Here’s What Millennials Are Drinking and Why

The numbers are in: a recent study by the Wine Market Council proved just how much millennials are loving wine right now. If you were born between ’82 and ‘95, you’re included in this group, which drank more than 159 million cases of wine in 2015 – that’s 42 percent of all the wine consumed in the U.S. last year and 10 percent above what it was two years ago.

Millennials seem to love the grape more than any other generation, which means we’re helping to shape an industry as we speak. But, what kind of wine are we drinking exactly? And what other boozy trends are being driven by the most populous American generation, now that we’ve all celebrated our 21st birthday?


The Weirder the Better

When it comes to wine, millennials are more likely than the boomer age set to experiment with more obscure wine regions. Ben O’Donnell from Wine Spectator reports that millennials are buying from “discovery regions” like Greece, Portugal, Austria, New Zealand, and Chile and national regions like Oregon, Washington, and even New York.

In fact, millennials’ purchases increased sales for all the major wine regions of the world, except California.

As an age set, millennials tend to seek out what’s different or unusual rather than sticking with the traditional or expected. For many that means looking beyond a Napa cab to a Slovenian rosé from a winery they’ve never heard of.

“I think a lot of this has to do with millennials’ need for uniqueness,” says Dr. Jean Twenge, author of the book Generation Me. “Raised in a more individualistic time, they are interested in expressing themselves through personalized and unique purchases.”

Not only is the “me” generation buying more obscure wines, they’re willing to pay a pretty penny for them in some cases. Wine Spectator looked at Wine Market Council surveys, which showed that 17 percent of millennial wine drinkers bought a bottle that cost more than $20 sometime in the past month. That’s $12 more than the average price per bottle in 2015.

That some of us are willing to shell out this much for wine is somewhat baffling.

“It’s especially interesting because Millennials do not have more money [than other generations] – they have less,” comments Dr. Twenge with a special shout out to financial constraints like high student loans, high rents, and under-employment that continue to nag this generation. Apparently the millennial love for unique experiences outweighs price, at least sometimes.

This tendency toward individualism doesn’t just apply to wine. Yes, millennials, as we’ve seen, are changing it up and leaning hard toward wine and away from beer, which has been the favored adult beverage of choice for generations gone by. But when we do go after beer, our hearts lead us (surprise, surprise) to craft beers and away from large, well-known brands. A survey by Anheuser-Busch found that 44 percent of millennials between the ages of 21 and 27 have never even tried Budweiser. (Makes sense, then, that Anhueser-Busch InBev is busy buying up craft breweries like Chicago’s Goose Island and Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado.) Sorry, Bud, millennials would much rather drink craft beers – think IPAs and seasonal brews – than drink Peyton Manning’s favorite beer.


What About Spirits?

Whiskey once evoked visions of white-haired men sipping the brown beverage in a dark room surrounded by a cloud of cigar smoke or perhaps of a cowboy saloon in the wild west. Well, stereotypes are meant to be broken. As Market Watch and NPR report, millennials (and women) are drinking more whiskey and driving up sales of this spirit (and no, it’s not just Fireball). Bourbon and American whiskey saw a 7.4 percent increase in 2014 and a 30 percent increase over the last 10 years. Today, whiskey makes us think less of Clint Eastwood and more of a typical Saturday night.

Beyond whiskey, millennials of both genders are looking for variety on drink menus. Half of those surveyed from this age group said that variety is key when it comes to cocktails and liquor on restaurant menus. We want choices for our liquor, and we’re not too particular either. Plenty of vodka, rum, and tequila is consumed on top of all that whiskey.


Whether it’s beer, wine, or liquor, millennials don’t want to drink what everyone else is drinking (even if Seth Rogan and Amy Schumer are throwing a cool party). Instead, they want to be unique. The common consensus among adult beverage marketing research points to millennials choosing booze that has a story. As an age set, 21- to 34-year-olds want to feel all the feels, and we’re no different when it comes to drinking.


  • Harry says:

    159 cases of wine? For an entire generation to drink that much in one year would be nothing. 159 cases? so what’s that? 1/1,000,000 of an ounce per millennial? Lol. I’m just having some fun with you here, but I’m thinking that figure should have maybe been 159,000 cases? Or maybe 1,590,000 cases? But surely all the millennials in the USA drank a total of more than 159 cases of wine last year.

  • Harry says:

    Did I lose you Chelsea? Maybe you’re doing some research to see how many zeros go behind the 159 cases? Enjoy your work, I do hope you’ll find the time to respond to my question. All the best, thanks.

    • Hi Harry, you are indeed correct: there is no way that 42% of all wine consumed in the USA amounts to just 159 cases. We were missing the word ‘million’ and have since put it back where it belonged- thanks for the heads up and for reading.

      • Harry says:

        Hello Hayes,

        Thanks for the update, I really was curious as to how much wine was drank by, well, everyone here last year. I, too, left out a word in my second reply; the sentence that begins, ‘Enjoy your work…’ should have read, ‘I enjoy your work…’. Amazing how one word can totally change the meaning of a sentence or paragraph. Thanks again for your time, the reply and the information!

        All my best.

        PS – I read all the stuff you guys publish. =:-)

        • No worries, Harry, looks like we’re curious about the same things.

          As for how much everyone in the States drank, if millennials’ wine consumption accounted for about 42% of consumption in the USA, overall consumption of wine in the country should land around 380 million cases- which is a pretty decent amount of juice.

          If this kind of thing is up your alley, you might also enjoy checking out our piece on state-by-state and country-by-country wine production numbers right here:

          Glad to hear you enjoy thebacklabel, cheers!

          • Harry says:

            Greetings Hayes, Yep, I ended up at the same 380 case estimate, and like you said, that’s a pretty decent amount of juice! Lol! I’ve been enjoying wine since I was 18 (legal drinking age was a lot younger back in the day) and it wasn’t until my mid to late thirties that my friends began drinking wine. Now that we’re in our fifties they drank as much or more wine than I do! It took them a while but they caught on. (Besides wine I still enjoy a good craft brew or the occasional scotch). Thank you for the link to the world production numbers; I, for whatever reason, really enjoy reading these kinds of stats.

            Again, thank you for your time and all the information. =:-) Have a wonderful day, a fun St. Patrick’s day and an enjoyable weekend! All the best to you and the crew at the Back Label!

  • Chelsea says:

    Hi Harry, just wanted to weigh in here – sorry I’m a few days late! I’m glad you caught that mistake and took the time to send a note 🙂 It’s been fixed! I’m intrigued by these numbers too. The estimate you came up with seems about right. Wine Institute stats say Americans consumed 893 million gallons in 2014 (no update yet for 2015). If my math is right, that comes out to about 376 million cases of wine that year, which pretty dang close to that 380 million estimate. And, as Hayes points out in the above article, if there really is a correlation enthusiastic wine drinkers and the production of wine, I wonder what these new millennial numbers will mean for the industry in the U.S. going forward. Time will tell I guess! Thanks again for reading Harry!

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