A nice whiskey is something anyone, regardless of gender, can enjoy. Estimates say that two out of every five bourbon drinkers are women, yet the whiskey industry is marketed as masculine — and often called a man’s drink. From Evan Williams to Augustus Bulleit (of Bulleit Rye) to Jim Beam, whiskies are often named after men, too.
That’s why Johnnie Walker, the 200-year-old purveyor of several scotch and whiskey varieties, announced on Monday that a female iteration of the brand’s iconic striding man would be emblazoned on limited-edition bottles of the brand’s flagship Black Label blended scotch whisky.
To honor Women’s History Month, Jane Walker, a fictional, feminized version of Johnnie Walker, the mascot and real brand founder, will appear as a striding silhouette on 250,000 bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label starting in March. For every bottle sold, the company intends to donate a dollar to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund, which are working to erect monuments of women suffragists.
“Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women,” Stephanie Jacoby, vice president of Johnnie Walker told Bloomberg. “It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”
The “Jane Walker” mascot and Jacoby’s comments about scotch being intimidating to women prompt the question: Do spirit brands really need to create “his” and “hers” branding for the exact same type of whiskey? Mic decided to ask whiskey lovers — who happen to be women — what they thought. The responses, which we received over email unless otherwise noted, ran the gamut, so we are publishing them here with minimal editing and condensing.
“I actually love the idea! As long as they don’t change the taste at all, I’m into it.”
— Ashley Lugo Brown, beverage manager at Vinateria, a restaurant in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood
“The Jane Walker logo at first made me roll my eyes — I really hate feeling pandered to. I don’t need a dainty whiskey simply because I am female, and those associations further cement the notion of women as the weaker sex. When people are surrounded by products espousing the idea that women are delicate, it reinforces that idea in the public’s mind. So to that, I’d ask, what’s the point of putting a woman on a whiskey if it only serves to promote the idea that women are weak? However, it looks like Diageo isn’t doing that and is putting Jane on their regular Black Label and that is fantastic. The graphic is gorgeous and it really makes me happy to see a woman on a whiskey bottle. I wish it were sticking around longer.”
— Brigid Bjorklund, NYC member of Women Who Whiskey
“I don’t need a dainty whiskey simply because I am female, and those associations further cement the notion of women as the weaker sex.”
“I cannot wait to grab a bottle featuring Jane Walker — it looks fantastic. My company, Hospitality Inc. NY, focuses on craft cocktails, and of course, whiskeys play a big role on my cocktail list and [is] often highlighted in my cocktail classes. I found [that] my woman friends are 100% intimidated to drink anything but clear spirits. Once [I] give a simple breakdown of what a scotch, bourbon or blend is, the secret society or boys’ club to sipping scotch starts to dispel a bit. ... The No. 1 response I receive at the end of my class from [women] is how they cannot believe that they like whiskey, and that they would definitely order it when the are out.”
— Gina Weinstein, founder and director of Hospitality Inc. NY
“Not into [the Jane Walker bottle] at all — it furthers the idea that we need different, ‘gendered’ products for men and women. ... I have no problem with marketing that is clearly, thoughtfully targeted to women, but this is, in my opinion, lazy and barely a step up from the Bic for women pens.”
— Rebecca Smith, Women Who Whiskey member, Salem, Oregon, chapter, reprinted with permission from a Facebook comment
“While I appreciate that brands are supporting women’s causes ($1/bottle sold), I still find it insulting that brands think the best way to gain traction with female consumers is to slap a lady on the bottle because it makes scotch less ‘intimidating’ — let alone assume that women are intimidated to begin with. Plenty of women drink whiskey. Hell, they’re even making it. I’m actually more interested with what is in the bottle than the woman on the label.”
— Danielle Lewis, beverage director at GT Fish and Oyster in Chicago
“This is, in my opinion, lazy and barely a step up from the Bic for women pens.”
“The creation of a logo ‘just for women’ definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The implied message is that women whiskey drinkers are not equal to male whiskey drinkers. We’re so different from them that we need a different logo! The great thing about food and drink is that it’s not about gender.”
— Clara Park, chef in Philadelphia, over Facebook Messenger
“I understand the rationale behind the branding decision, but it lacks sentiment for me. The Johnnie Walker brand stands for perseverance, and that’s relevant no matter who graces the label. I’ve certainly never felt ostracized as a drinker because of Johnnie’s gender.”
— Rachel Fontana, brand director of Sagamore Spirit
The gender-marketing skeptics
“Jane Walker appears to be quite a gimmicky approach to sell scotch to women. Two-hundred-fifty thousand bottles is a drop in the bucket for a brand the size of Johnnie Walker, which leads me to believe that the true intention here is to sell scotch rather than actually empower women.
Stephanie Jacoby’s statement in the article that ‘scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women,’ is problematic to me. Scotch is a vastly complex category with a wide array of terroir, which is intimidating to anyone approaching it for the first time regardless of their gender.
Scotch as a category has been advertised specifically with men in mind for decades now. The solution to this should not be to go in the opposite direction and now advertise specifically to women. It should be to advertise to people, inclusively.”
— Michelle Sordi, bar director at Colonie
“Women are not a monolith, and trying to market to them as some sort of homogeneous cohort is a fool’s errand.”
“Jane Walker represents a significant turning point, but I am also somewhat ambivalent about it. ... Starting with one of [Diageo’s] flagship brands is a bold move that signals a commitment to this issue, but I recognize — and have heard from several [Women Who Whiskey] members — that this doesn’t necessarily represent inclusion to them.
The spectrum of what encourages and allows women to feel included is so wide that something progressive and positive for one woman might feel pandering or condescending to another.
At the end of the day, women are not a monolith, and trying to market to them as some sort of homogeneous cohort is a fool’s errand. Women are people and different people have different preferences — including for different kinds of whiskey and how they want to be marketed to, as women or men.”
— Julia Ritz Toffoli, founder of Women Who Whiskey