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Proof of change? “Mad Men” actress Christina Hendricks in a Johnnie Walker advertisement (©Diageo)

Women who like a tipple are turning away from long drinks and sweet, sticky cocktails in favour of whisky. Despite it being long viewed as a “man’s drink”, today, female whisky drinkers in the UK make up 37 per cent of the market, compared to just 15 per cent in the 1990s.

There has long been a cultural taboo regarding women drinking whisky, despite them having a long association with it. Maria Hebrea, an Egyptian woman who lived in the 2nd or 3rd century, devised an early version of a whisky still. By the 18th century, women in the US were producing most of the whisky, before industrial distilleries became popular. In those days, whisky was used as a medicine to treat everything from headaches or infected wounds, and was distilled at home in the kitchen. Men would often ask women to marry them based on their distilling talents.

In America, during the decades after Prohibition, mainly due to the association between prostitution and women drinking or serving whisky, women were not even permitted to drink liquor at the bar.

Today there is a crop of new female distillers, blenders and tasters. Why, then, is whisky still considered a “man’s drink”?

In Britain women tend to order wine, vodka and gin compared to darker spirits. Certain drinks are seen as strictly for women. As a lover of whisky and other dark spirits, I have often been offered long drinks such as vodka and orange, or sparkling wine, both of which I dislike and rarely hear women ask for whisky.

This is not surprising. Whisky has long been packaged and advertised to appeal exclusively to a male market. Until recently, whisky bottles were usually chunky, heavy, and decorated in minimalist, dark logos. In 2013 the whisky brand Dewars launched its “Meet The Baron” advertising campaign, in which a knight in shining armour character went to the assistance of various male whisky drinkers in difficult situations, for example being saddled with an unattractive woman. The Baron would find a way to replace her with a group of lingerie models. The message was clear — attractive women desire male whisky drinkers. After numerous complaints of sexism, the campaign video was removed from various websites, though not before nearly 300,000 people had seen the clip. The campaign is a clear example of how whisky companies tend to focus on the heterosexual, red-blooded male. It is interesting that despite the amount of effort that goes into market research and focus groups prior to ad campaigns being launched, no one thought that this particular commercial might come across as a badly-thought-out piece of circa 1970s knuckle-dragging nonsense.

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Be accurate!
November 26th, 2016
3:11 PM
Egyptian Maria Hebrea? Seriously??? Try Maria the Jewess, Jewish being Hebreo (or Hebrea in the feminine) in Spanish!

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