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.