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Apr 24

Whiskey In Mainstream Culture

Few beverages enjoy the cultural cache that whiskey enjoys. From its appearance in numerous classic and new country songs, to its appearance on prime time televisions shows like AMC’s Mad Men. Our society just can’t seem to get enough whiskey. The anachronistic thing is that vodka is the more popular beverage when you look at alcohol sales.

Country music is full of colorful reverences to scotch whiskey, bourbon and single malt scotch. Country songs of old and new celebrate and lament the beverage. Robert Earl Keen tells the tale of two hard partying, hard drinking brothers whose alcohol fueled romps on Texas’ Corpus Christi Bay leads to fun, but ultimately destruction. Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” is more about the great equalizing effect of whiskey. Class differences don’t matter when people gather at bar to drink scotch whiskey. Country songs praise the effects of whiskey as an aphrodisiac, social lubricant, and general fun thing to drink. They also warn of its ability to heat the temper, lead to adultery, and ruin lives. Often they do so in the same song. In short, drink responsibility.

The duality of single malt scotch and other alcohol is also on display in Mad Men. Don Draper is constantly using alcohol to warm clients up to his radical ideas. His staff often drink to celebrate or to relieve the stresses of work. There is a dark side however as one the company’s staff has to quit due to alcoholism and even Don begins to wonder if he is relying too heavily on scotch whiskey (his drink of choice).

The effects of whiskey go both ways (euphoria and fun to despair and ruin) as portrayed in the media. Although it is often portrayed as a drink of the wealthy, aficionados and other elites, it also has associations with Southern poverty, bootlegging, and working class men. Scotch whiskey has become so ubiquitous that those who use it in art can color it with any associations they want. The scotch whiskey brand has something to do with these associations. Brands like Jack Daniels and Old Crow are associated with working class drinkers and Johnny Walker and Jameson are associated with more affluent drinkers.

What will the future hold of scotch whiskey in popular culture? The beverages image has been evolving for hundreds of years so it’s hard to say. One thing is certain and that is so long as people drink it will be a media mainstay.

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