THE only dram I’ve enjoyed in the past few years was during a bad cold, when my husband made me late-night toddies to help knock me out. Other than for medicinal purposes, and even though we have a cupboard full of unopened malts, I can’t think when I last indulged. Possibly associating the aroma with a sore throat and blocked nose puts me off the idea. And yet, a peaty malt is delicious. On the few occasions I have had a glass, it is Lagavulin I most enjoy. How to describe it? Like tasting woodsmoke coated in honey while watching The Vital Spark puffing into a moonlit harbour.

Finding original ways to describe a connoisseur’s tipple is not easy, as Jim Murray, author of the annual Whisky Bible will attest. However, he has made his job far harder than it need be by using an excess of erotic imagery in his new edition, thereby incensing some in the alcohol trade.

For the defence: Murray’s guide reviews around 4700 brands and vintages, so it’s no surprise he has resorted to scraping the very base – I won’t use the word bottom – of the barrel. His notes on one brand read: “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.”

Another runs: “If this was a woman, I’d want to make love to it every night. And in the morning. And afternoon, if I could find the time... and energy...”

For the prosecution: crass and antediluvian don’t do justice to the cringe- worthiness of such remarks. Most women have met men who talk like this in the cocktail lounge or pub. They think they are paying them a great compliment, but simply make the flesh crawl. This kind of language might be deemed acceptable in the beverage equivalent of the locker-room, but even there, such outdated sexism is gradually being frozen out by the more modern-minded and aware.

When Murray’s objectification of women was lambasted by fellow whisky buffs, many in the spirit world swiftly distanced themselves from him. One firm, whose rye whisky has been voted Murray’s “world whisky of the year”, says it won’t be using his endorsement in future promotions. As the cry went up for his guide to be boycotted and delisted in retail outlets, some shopkeepers began to remove his books from their shelves.

Yet one of his harshest critics, Becky Paskin, former editor of, who called his tasting notes “disgusting”, has also used sexist imagery when discussing drinks. She once highlighted a brand which was described as having been “poured over the breasts of a naked model before bottling”. Just typing this tripe is embarrassing.

Clearly all this indicates a deep-rooted culture of laddishness. Murray’s failings represent smoke rising from a smouldering volcano. Certainly, the collective ire that greeted his shaming, and the rush to banish him, is indicative of an entrenched and embarrassing malaise that should have been dealt with long ago.

In the advertisting heyday of the 1970s, sex was used to sell alcohol the way door-to-door salesmen flogged the Encyclopaedia Britannica. My husband, a former librarian, recalls the vodka advert that showed a tousled young woman in a hay barn surrounded by bullwhips. The strapline ran: “I was a mainstay of the public library until I discovered Smirnoff”. Hard though it is to credit, that poster was pinned up in some librarians’ offices. And who can forget the Tennent's lager cans, with their various “lovelies”, which some men actually collected, to enjoy the full set?

Not all adverts resorted to sex. In the 1930s, a poster worthy of a True Crime cover shows a common cold germ discussing with a flu bug whether or not to pounce on a man carrying a bottle. They decide there is no point since “Dewar’s White Label wards off flu”. The Macallan ran witty ads where explorers, reaching the remotest places on earth, found a bottle awaiting them. Throughout its history, however, this predominantly male product has capitalised on doe-eyed women’s power to attract, as in the JB’s 1970s billboard for “Scotch and the Single Girl”, in which a young woman seductively clutches a snooker cue.

How far we have progressed since then. Indeed, for some years now, distilleries have been assiduously trying to appeal to women, and to dissipate the drink’s hunting, shooting and fishing persona. Little wonder, then, that they rage at finding themselves portrayed as out of touch when it comes to attitudes to women.

It would seem that Murray, with his lascivious turn of phrase, is in danger of becoming the scapegoat for an industry-wide problem. Joseph Heller’s novel Something Happened opens with the line: “I get the willies when I see closed doors.” I feel the same when I hear the call to ban books. Censorship or cancelling is never the answer. Suppressing people’s voices creates resentment and a sense of embattlement. That is not the way to enlighten. A savvier editor might have had a quiet word with Murray about his more egregiously sexist entries. Likewise, the magazines in which Paskin promoted such guff should have suggested a rethink.

There’s no doubt this bitter stramash will have sent shock waves through the vaults. You can be sure that any hint of discriminatory language and innuendo when promoting whisky will now be strictly verboten. Yet should Murray’s book be taken off the shelves? Emphatically not. By that measure, countless titles, containing casual or overt misogyny, should be thrown onto the pyre, from Casanova’s memoirs and Ian Fleming’s Bond thrillers, to all those crime novels where women – many of them written by women – are merely sacrificial victims for psychopaths.

Books, opinions, and attitudes are products of their times. Murray’s mistake was not to recognise the changing climate and adapt before getting caught up in a wave of self-recriminatory retribution. That he remained in Jurassic Park is partly a reflection of the drinks industry condoning such an outlook. Anyone taking his book off the shelf who finds his sexual fantasising off-putting can easily find another guide. He is guilty of poor taste but that is no reason to call time on him.

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