Pure Scot imagery

A few years ago, I was at a whisky festival with three friends. We were a few drams in and we decided it was time to make our way to the Highland Park stand. Once there, we found the brand representative to be very knowledgeable and informative as he spoke about the whole whisky-making process, right from growing the barley to the different types of cask and their respective influence. There was, however, one obvious flaw with his spiel. It was only directed at one half of the group. The male half.

After he had finished, he turned to my (female) friend and me and stated, quite proudly, that he had the perfect whisky for us – a real ladies’ dram. Whilst my friend and I were in mid double take, he poured us a sample and asked us what we thought. My friend nosed her glass and, initially, suggested that she could detect raisins. Then she changed her mind, preferring sultanas instead. However, there was something in the background that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. A few seconds later and she had it: raisins, sultanas and just a hint of misogyny.

Jane Walker?

This ridiculous notion of a ladies’ dram has received plenty of attention recently with the news that Diageo has submitted labels to the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for a female edition of Johnnie Walker, namely Jane Walker. When I first clicked on the link, I was surprised to find that this wasn’t the latest offering from the Whisky Sponge. In reality, though, I guess you couldn’t make this shit up.

In her great piece on the topic, Becky Paskin writes that “it’s too early to comment on its intentions, though perhaps the release is a defiant statement about the power of women…” I’ve never met Becky Paskin but I respect her optimism. For me personally, any attempt at a defiant statement would have involved removing the Johnnie Walker name from the label altogether so that Jane Walker didn’t read as some kind of subtext.


Jane Walker

Johnnie Walker label

Years ago, whilst working as a teacher in Manchester, it became apparent that, amongst the youngsters playing football in school teams across the city, the number of those of an Asian heritage was entirely disproportionate to the schools’ population. Moreover, the number of those who subsequently moved up the ranks was virtually non-existent. Therefore, an initiative was developed to a) discover the reasons why they weren’t taking part and b) encourage them to do so.

Nobody made the sweeping statement that Asian kids just might not be interested in football and that’s why they don’t take part. Neither did anybody suggest that there was the need for a type of football specifically aimed at Asian kids. Now, change ‘Asian kids’ for ‘women’ and ‘football’ for ‘whisky’ and you’ll see my point. It’s a ludicrous idea.

At the moment, this is all based on conjecture, of course, so whether bottles of Jane Walker actually ever land on our shelves or not, we’ll have to wait and see. I, for one, hope not because, just in case I haven’t made it clear, I think this is utter pish. ‘Feminine’ edition bottlings are condescending, patronising and, put simply, whether complete whisky novice or connoisseur, they are not what women want. What women want is to be able to head to a bar, order a dram with a ppm level of Woah!WTAF and not be told it may be a bit strong and have they considered something lighter. They also want to be able to head to a tasting without having to endure the mansplanations by ‘Mr Ardberg’ (yes, that ‘r’ is intentional) when they know infinitely more about whisky than he could ever aspire to. If Diageo’s commitment to gender equality is real (and I believe that it is) then, as one of the biggest and most influential players in the whisky industry, it could do worse than invest money in setting up a consortium of whisky producers whose main aim is to work together to eradicate the lack of any real diversity on the whisky scene. But how? Well, not with the likes of Jane Walker. If the industry is genuinely interested in encouraging more women to spend their hard-earned cash on whisky, one first step would be to ensure that conflicting messages such as this are also eradicated…

Don’t be cold

Dave Prior women whisky

The first time I saw this post from Dave Prior on Instagram, referring to his ‘tough day at the office’ regarding a photo shoot for Pure Scot, the irony of it was not lost on me. You see, my first thought was that there’s nothing ‘Pure Scot’ about it at all. In a country where seasonal weather conditions are virtually non-existent, there’s no way any pure Scottish woman, whether in her right mind or not, would wear that, outside, whilst drinking her dram; she’d catch her feckin’ death. Really, you see some sights here on the Costa del Leith but not that. Never that.

Pure Scot’s website and social media channels are littered with similar images. It makes no difference if their head of marketing happens to be a woman; the objectification of women is still exactly that – the objectification of women. Dress it up with a new label if you wish, Pure Scot, but there is nothing tongue in cheek about any of this; ‘hipster sexism’ is still sexism.

For most businesses – big or small, new or established – social media is an important (if not the most important) way to advertise their brand. And Scotch whisky is, essentially, a brand. Think about how many likes, shares, comments and retweets such images receive. On the one hand, women hear that whisky is for everyone, regardless of gender. Then a gratuitous image like this appears on their timeline or in their feed; an image designed to cultivate the belief that women should only drink whisky if they look like this. And it’s this conflicting message which resonates. Pure Scot’s motto is ‘Don’t be told’ and it ‘is for anyone who has the courage to be themselves and push boundaries. They are not told what life to lead or which Scotch Whisky to choose.’ Great! As sexist pish doesn’t appeal to me, I won’t be choosing Pure Scot. For the record, this is how real, un-Photoshopped women, who don’t look in need of a good roast dinner, tend to enjoy their dram on an evening in Scotland. It’s more a case of ‘Don’t be cold’.



