Over the centuries, whisky has integrated itself into the world’s consciousness, from its origins traditional ways of drinking to the millennials ordering a shot right now at a trendy dive bar. Here’s to Whisky in Pop Culture!
The love for all types of whisky has, inevitably, permeated popular culture. Period TV show characters take sips during power lunches and country songs highlight it again and again. It’s relatable and evocative, recognizable to both blue-collar types and fine-living connoisseurs.
Sometimes, it’s the whisky that makes a pop-culture figure pop. Here are a few of our whisky in pop culture favorites.
Everything you need to know about “Anchorman” lead character Ron Burgundy can be summed up in one quote: “I love Scotch. Scotchy Scotch Scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly.”
The 2004 film, starring Will Ferrell as the blowhard TV anchor prone to buffoonery, so perfectly incorporated scotch into the Burgundy’s lovable persona that a real Scotch was named for him: The Ron Burgundy Great Odin’s Raven Special Reserve Scotch Whisky.
“Anchorman” is a big moment in whisky in pop culture history. And down our belly it goes.
2. Whisky a Go G
Very few nightclubs are recognizable by name alone, but the legendary West Hollywood venue Whisky a Go Go is the exception.
Opened in 1964 on Sunset Boulevard by a former Chicago policeman (really), the club took part of its name from the then-in-vogue “go-go” dancing craze and took its full name from both the British novel “Whisky Galore” and the first disco ever, Paris’ Whisky a Gogo, which opened in 1947.
Influential bands such as The Doors got their start playing there. Jimi Hendrix liked to drop by, and Otis Redding’s “Live at the Whisky” was recorded there. Punk rock, hard rock, 1980s new Wave — they all reached a wide audience at the Whisky.
The venue was revived in the mid-‘80s after a few years closed — and it’s still going today, forever elevating whisky in pop culture.
3. Ron Swanson, “Parks and Recreation”
Ron Swanson knows what he likes: steak, woodworking, alone time. He also knows what he doesn’t like: government, everything else. Oh, he also likes whisky.
But importantly, it must be Lagavulin single malt for the parks director of Pawnee, Ind., on NBC’s comedy “Parks and Recreation,” which ran from 2009 to 2014. And Lagavulin took notice.
In 2019, five years after “Parks” went off the air, the Islay-based company and Nick Offerman, who played Swanson, announced the release of an Offerman Edition, aged 11 years of its single malt scotch whisky, emblazoned with a drawing on Offerman in full-bearded glory. This was the time pop culture entered the whisky world, but it was not the last.
Ron Swanson once said he puts Lagavulin on his corn flakes. We wonder if Nick Offerman does.
4. Toby Keith, “Beer for My Horses”
The 2002 country song featuring Willie Nelson is all bombast and revenge and vigilante justice. It’s also all about celebrating whisky as a reward for “the good side.”
While Keith says beer is going to the gang’s horses, it’s “whiskey for my men” before the suds. Perhaps not the proudest moment in whisky in pop culture history, but a moment nonetheless.
The line is not exactly new. It was taken directly from the 1975 film “Bite the Bullet,” which included the line “Whiskey for me, beer for my horse.”
5. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”
Whisky plays a very prominent role in this 2017 action-comedy sequel to the 2014 Bond parody-homage “Kingsman.”
Here, we’re introduced to the Statesman, the American version of the British Kingsman, which used a whiskey business as a front for their operations. There’s even an agent named Whiskey!
But, hey, cool name. The same year the film was released, Old Forester announced it was releasing a 95-proof Bourbon called The Golden Circle: Old Forester Statesman.
6. “South Park”
Just one word is used to dive deep into the character of Stuart McCormick: “Scotch.”
Kenny’s dad always wears a red hat with just “Scotch” written on it. No name of a company, no explanation, nothing else. When you like Scotch, you don’t really have to elaborate. A small entry in whisky in pop culture history, but a memorable one.
7. “Lost in Translation”
Sofia Coppola’s extraordinary 2003 film is anchored by Peak Bill Murray playing, well, sort of himself.
Murray plays Bob Harris, a former movie star in Tokyo to star in advertisements for Suntory Whisky, a real distilling company based in Osaka, which the slogan “for relaxing times.”
His career is lost and he’s lost, but at least we’re treated to some cringe-funny faux whisky commercial scenes as he gets to know Scarlett Johansson. Murray received an Oscar nomination for the role and hopefully got to keep all the whisky.
8. Kesha, “Tik Tok”
Kesha’s 2009 breakout hit is packed with ridiculous fun — and ridiculous lyrics. This is a song that begins with “Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy.” We still don’t know what that means.
But the most memorable line may be another aspect of her morning routine: “Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack.” As in… Jack Daniels! Not recommended by four out of five dentists, but definitely recommended by Dr. Kesha.
If this isn’t Pop Culture at its best, we don’t know what is!
9. “The Shining”
Speaking of Jack Daniel’s… It’s not a great endorsement, but this brand plays a key role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980s psychological-horror film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name.
As Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is at his lowest, most maddening point, he joins a ghoulish bartender at a stocked bar and starting downing shots of Jack — leave the bottle. Jack Daniel’s represents falling back into his old drinking habits.
He doesn’t even ask specifically for Jack; he just accepts the pour gladly.
10. “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire”
Whisky was basically a character in the 2007-2015 series set throughout the 1960s drama series, with lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm) never more than arms-length away from some kind of whisky or whisky-based cocktail.
There was a lot of the blended Canadian Club (neat, Don’s favorite) in his office or an Old Fashioned (or three) over lunch. And over at HBO at the same time, “Boardwalk Empire,” set during Prohibition, also repeatedly referenced Canadian Club.
For a brand founded way back in 1858, whisky in pop culture was a godsend.
12. “Game of Thrones”
Whisky as we know it doesn’t exist in HBO’s landmark fantasy series, but that didn’t prevent Johnnie Walker from paying repeated homage.
The company has created several bottles based on the series, including White Walker. Named for the undead army featured throughout the show’s run, White Walker boasts caramelized sugar, vanilla, and fresh red berries as flavor notes.
It’s best-served ice cold. Because… Of course.
Johnnie Walker is a big fan of the show because it also made the “GOT”-inspired “A Song of Ice” (crisp and clean, with single malts from Scottish distillery Clynelish) and “A Song of Fire” (peated and strong, from Islay-based Caol Ila distillery).
Winter isn’t just coming to Johnnie Walker, it is always there.
13. James Bond
Old James Bond was all about martinis. Newer James Bond has more refined tastes.
In both recent Daniel Craig films, “Skyfall and “Spectre” 007 reaches for different types of The Macallan, including 10, 18, and 50-year-old versions. There was even a 1962 bottle of the beloved brand signed by Craig and “Skyfall” stars Javier Bardem and Bérénice Marlohe that brought in around $13,000 for charity.
The drink also plays a key role in a devious shooting scene in “Skyfall” that left us shaken and… Well, you know the rest.