Diageo, the company behind best-selling scotch brand Johnnie Walker, recently announced it would sell a limited-edition 12-year Black Label blended whiskey featuring a woman in a top hat on its label instead of its signature striding man logo.
The move is to celebrate progress in women’s rights, the company said on Twitter.
“Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women,” company vice president Stephanie Jacoby said in an interview with Bloomberg. “It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”
But not everyone was impressed.
“What do I know about scotch? Very little, alas. As I am sure you know, women only consume wine spritzers and vodka-based drinks, like Cosmopolitans,” Maura Judkis wrote in a satirical piece for the Washington Post.
Spirits expert and author Heather Greene told Forbes, “I have not seen any quantitative or qualitative data that show whisky-drinking women will respond positively to this type of branding. Women don’t want to be separated into this kind of silo. The trick is include them in on the conversation — and quite frankly this does the opposite.”
On Twitter, users likened the business decision to “Brawny Woman” and “Lady Doritos” (“lady-friendly chips” that don’t crunch).
Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” even chimed in.
Jacoby, who worked on the Jane Walker campaign herself, responded to the criticism in a statement to Elle Magazine.
“This wasn’t about making a whisky for women,” Jacoby said. “We would never make anything that’s ‘for women’s palates.’ Taste buds have no gender.”
She noted that women have always been a major part of the Walker brand. In fact, it was a woman named Elizabeth Cumming who sold the original distillery to Johnnie Walker in 1893.
Walker’s wife is also considered “fundamental” in the creation of the brand’s blended whiskey and five of the 12 members on the company’s blending team are women.
By April, 40 percent of the parent company’s executive team will be female.
“The introduction of the first-ever female brand icon and the Jane Walker Edition bottle represent Johnnie Walker's commitment to inspire and champion the diverse communities moving our country forward,” the company wrote in its Monday news release. “In addition to celebrating historic female figures through the support of Monumental Women, Johnnie Walker will also celebrate the next generation of female leaders by donating a portion of Jane Walker Edition proceeds to She Should Run, who are dedicated to inspiring women to run for office.”
The $34 Johnnie Walker Black Label Jane Walker Edition bottles will be available starting March 1 in the U.S. in honor of Women’s History Month, with Diageo donating $1 from each sold to organizations championing women's causes.