagram

Minenhle Radebe, 24, is changing the game. As the first female brand ambassador for Ballantine’s whisky in SA, Radebe is challenging perceptions about the spirit, which has largely been seen as male-oriented. The trailblazer shares her thoughts with us on the perks of her job as well as what it means to be part of a changing narrative.

What would you say is Mzansi’s general perception about whisky?

I think a lot of South Africans think of whisky as an old man’s drink. Growing up, we would see uncles and fathers drinking a brown spirit, presumably whisky, so I believe the association grew from there.

In simple terms, what is the difference between ‘whisky’ and ‘ whiskey’?

The difference is in the spelling but also a difference in the country of origin. The Scottish spell it without the “e” and the Irish spell it with an “e”. So Scotch is whisky, and Irish is whiskey.

Minenhle Radebe.
Minenhle Radebe.
Image: Minenhle Radebe/Instagram

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about the spirit?

People believe that the older the whisky, the better it is. This is false! Age statement on whisky represents the youngest whisky used to produce that whisky. The enjoyment of a whisky is all dependent on one’s palate and preferred taste.

What does being a brand ambassador for a whisky brand entail?

For me, being a brand ambassador for a brand like Ballantine’s means that you get to do a job that doesn’t feel so much like a job because of how fun the brand is. Activities such as True Music events, connecting with consumers who drink Ballantine’s and connecting with consumers makes the whisky more enjoyable.

Tell us more about the pressures, challenges and joys of being the first female ambassador for Ballantine’s?

I haven’t been presented with that many challenges because I believe in myself and have a team that believes in me too. The team is extremely supportive, so I’ve been able to thrive. I am often met with a cheeky male who will try and undermine me and my knowledge here and there but nothing I haven’t been trained to handle. The joy comes from knowing that being the first female could also mean I’m not the last. I have thoroughly enjoyed introducing women into the world of whisky and leading by example to those who would consider being a woman in whisky.

Whisky, like cigar smoking, has been linked with masculinity for many years. Would you say that is changing?

Definitely. The disconnect I believe with whisky is often how one should consume it. Traditionally, it's either on the rocks or served with water. However, getting out there and showing people how versatile whisky can be has sparked the change. I often get surprising looks from people when showing how truly versatile it can be, as we believe you can have your spirit how you like.

It’s summer now, so what are the best ways to enjoy whisky during this season?

Summer means freshness. So, I would recommend people consume their whisky with something refreshing. My favourite way to enjoy mine is with a slice of lime and some ginger ale, or grapefruit juice topped off with soda.