Recently, Uproot Wines, a young, hip winemaking company based in Napa, ran a widely seen ad on the web that caused a stir. The advertisement was designed to play on certain gender stereotypes. These words appeared next to a pink foiled-cap bottle: “Finally, Rosé For A Man.” This caused a bit of a Twitter kerfuffle, with tweets that claimed the ad “perpetuate[d] the stereotype instead of dismissing it.”
It’s true that marketing tends to play on stereotypes when appealing to different demographics. Yet it is also true that these demographics are going against the conventional trends and stereotypes when it comes to traditionally gendered drinks. To what can we attribute this gender role reversal happening in bars across the nation? Is it an accurate representation of a drinking trend or are we all just buying in to the hype?
“I see these gender stereotypes on a daily basis and to be honest, it’s boring,” says Gemma Cole, New York Brand Ambassador for Tullamore DEW Irish whiskey. “There is nothing I love more than walking into a cocktail bar and seeing a Wall Street banker sipping a pink, fruit-garnished drink and his female colleague with a glass of whiskey.”
Like all things, drinking trends change with time, but many experts believe that the perception of what constitutes a “feminine” or “masculine” drink has largely been manipulated by popular media.
Mixologist Lynette Marrero, who co-founded Speed Rack, an all female bartending competition, says while women have been enjoying the brown, stiff stuff since time immemorial, somehow the prevailing notion was always that women preferred fruity, sweet, and creamy cocktails.
“For a long time only flavored vodkas and cream-based liqueurs were being marketed to women,” she says. “As vodka has declined in sales whiskey has increased and women are a big part of that growth.”
Indeed, Fred Minnick, author of “Whiskey Women,” last year told NPR that twenty years ago women made up “maybe fifteen percent of whiskey drinkers.” Today he believes that number is closer to forty percent.
Kayleigh Kulp, spirits columnist and author of Booze for Babes: the Smart Woman’s Guide to Drinking Spirits Right, agrees that the media has been part of the problem by targeting women for vodkas and other flavored spirits under the assumption that they would not be interested in — or able to learn to enjoy — aged whiskeys, tequilas or brandies. And although she believes this messaging has played a part in solidifying stereotypes, it is now starting to flip the script.
“I think that the media’s coverage of female distillers and master blenders has inspired female consumers to try new liquor products,” says Kulp. “Women are becoming more equal in many other areas — the corporate world, politics, academia. And that goes for their place at the bar, too.”
While there certainly appears to be a lot of hype surrounding women and brown spirits these days, women are no strangers to the world of whiskey. Women were among the first distillers of whiskey in the United States, often making batch after batch in their own kitchens and using them for medicinal purposes to heal a multitude of ailments. But you would rarely catch sight of a woman drinking it. During Prohibition, women who were seen selling or drinking whiskey were typically prostitutes and most were not allowed into drinking establishments at all — let alone allowed to partake in any imbibing. Many experts believe this bit of history is linked to the stereotypes and stigmas attached to their drinking choices today.
“While Prohibition is a thing of the past, the remnants of that era are still visible to this day,” Cole says.“ The message that whiskey is a ‘man’s drink’ was passed down through the generations and can still be heard today. My own mother thought I was crazy to take a job slinging whiskey in New York, but now she understands what a wonderful world I work in. [And] my granddad thinks it’s delightful. With each generation comes change, acceptance and equality.”
But these liquid stereotypes are not a cross for only women to bear. Much has also been made as of late over men’s increasing willingness to forego traditional “dude” drinks like beer, whiskey and big red wines in favor of less-masculine fruity cocktails and lighter wines.
Rick Lopez, owner of Gowanus Wine Merchants in Brooklyn, has seen first-hand the “role reversal” of drink preferences — especially with men and rosé.
“It seems men from all walks of life are drinking rosé these days,” he says. “All summer guys have been coming in the shop saying that they recently tried a good rosé and it was a revelation. Some go on to say ‘they’re better now’ but in reality, there have always been great pink wines on the market.”
But to simply say that more men are drinking rosé is a bit misleading. Just like whiskey, rosé consumption has been on the rise for the past decade. Lopez says that this been a big year for rosé, which he and Marrero both attribute to the wine finally outgrowing the unfortunate comparison with the “saccharine disaster” known as White Zinfandel.
“No one was drinking rosé until there were quality pink wines available,” Marrero says. “These are not the white zins of the ’80s and ’90s.”
So why are men only now deciding rosés are not a threat to their manliness? Kulp believes that our interest in experiencing and tasting new drinks is an extension of our interest in all things epicurean and the rise of a foodie culture that rewards culinary risk-taking. She believes that this interest has allowed us to become more comfortable, socially, with what’s in our glass.
“Instead of someone thinking, ‘Look at that guy drinking girly wine,’ they may say, ‘That guy’s drinking one of the finest wines ever made in Provence!’” she says. “Likewise with women drinking scotch or an aged tequila, which is now likely to be interpreted as her knowing her way around the finer things in life, rather than being a gruff person who could kick your ass.”
While our society may still be far from stripping the labels we place on things — for better or for worse — Cole believes our drink choices are proof that we are definitely taking a step in the right direction.
“We should be comfortable to drink, eat, dress, and love whatever we like without being judged or put into boxes,” says Cole. “Alcohol has no gender, so drink what you enjoy.”