On the scent of spirits

on 03 May, 2012

Former Drinks International editor Patience Gould is puzzled by scotch that’s marketed to women like perfume

As a woman and a serious spirits drinker, I confess to a sinking feeling when marketing folk or press releases claim that this or that brand has been specially fashioned to appeal to the “female drinker”. So the Cognac Bureau’s recent international summit looking at the feminine aspects of the eau de vie has really got me going – well thinking at least. Thinking, that is, about the perceived image of spirits and what makes them feminine or masculine.

I have never had the slightest hesitation in ordering a scotch – be it a blend or single malt – when out and about, but that said I do remember my mother who enjoyed her scotch at home and would never dream of ordering one in either a pub or restaurant. Her drink out reverted to a “safe” in her eyes, Dubonnet and bitter lemon. And then I remembered my father taking me out while I was at university and being utterly appalled when I requested a Jack Daniel’s on the rocks. “Darling – Lee Marvin drinks that.”

So both my parents had preconceived notions that scotch was too masculine a drink to have out and that the Tennessee sippin’ whiskey was so manly it was beyond the pale for a woman to drink it. But I digress.

Whenever female aspects of a drink come to the fore it inevitably means that the perfume houses and the know-how of the perfumery masters are wheeled into play. This implies that all women are obsessed with perfume, which aside from the blatant condescension, could not be further from the truth.

The last time I daubed some priceless concoction behind my ears, I was within a trice seized with a sneezing fit that had me rushing to the bathroom to remove all trace of the offending scent. A headache of almost blinding proportions ensued thereby ensuring that perfume was very much a no-go area, for me at least. Indeed it would be near purgatory to stroll through a perfume parlour even with a peg on my nose. Suffice to say Usain Bolt’s 100 metres world record would be under instant threat.

Admittedly there are some similarities when it comes to aromas in perfumes and in various spirits including cognac, scotch, rum and of course flavoured vodkas; the likes of cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ripe fruit, toffee and orange – and that is interesting, well to an extent. But apparently this is also true of the design and packaging. When it comes to cognac, women go for a luxury and contemporary look and a rounded bottle is preferred, all characteristics which are inherent in perfume design and packaging.

Just off the cuff, I rang a friend and asked: “What would you say to a scotch packaged à la perfume?” The response was immediate: “Perfectly disgusting, particularly if it had an atomiser!” Well it’s been done – minus the atomiser, of course. Remember Ballantine’s Purity? Captivated by the enormous opportunity afforded by positioning a brand as a perfume, and thereby attracting droves of female buyers, the then Allied Domecq launched a 20 Year Old vatted malt under the Ballantine’s label into the travel duty-free arena. It was 50cl of scotch, dressed up as a perfume, complete with pointed top – quite horrible and quite disturbing too.

Perfume, scent or whatever you spray on yourself, is for dressing up – you do not pour it into a glass, nor in fact do you drink it. And the reverse with scotch whisky and other spirits is true. So this link with the perfumed world is all very interesting, but the fact remains that when you are buying scotch or perfume it is a different buying occasion – you don’t think to yourself I’ll nip down to the supermarket as I’m out of gin and perfume. The two just do not go together.

Mind you, Bombay Sapphire back in 2003 made spirits history with the launch of Infusion by Bombay; a fragrance made with the same 10 botanicals used in the gin. It was available in the duty-free arena but for a limited period only as it was part of an innovative educational programme for the brand.

Come to think of it, I’m sure I’ve seen a short film, in the dim and distant, in which the mentally unbalanced heroine drinks her cologne…

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