When presented with gratuitous images (by Pure Scot and the many other offenders), the environment of women only whisky events clearly has its appeal. Now, there’s always some random who chips in with ‘and how would you feel about men only whisky tastings?’ My ‘CBA With This’ response tends to be that, for the most part, a men-only whisky tasting is actually just a whisky tasting.

If we take another trip back to Manchester, nobody chipped in with ‘what about an initiative to encourage white kids into football?’ White kids were already very well represented in the world of football; there was no need. Change ‘white kids’ to ‘men’ and ‘football’ to ‘whisky’ and, once again, you’ll see my point.

Clearly, neither did anybody suggest some kind of permanent segregation of Asian kids. It was more a point of establishing ‘safe spaces’ where they could build confidence, have fun and learn about football before heading off to join other clubs. Again, change ‘Asian kids’ to ‘women’ and ‘football’ to… OK, I know you get it now.

You can’t say you’re worried about ostracising yourself if you’ve already been ostracised. It’s a bit like saying you’re worried about resigning from your job when you’ve already been fired.

My mother used to tell me that sometimes, it’s not just what you say but also how you say it. Likewise, it’s not just what you highlight, it’s how you highlight it. By using their gender in a bid to highlight the lack of equality in the world of whisky, some women fear ostracising themselves. This isn’t a notion that I personally subscribe to. You can’t say you’re worried about ostracising yourself if you’ve already been ostracised. It’s a bit like saying you’re worried about resigning from your job when you’ve already been fired. It’s impossible to highlight the issue of gender inequality in the whisky industry or on the whisky scene, without highlighting gender itself. Women should only start worrying about the possibility of ostracising themselves once parity has been achieved. And only when the likes of Diageo stop arsing about with ‘feminine edition’ whisky labels and release a gender pay gap report which simply states “GENDER PAY GAP CLOSED”, will women be any closer to that.


  1. The Captain says:

    I’ve written about this before and every time I have I have been hit by some of the weirdest abuse you could imagine.

    I did an article on sexism when promoting products in shops “Whisky for him, fizz and chocolates for her” that sort of shit to be told to lighten up, it’s only a bit of fun and actually told to fuck off and blocked by one Dublin off licence I had a wee dig at.

    When I wrote about the lack of women in the industry who weren’t front line staff I was corrected to a point which I took on board but I also got into an incredibly tedious argument where I was pointed to the handful of women who work at board level and in the end one of these people ended up admitting they’d be patronised by men at events on in work and I just could not believe they’d fought so hard to then admit that.

    When I penned another article I was accused of making mountains out molehills, looking for hits on my post and appraisal and then told I had no friends and needed some male friends to hang around with.

    The other article mentioned talked about the sexism in the brewery industry “cheap whore” IPA and all that shit, I’ll take that seriously when Tennents remove the Lager Lovelies mural from outside their brewery and not before.

    I was at the 2nd National Whisky Festival and was kinda down to see the crowd being made up of 90% men, when you take out the workers, I’d take a guess though that part of that reason is that many women don’t feel comfortable going, and I get that, but that will change, over time.

    Sex sells, we all know that, the Pure Scot adverts (I remember there was someone else too who did women in lingerie drinking whisky but I forget exactly who) would be funny if they weren’t so fucking tragic. Remember the whisky or wine that had apparently been poured over a porn star before being bottled? Who the fuck is buying that? Honestly.

    And that is my point, if we, and I don’t just mean men but it’s mainly men, here someone being sexist then point it out to the sexist, if we see sexist marketing then don’t buy from that brand, don’t promote it either, I’ll state here and now that if Jane Walker is a thing I’ll never buy another bottle of Johnnie Walker again on pure principal, because it’s fucking ridiculous

  2. James says:

    Let’s call a spade a spade and say that whisky advertising/marketing is, even when you exclude the sexist content, lazy shite. With the exception of Compass Box generally, Daftmill’s last email, and Bruichladdich’s Instagram, I cannot remember the last time I looked at any branded content that did not send me to sleep.

    Justine’s excellent post reveals two ugly truths: the first is how sexism festers in whisky, the drinks industry – hell, society at large; the second is that the Scotch whisky industry cannot for the life of it find a way to communicate successfully and meaningfully in the 21st century. They are having to be poked and prodded towards new paradigms that truly engage with curious, self-educated and potentially passionate people. People, not Men (then something for the ladies – if we have time). They are nowhere near there yet, as Jane Walker unhappily shows.

    1. Welsh Toro says:

      I’m late to the party (came here through Taylor’s link today) but you hit the nail on the head. The marketing of Scotch, at this moment in time, is absolutely dreadful.

