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'Even a Lady Could Learn To Like Soft Whiskey'

Updated: Mar 2


Woman showing her whisky collection

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Women and whisky. Most of the time, the coupling has been seen and heard in the past in advertising, where women are portrayed as attractive servers, objects that can be compared to whisky or to attract a particular type of drinker who believes that somehow drinking a specific brand of whisky will make them attractive to women.


If women were not meant to enjoy whisky, then why would they be drawn to a man who drinks it? Perhaps it hasn't been the allure of a man's supposed whisky-drinking prowess that attracts them, but the whisky itself.


Whisky ads from 1960s

Images by Schenley 1967 adverts / Passport Blended whisky ad 1965



Whisky advertising, just like cars, perfumes, and other alcoholic beverages, has a history of targeting men. However, the whisky industry - like any sensible industry - has recognised the previously untapped market of women and has started catering to them. After all, according to a study by Distill Ventures in the US and UK, cited by OurWhisky in 2023, women make up 36% of all whisky consumers.


Many women not only prefer whisky as a drink but also work in the industry and have been doing so for a long time. Despite this, whisky has been considered a drink commonly associated with men. This perception has been fuelled by biased advertising and the way women are still, to some extent, viewed in the field by both companies and customers. It is still not uncommon for some people to ask long-time female industry veterans if they even like whisky or what it is like to be a woman associated with whisky. Far less often, these types of questions are asked of men. Not to mention that these types of articles are not written about them.


In recent years, the industry has witnessed a growing movement for feminism and diversity to achieve equality. This movement seeks to eliminate misogynistic advertisements and stereotypes that still exist. However, it is a challenging task that has left some people balancing between hoping for equal rights and feeling personally targeted by those unwilling to acknowledge the change. To be fair, many women in the industry have struggled to be taken seriously their entire careers.



 

The Idea of a Woman


Especially single malt whisky was historically considered too complex for the female palate. It was seen as something sophisticated white men would enjoy in their studies while discussing, no doubt, manly things. In contrast, it was believed to be strong enough to bring some men to their demise and, therefore, not suitable for respectable women to consume.


Many women stepped up to handle various jobs during World War II while men were at war. This newfound freedom planted the seed for women's desire to pursue a career outside their homes even after the war in the 1950s. Women were also introduced to appliances that eased their daily tasks. Further fuelled by the idea of feminism that emerged in the '60s and continued to the '80s, a new type of consumer base emerged known as the 'working women market'.


Industries keen on tapping into this newfound wealth by women started to target them through advertisements in the 60s and 70s, not to mention that women had long been in control of what the household money would be spent on. Some campaigns targeting women were considered glamorous, while others found them offensive. The problem was that women were often treated as a group without consideration for diversity. Some ads depicted women as naive, incapable, or even dumb, such as this Calvert Blended whisky advert from 1965.

Whisky ad for women

Image by Calvert



To further fuel stereotypes of women, during the '90s and 2000s, whiskey companies used insensitive advertising to attract male customers. Many ads were considered humorous, but in reality, they were made in bad taste. Instead of targeting female clientele, women were objectified.


For instance, The Revelstoke whiskey ad in 2000 suggested that you would need to drink their whiskey to make certain women appealing. The ad's tagline was 'There's something to be said for occasions like this. Like, make that a double.' Another example is the Evan Williams bourbon's controversial campaign from 2009, marketed with the catchphrase 'The longer you wait, the better it gets' that compared women to aged whiskey. The ad was published in magazines like Maxim and mainly designed for the US market.


Dewar's, a blended Scotch brand in the UK, launched a controversial ad campaign in 2010 along with a major rebranding. As a result, the brand had to rebrand the blend again in just four years to try to dissociate itself from the negative backlash.


Bad whisky ads that represent women
Dewar's controversial whisky ad

Images by Johnny Walker's 90s ad / Evan Williams ad from 2009 / The Revelstoke ad from 2000 / Dewar's Blend ad 2010


The notion that women are fragile, vulnerable and weak-minded is outdated. These ideas stem from a time when women were also considered incapable of withstanding the 'enormous' speed of 50mph while riding trains or being able to vote. However, some companies still view women who drink whisky as enchantresses - perhaps it is easier to objectify than respect. When searching images online, more often than not, what is portrayed are sensual depictions of what people believe women to be like. Like it or not, women who drink whisky are still often associated with sex and portrayed in a sexy way since sex sells.


The idea of women who drink whisky

Images by Wonderchef


The reality is, however, quite different. These are the actual strong and beautiful faces of women who drink whisky.


Whisky drinking women in reality

Image combined by The Whisky Ardvark



 

Whisky for Women


During the early days, some blended whisky companies tried to target female consumers by assuming that women might prefer the taste of blended whisky. However, a handful of single malts were specifically designed to attract female customers - or ladies, as they were often referred to.


Archibald Wallace & Co., an independent bottler owned by William Grant & Sons, released the most famous of these single malt bottlings. The Balvenie Rare Highland Malt, 'Specially For Ladies,' aged six years, was launched in the 1980s and intended primarily for the Italian market. Glenkinchie distillery released another example, Jackson's Row All Malt Blond Whisky, in the 1990s. It was designed to attract female customers with its light colour and flavour.


Leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, Johnnie Walker designed to release a limited edition, 'The Striding Woman', black label Jane Walker. Reportedly, it was planned to celebrate Hilary Clinton becoming the first female president. However, the election result was not what Johnnie Walker had anticipated. Nonetheless, with the US market in mind, Jane Walker was released shortly after as a limited edition to celebrate women. The master blender, Emma Walker, created the blend using Cardhu single malt as the main component, celebrating the first woman-founded distillery in Scotland.

whiskies targeted to women

Images by The Whisky Exchange / Whisky Auctioneer / Johnnie Walker



The whisky industry has witnessed a significant change in bottle designs as companies no longer hesitate to attract female consumers. Some distilleries like Nc'nean, founded and run by a woman, have adopted a feminine branding approach. With a highly competitive market and a vast range of products, multiple companies have opted for a female-friendly strategy to encourage women to purchase their brand. It is almost illogical not to do so.


whiskies possibly targeted to women by branding

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Many companies have also launched campaigns to achieve equality, not only for women but also to promote racial diversity. OurWhisky Foundation, founded by Becky Paskin in 2022, is one of the most prominent companies established to promote these values. The non-profit foundation offers mentorship programs for women in the whisky industry and aims to challenge the outdated gendered image of whisky and help women flourish in their careers. To learn more about the foundation, please visit www.ourwhiskyfoundation.org.


In retail, restaurants, and bars, there are still instances where women are prejudiced against due to the belief that they are incapable of understanding whisky. Despite being knowledgeable in this subject, some people, both men and women, refuse to acknowledge a woman's ability to serve them on the subject. It's important to recognise that the person you're speaking to might be an expert in their field - a head buyer, a distiller, or someone with extensive knowledge of the subject. Women are often victims of prejudice, but this doesn't mean that they should be.


 

Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark. Be sure to check out some of our other informative articles shown below.



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