Skip the Jewelry, Mom Wants Bourbon!

photo by Maggie Kimberl
photo by Maggie Kimberl

Whiskey marketing can oftentimes tread in dangerous territory. It has always been full of magical lore- Elijah Craig barn fire anyone?- but sometimes it turns bizarre. Whiskey companies have had trouble figuring out how to market their products to women, despite the fact women are typically the ones buying the stuff to begin with. There was the infamous “Woodford Way” commercial in which a vapid woman espoused the virtues of a bourbon drinking man who might be able to build her a bookshelf (although they've since made up for it by hosting a Mother's Day lunch at the distillery). There was the bizarre product called “Raven’s Lace” which came in “Peach-berry” flavor and was arguably named for an obscure romance novel (see the internet’s best reaction to that here). With all these strange messages out there, is it even OK to get mom whiskey for Mother’s Day?

In years past whiskey companies have fallen all over themselves to market whiskey as a Father’s Day gift, even going so far as to begin advertising it in advance of Mother’s Day. I once got into a lengthy Twitter exchange with one such company for advertising customized labels for Father’s Day weeks before Mother’s Day. Eventually they said you could get customized labels for any occasion throughout the year and they would be happy to print them for Mother’s Day, though they haven’t advertised it for either since. Many limited edition whiskeys are released right before Father’s Day to cash in on this trend.

Historically women have been crucial to the whiskey industry. Fred Minnick’s Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of how Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey outlines some of the many contributions women have made to whiskey as we know it. Women were brewers of beer before there was distillation. Women owned distilleries, often under pseudonyms, at a time when women were not welcome in the business world. Though women were often prohibited from holding certain positions at distilleries, they were often the best choice on the bottling line.

Today women are taking their places alongside the men in the distilling industry once again. Marianne Barnes is heading the brand new Castle and Key distillery, which will save the former Old Taylor Distillery in Woodford County from ruin. Over at Michter’s Distillery Andrea Wilson and Pam Heilmann make up two thirds of the operations higher-ups. But this is nothing new. Victoria MacRae-Samuels has been in the business for decades with Maker’s Mark and there were plenty of women in the business before, during, and after Prohibition. In fact, Mary Dowling, who owned a distillery in Tyrone, Kentucky before Prohibition, is famous for being the only person to ever produce bourbon outside of the United States when she moved her operation to Juarez, Mexico during Prohibition.

The notion that women aren’t part of the whiskey world is a social construct. Your mom was in labor for 23 hours before they had to cut her open while she was awake to get you out. She’s tough as nails and she wants Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for Mother’s Day.

From all of us at Alcohol Professor, cheers to all the moms out there for all that they do!