  3. Audrius says:

    What an utter dross of overreaction and virtue signalling. There are a lot of women who look different, and there’s no common denominator or approved concept of what ‘REAL woman’ actually looks like and should be portrayed in a certain context — advertisers just choose one of many and go with it. There’s no common image of what man in a whisky marketing should look like, yet most of the times it’s a stereotype too; I can’t relate to the ‘Donald Draper’ of whisky but it’s fine, I’m not going to rant about it. And no, most women don’t look like whisky geeks in cow onesies; who are you to tell that women can’t look sexy enjoying whisky? And who’s to tell „hey, now THIS is TOO sexy, so it’s sexist!“? Advertising is built on objectification and simplification of an idea, a concept, whether it’s a man, woman, mother, father, lover or doctor. And sex is part of our lives and culture. Christina Hendrix is a Johnny Walker ambassador not only because she’s charming and loves whisky, she’s an attractive beautiful woman. The Whisky Lady and Miss Whisky are being followed by men (and women) on social media not only because they’re extremely competent and articulate about whisky; it’s because they’re sexy too. And there’s nothing wrong in calling themselves ‘Lady’ or ‘Miss’ just to iterate that it’s something unique and appealing in it. Jane Walker was only introduced as a consequence of the prevailing „time’s up“ movement and is a symbol, a reflection of zeitgeist, not a patronising marketing trick. To think otherwise (and be freaked out about it) is ridiculous, just as the man-abhorring movement itself. Because if you deal with sexism and sex itself by applying neo-marxist idelology you end up in an Orwellian world. Equality should be based on skills, experience, productivity and similar traits, not just gender only. Should the two women who ‘do the same job’ be paid equally also? Should an individual who thinks s/he’s becoming better at ‘doing the same job’ NOT ask for a raise or promotion because it all should stay strictly equal? The ‘same job’ and ’absolute equalisation’ is a ludicrous generalisation that only leads to this delusional surrealistic environment, where every form of sexualising an idea becomes a hashtag-worthy taboo if it doesn’t get a pass from the social justice police.

    1. Mark says:

      Hey Audrius. Thanks for stopping by with your almost textbook example of mansplaining. I’m sure Justine – women the world over – are thrilled by you explaining to them what they should be thinking and feeling.

      You make a number of assumptions that are simply wrong, most notable of which is: you think the world is a level playing field. It is not. It isn’t even remotely that. In the utopia that you so poetically describe. It would be great if everyone was treated and rewarded equally – so why aren’t female BBC presenters paid the same as their male counterparts for the same job?

      Telling people and brands not to act like fuckwits is not a neo-Marxist, Orwellian anything. At the very least, it’s basic manners not to be a dick. I happen to work in the creative advertising world, and all of what you describe is not true. And advertising reacts to culture as much as anything else (I need not go into details on the implications – you’re a bright chap).

      What Pure Scot has done isn’t even well-considered – it’s man: power, woman: submissive, highlighted in a stream of stolen-from-the-internet images to fill up a shallow brand offering (because their whiskies are shit and they have nothing else to say). I’m sure it appeals to the lowest common denominator sorts.

      1. Audrius says:

        OK. “women the world over – are thrilled by you explaining to them what they should be thinking and feeling”.

        Where did I try to explain how they should think or feel? But of course your hallucinatory projection is your easiest route to a template argument of ‘mansplaining’ you just couldn’t resist.

        What gives Justine, or yourself, the exclusive knowledge what millions of female whisky drinkers should look like, though? I never said there should be one image, it was an implication hinted by Justine. It’s not THIS, maybe it’s more THAT! Well, maybe. And maybe not. Maybe there shouldn’t be rules for that. After all, a ‘good’ stereotype is still that – a stereotype.

        And I don’t assume the world is a ‘level playing field’, but how could it be. And where does the ‘total equality’ exactly stop? Gender, race, sexuality, social background, ethnicity [feel free to fill in] … ?

        Regarding the presenters – go on and ask the BBC. If they’re doing the same job within similar margins of brilliance, it should be reflected proportionally (I mean, you probably agree that it’s OK if a woman is granted a raise that she asked, for doing the same job as her male colleague?)

        But journalism is a creative field, and it’s utopian to think that equality could be implicated there easily. Just like in advertising, where I’ve been working for over a decade. And I, as a business owner, and a creative director, have been steadily paying women more than men, whose skill and craft weren’t as good or profitable. It never crossed my mind to bring gender into consideration and think why it should matter. And this is Eastern Europe.

        The fact that you, Brits, are killing yourselves over this grand delusion just to indulge in gender politics, is crazy. And THAT is neo-marxist.

        Telling Pure Scot their ads are shit, of course, is not (they’re shit). It’s when you bring gender and oppression to Marx-it-up, it becomes so.

        But we were not only discussing Pure Scot, who truly do need better creative than just a lazy sex-sells cliches. Which doesn’t mean they should be lectured, as a business, if they think a certain concept will bring the biggest profit.

        What about JW’s Hendricks? Should we shame her too, for selling her Joan Holloway image to Diageo?

        Of course we could suggest Miss Whisky to drop her objectifying logo with a silhouette of a woman in high heels too.

        Yes, I’m getting carried away here (or am I?), but once you start publicly policing these issues, there will be no end. Or fun.

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