Spirits professionals, including Our Whisky co-founder Becky Paskin, have condemned the “sexist” language used to describe whiskies in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
The latest edition of Murray’s Whisky Bible was published last week and recognised whiskies from around the world. However, Murray has drawn criticism for descriptions of some whiskies, which often compare different spirits to women.
In a post on social media platforms including Instagram and Twitter, Our Whisky co-founder Becky Paskin cited some examples of Murray’s comments, saying that “something needs to be said”. She highlighted that “there are 34 references to whisky being ‘sexy’ and many more crudely comparing drinking whisky to having sex with women”.
In the book, Murray refers to a whisky from Welsh distillery Penderyn as celebrating “maltiness in the same way a sex addict revels in a threesome”. He also made these comments about a release from Canadian Club: “Have I had this much fun with a sexy 41-year-old Canadian before? Well, yes I have. But it was a few years back now and it wasn’t a whisky. Was the fun we had better? Probably not.”
In response to Murray’s “sexist and vulgar” language, Paskin and Forbes writer Felipe Schrieberg both called on brands to stop “ignoring this problem”.
Paskin said: “I have been aware of some of the ways he has described whiskies in the past and cringed but then got on with my day.
“But I managed to get hold of a copy of the 2021 edition and went through it to pick out some of the most disgusting reviews that were in there and it was really shocking. I had anticipated a couple, but there were more than I could have imagined.
“It came out now because I don’t think we should be making excuses for people like that anymore. One person should not have so much power that they can get away with saying or doing anything they want.”
Paskin said that comments such as Murray’s will have an impact on consumer perceptions of how to talk about whisky.
She added: “The amount of people who read those sorts of comments and assume that it’s OK to speak about whisky in that way is damaging.
“The message it is sending to the whisky industry as a whole and to whisky consumers is that women don’t really matter and they are there to be objectified.”
‘An attack on free thought’
Murray has responded to the criticism arguing the points raised online are “an attack on free thought and free speech”.
In a statement, Murray said: “This is not a matter of alleged sexism on the trumped up charges against me – which have clearly been concocted for very clear purposes – this is an attack on the very essence of what it is to be a critic in any sphere, be it music, art, sport, wine or whisky. In other words: an attack on free thought and free speech.
“We are entering very dangerous territory when people try to control the thoughts of others and wilfully distort the truth for their own ends. This is now a battle between free speech and humourless puritanism. I am not alone in finding this very sinister.
“I am not sexist; the Whisky Bible is not sexist, has never been sexist and I will not bow to this faux outrage. I have always fought the bully and I will do so here. Debate has been replaced by the baying of the mob, common sense and decency by straitjacketed dogma. Frankly, these people appal me because what they are doing is undermining society itself.
“How, in God’s name, can, for instance, likening a whisky to an orgasm be remotely construed as sexist? Last I heard, male, females, transgender people, everyone is capable of an orgasm. I am a professional writer and use a language that adults – for the Whisky Bible is designed for adults – can relate to. I paint pictures of a whisky. And if that, on the rare occasion, is the picture or sensation that formulates in my mind, then I say so. As I have every right to.
“Rather than write interesting, illuminating and compelling articles about whisky, other writers would rather engage in ‘cancel culture’ to [bring] down the world’s most successful author on the subject.
“Some one million people have bought the Whisky Bible since it first came out in 2003 – and in that time I have not received a single letter, email or text complaining of its content. Not one. Suddenly, though…this. Several people writing exactly the same thing on the same day. Strange that.
“I am famed for my ability to nose a whisky. And I can tell you that I can smell a huge rat with this entire manufactured and revolting affair.
“I have dedicated 30 years of my life, longer than anyone else on this planet, fighting for whisky and the whisky underdog, so people will discover great whiskies from wherever they may be in the world. This has put quite a few people’s noses out of joint. These outrageous and concocted allegations will not derail me in my life’s quest. My championing of great whisky will continue. My freedom of speech will continue. Whether these latter day Cromwellians like it or not.”
Vote with support
Since posting about Murray’s comments on Instagram yesterday (20 September), Paskin said that “about 98% of comments” she has received in response have been “overwhelmingly disgusted” at the language used in the book.
“It has almost encouraged other people to come out and say something has happened to them at a tasting, this is almost our ‘Me To’ moment for whisky,” she said. “Everyone has a story.”
Schrieberg and Paskin’s comments have been shared across social media by industry insiders including French drinks journalist Christine Lambert and spirits writer Alice Lascelles.
Paskin added: “The way the industry has reacted has been really positive, but what I haven’t seen is any brand saying we will no longer stock his book, we will no longer support him. But I think it might be too soon, this only happened yesterday.
“People can vote with their money and won’t buy it, and I also think that the industry should vote with its support. If you support what he says and the way that he objectifies women, women who are the blenders and distillers and make up the workforce that are making the whisky, then by all means support the bible, if that’s what you want to do. But I do believe that if you are against objectification then do something about it.”
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Author: Owen Bellwood