The annual release of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible usually causes a shitstorm in the whisky community—just not of this kind. It’s the kind of situation where I don’t want to stay quiet. So, I’m deviating from my regular schedule of tasting notes to share some thoughts about sexism and misogyny in our whisky community. If you don’t already think this is an issue, I just hope I’ll be able to convince you of its gravity.
It started two days ago, when Becky Paskin fearlessly called out Jim Murray on some of the peculiar language in his tasting notes. You’ve probably read them already; they reek of misogyny. If not, check out Felipe Schrieberg’s initial article on this issue. Much has been said and shared (on social media) about Murray in the aftermath. None of it very kind. The fact that Murray chooses to unapologetically stand behind his own language and invokes freedom of speech doesn’t help one bit. Brands, organisations and companies like Glenfiddich, Beam Suntory, Pernod Ricard, the Scotch Whisky Association and The Whisky Exchange have already distanced themselves.
However, the controversy about Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible is a symptom of a larger problem. The whisky industry has a history of equating the whisky lifestyle with good-looking women, implying sex in the process. It’s a dated practice that sadly still pops up every now and again, Pure Scot being one of the prominent examples in recent times. Overall though, the advertising has improved, but the mentality that whisky is a man’s drink is still there in many facets of the whisky industry and especially the broader whisky world. And I’m including consumers here.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who works in a specialist whisky shop. Our talk gave me a little insight in the average consumer. We discussed Nc’nean, an exciting distillery founded by the inspiring Annabel Thomas. They just released their first whisky and are aiming to reach a younger, more female audience than usual. Both of us were intrigued, but my friend expressed concern for how it would sell. After all, he said, his average customer is still of the impression that whisky should be smoky and drunk by tough, bearded men.
Whisky has always been a men’s world and still is. Some men might like to keep things the way they are and even encourage it, but I think most (me included) would love to see more women at tastings, festivals and other whisky events. It’s all a bit homogenous at the moment. In my experience, the whisky community is welcoming and largely open-minded. But I’m a (relatively) young male. My experience is very different from the other sex’s. I might think our community is inclusive because I feel included, but my reality is not THE reality.
I’d like to refer to an excellent article on Malt in which Justine shares some of her thoughts and experiences. After one unnamed brand ambassador pretty much ignored her and her friends, he finally turned to them when he was finished talking to the men that were also present, only to offer Justine a so-called “ladies dram.” I won’t go into the ridiculous notion of any whisky being more or less suited for men or women (that’s a whole blog post in itself), but this short anecdote illustrates the slights and patronising attitude many women experience in the whisky world.
These types of things appear to be commonplace for every woman in the whisky community, be it an enthusiast or someone who actually works in the industry. It’s part of a larger patriarchal attitude that exists among a loud minority of men, leading to condescending and sometimes downright insulting behaviour towards women. Add the consumption of alcohol, and that’s a very dangerous combination. You might not experience sexism or misogyny because you were born with a penis, but you should be aware of it.
And that’s the keyword: awareness. And education. Learn about this issue and talk to people, especially women. Try to understand and empathize. That shouldn’t count as a great insight but then again, for some men it might be. I simply want to add another voice to this conversation, and I hope many more people will do the same. Because I want it to become a shout.
Firstly, when I picked up Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible for the first time, it would be the last time. I found the language crude and inappropriate, but more importantly, many of the review descriptions, as well as his general advice, inaccurate and pretty worthless. Ironically called the equivalent of the Bible for Whisky? It is the antithesis of its namesake, lacking truth and certainly far from inspiring.
However, the word misogyny is thrown about these days so often, (along with racist) that, just like 40% abv coloured with E150a and chill filtered to an inch of its life whisky, is so dumbed down, it ceases to have any real meaning. It’s one of these words exclusively reserved for those on Twitter who wish to virtual-virtue signal as to how woke they are.
So, when someone really misogynous comes along, people shrug their shoulders and move on to the next click bate. I came across someone in the YouTube comments recently who openly called for the extermination of Israel and the Jewish people. He got round Google’s algorithm by using the non-alphabetic part of the ASCII table, but it was quite clear what he was saying. What was I supposed to call him when the accurate description of him is already used on social media today for anyone to the right of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders? Such is life today.
I am sympathetic to those who think that it is vulgar to use scantily dressed females and scenes with sexual innuendo. I certainly do not wish to see it but, let’s be honest here. Look on social media and look around you when you go to the average restaurant, bar or cocktail lounge. Almost all the women are dressed in a sexually provocative manner and they themselves choose to do so.
What would you have agencies do, tell all their models to put on cardigans and long skirts? I personally think that would sell more whisky but I am left unclear from your article, whether your objection is the sexual factor or you object to the use of attractive women in general? Besides, in the name of sexual equality we see just as many women as men drinking and enjoying whisky in these adverts. What do you want? That they all be old wrinkly men with tumbler glasses in their hands and only ugly women aloud in front of the camera?
I don’t own a television (thank G-d). However, watching whisky advertisements on YouTube, they are mostly about scenes of barley fields, slow motion shots of grain being thrown in the air with the final scene of the glug-glug of whisky being poured into a Glencairn glass at the final scene. Not a sexual object in sight.
If it is the case that you don’t like the image of attractive women used in the whisky industry but you also mentioned that you want to see more women going to whisky tasting evenings, does that mean you are in favour of banning attractive women to these events? Are you going to ban women presenting tasting evenings if they are attractive and restrict them to elderly aged women in tartan skirts?
Yes, there are misogynists out there but you must also recognise that there are also women out there who are perfectly willing to use their sexuality (and not just their femininity) to get ahead in this world. Likewise, introducing gender quotas to artificially promote women, and introducing regulations to “protect” women from the perceived “evil patriarchy”, is in my opinion misogynist.
Women and men are different in nature and psychology but both just as intellectually and (in almost all professional fields) just as physically capable of succeeding on an equal playing field in any profession which they choose to go in, without a helping hand from closet misogynists.
Hi Steven, thanks for your lengthy reply. I’m not entirely sure we’ve read the same article. I simply ask readers to try to understand and empathize. Hopefully that message comes across, but I’m not sure it quite reached you.
“… but I’m not sure it quite reached you.”
Of course it did. It is his reply which you do not seem to understand, or ’empathize’ with. It was laid out quite clearly and is spot on.