I actually only recently became aware that there are gender trends for booze. I learned about the gender divide after I got a job at a liquor store a couple years ago. It was through spending 40 hours a week selling people hooch that I realized the large majority of the clientele was male, and the men had certain beverage expectations that they often seemed to view differently than the beverage expectations for women.
Before working at a liquor store, I had not personally noticed any gender differences in booze consumption in my personal life. Both my parents drank wine of both colors, and neither of them much liked beer. Dad liked whiskey, mom liked reposado tequila, every now and then they both enjoyed an aromatic G&T or Moscow Mule.
Among my peers, pretty much everyone liked beer and all the kinds of liquor, and wine was just fine. In my past 14 years as a legal drinker, I’ve slung through pints with girlfriends and boyfriends alike, done shots with whomever was around with whatever sex parts, mixed excellent cocktails that friends with dinks and cooches enjoyed equally, and never noticed a bias one way or another in the typical gender of bartenders. I had no reason to think liquor was genderized.
And then came the job at the liquor store.
A daily chat on the job might go something like, “Yeah, I’ll take this six-pack, and then I need wine for The Wife. Something white.” Or, “Four shooters of Jack for me and a sleeve of Smirnoff Pomegranate for The Wife.” I was surprised to learn there was a whole set of boozy assumptions based on gender, a whole sexed-up liquor culture I knew nothing about.
From what I could gather from my customer interactions at the store, the rules went something like--
Women drink wine.
Men drink liquor and beer.
If women drink beer, they drink fruity, low ABV beer, and men drink IPAs.
If women drink liquor, they drink clear liquor, not brown liquor.
Only a certain type of man is interested in wine, while all women are into wine.
If someone is after fine wine destined for a cellar, that person is definitely a man.
Men don’t buy wine that’s bubbly or that comes in cans.
Buying liquor is a manly thing and should be done ideally by men.
Hard seltzers should fall in there somewhere, but all I noticed about those trendy nuisances is that if you’re buying them, you’re probably under 40.
I hope everyone reading the essay is thinking--Nah, that can’t be right. My experience is totally different. Because it’s ridiculous. I continue to hope that my observations about gender and liquor are a strange coincidence of the particular store where I worked, the special clientele it attracted.
However, when I rake my mind through booze ads I’ve seen, the ads are all pretty masculine. Whomever is writing them seems to think liquor is primarily a manly thing to be sold to men—and their thoughts are probably based on focus groups and research. Probably. Their thoughts might also be the result of baseless assumptions and patriarchal tradition. Hard to know.
There are beer ads that have mostly men at tailgates or in living rooms in football jerseys or in bars in backwards ball caps. Never mind that the women I’ve personally known have all equally enjoyed tailgates, worn football jerseys, hung in bars while wearing ball caps and consumed loads of beer while doing all three.
There’s the sexy male bartender who serves Disaronno, the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World and now George Clooney and his Casamigos. And of course, there’s all the liquor named after men. Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker, Evan Williams, Jose Cuervo, Don Julio—and if you’re wondering Well, what’s in a name, don’t forget the stereotypical pin-up girl on the Sailor Jerry bottle.
What’s so strange about this to me, I must repeat, is that going to a bar or having a drink is in no way genderized in the real world in which I live. Patronizing bars and drinking seems to be gender-neutral. So why is the liquor store and the story the companies are writing so male-forward? And is the gendered booze culture I discovered at the liquor store influenced by the story the companies have written, or is the masculine commercial story a reflection of the story of the consumers?
No doubt it’s not one-way or straightforward. I know the world in which I live doesn’t reflect everyone’s world, and perhaps I need to accept the new data I'm receiving: that alcoholic beverages are simply mucho-manly to a lot of folks, and the booze world is a man’s world.
Not in my world.