Updated: Jan 4
Is whisky the new gin? It might be too soon to say, but this drink, once reserved for the more traditionally masculine sector of the population seems to be shaking off its rigid perceptions and reaching a new consumer - the female, more specifically, the millennial female. If we turn the clock back by just a few years, many people would be surprised to find that gin wasn’t always at the head of the class in the spirits category. In fact, it used to be situated way in the back, to be dusted off only when someone’s ouma needed a swig of something stronger than Glen tea. Meanwhile, vodka was considered the trendy drink of choice for the young woman about town. But now that we have firmly nestled into an era that has been dubbed the ‘ginaissance’, there might be a dark horse on its way looking to dethrone this beverage as a fan-favourite among this demographic.
Major whisky brands have reported a significant increase in their female consumers over the past few decades with the category, in general, having enjoyed exponential growth and exports increasing by 7.8 % in the last year, according to Global Market Insights. NPR reports that millennials and women are driving up sales of this spirit. The millennial generation is all for the abolishing of archaic gender stereotypes, meaning that women, in particular, are keen to take up spaces that were previously occupied by men only, including liquor categories. Although there’s still a presumed toughness that is associated with women who do drink whisky, younger women aren’t afraid to lean into this and turn away from more ‘feminine’ options as a way of expressing their freedom. Whisky importer and distributor Mathieu Musnier tells Tatler Magazine, “It’s not so much about a particular flavour profile that women are gravitating towards nowadays. Women today are very much more adventurous about making their preferences known, and we see that in their career and lifestyle choices.” Because every whisky is unique, the opportunity to explore in this category is greater than many other spirits.
From country singer Carey Underwood to actress Mila Kunis, the number of female celebrities endorsing the dark distilled drink is increasing. In fact, in a video shot for Food & Wine’s YouTube channel, pop singer Pink can be seen throwing back shots like an expert. With culture shifts being heavily influenced by those in the public eye, it’s no wonder that women are following the lead of these figureheads and adopting the beverage as part of their repertoire. Women have an intrinsic ability to lead other women and where the women go, the men are likely to follow. Health and wellness are also influencing factors in this demographic. Although still a popular order, a gin and tonic beverage contains an average of 170 calories. Sure, the aforementioned is significantly less than a typical beer or spritzer, but a single serving of whisky amounts to a mere 72 calories. It’s also worth noting that influence and individuality are not mutually exclusive in this context, because while they may follow trends, millennial women also strive for uniqueness and with the various sub-categories that fall under the whisky umbrella, there’s still an allowance for them to find their personal and distinct preferences.
From ‘mom-jeans’ to polaroid filters, in other aspects of their lives, millennials are on a quest to recreate the retro aesthetic of decades gone by, and conveniently, whisky has somewhat benefitted from this phenomenon. An article published on millennialmarketing.com titled “Whiskey Cocktails Winning Over a Nostalgic Generation” details the emergence of a new dark liquor subculture supported by the opening of speciality bars. It's worth noting that, unlike the generations before them, this demographic is not loyal to particular brands, which is great news for those looking to expand in this category. Taste and experience will be the ultimate deciding factors. Status is also a driving force behind this interest, which creates somewhat of a dichotomy because on one hand there’s this desire to break the stereotype of who the whisky drinker is, while simultaneously wanting to be a part of the elite group and attain the prestige that comes with it. A similar pattern exists within ‘luxury’ items of other industries - think of the fashion brand Gucci, which also benefited from a resurgence in the last decade or so. Millennial consumers of the brand seek to belong to the same group that they are trying to rebel against.
“The challenge was how to make whisky more accessible to a younger, larger audience. Instead of old, heavy leather-and-wood panelled bars associated with it,” says restaurateur Asish Kapur. Premium heritage brands are at the forefront of making their female consumer feel seen, by catering to them specifically through packaging, and advertising. There’s a clear distinction between how white spirits like gin and vodka, and darker ones like whisky are presented. Brands need to be innovative in how they reach millennial females and do so in such a way that doesn’t isolate their core consumers.
Do you think whisky has the potential to dethrone gin as the millennial drink of choice?
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