Monday, June 11, 2012

Rant: Are Women's Palates Different?

Does gender factor into which type of alcohol you prefer? Do women tend to prefer sweeter alcohols?

There are over 350 different flavored vodkas on the market, including flavors like smoked salmon, whipped cream and bubble gum. Though some people will cringe at the more extreme flavors, there is also a growing segment of consumers, often female, who want such creations, especially the sweeter varieties. Other flavored spirits are starting to follow vodka's lead, with a goal of reaching more women. Whiskey is one such category.

In the first quarter of 2012, the fastest-growing spirit category, having risen nearly 155%, is flavored whiskey. The primary targeted market for these flavored whiskies is women. Though recipes for flavored whiskey has actually been around for hundreds of years, it is only recently that it has had any significant impact. Launched in June 2009, one of the first modern flavored whiskys was Jim Beam's Red Stag, a bourbon infused with black cherry. It did very well from the start, selling 85,000 cases its first year. In 2011, it saw a growth over 2010 of about 58%, selling 300,000 cases. Its amazing growth helped to spur on other whiskey makers to produce their own flavored whiskey.

Last year, Jack Daniel's launched its Tennessee Honey and it sold 320,000 cases, a staggering amount for its initial year on the market. Wild Turkey American Honey has seen a growth of 28%, selling 230,000 cases last year. Other companies with flavored whiskies have also seen significant growth this past year. Of the various flavored whiskys, honey has been the most popular flavor, followed by cherry in second place.

In general, women constitute only about 20-30% of whiskey consumers, but that percentage seems to at least double for most of the flavored whiskey brands. So why do women seem to prefer the flavored, and sweet tasting, whiskys over the regular styles of whiskey? It is merely because whiskey has traditionally been seen as a manly beverage? Or do women, in general, have a different palate from men, one which prefers sweeter tastes? Do women prefer sweeter alcohols in all respects, including wine, beer, and other spirits?

From my time working in a wine store, it tends to be the women who seek out sweeter wines. When I visit bars and lounges, it tends to be the women who seek out sweeter cocktails and drinks. There are certainly exceptions and I know some of them, women who enjoy regular bourbon, scotch and other spirits, who prefer to avoid the sweeter variations. But they seem to be the exceptions, not the norm. So I discern a gender difference in alcohol preferences, but I am still curious as to the reason?

Is it biological or cultural? I tend to believe it may be cultural but don't have much evidence to support that theory as of yet. Ladies, care to weigh in on why you prefer sweeter alcohols? Or why you don't prefer them?  


Jason Phelps said...

A researcher from Cornell at Geneva did make the point last week during a sensory analysis session at the WineMaker Mag conference that women are better tasters than men. More specific, better at picking out nuances, etc.

Maybe they prefer the sweeter because of a difference in balance from an organoleptic perspective.

Your bet on a cultural working is solid in my opinion. My own experience backs up yours and for me it has always been simply that sweeter, fruitier drinks make better social companions.



Myrna Greenfield said...

I'm not claiming to speak for my gender, but personally, I hardly ever enjoy sweeter drinks. I can't imagine why anyone would ruin a good vodka with some of those super sweet flavors!

Rebecca said...

Typically - I think it's not a gender related issue as much as it is an educationally based issue. Women typically have better palates than men, scientifically speaking. We have a better sense of smell and more taste buds -- so technically we're capable of tasting things differently so to speak. But I think women as a generalization prefer sweeter wines, mostly because they either don't know any different, are afraid to try something new -- or sometimes, they don't know to describe a wine any differently so they'll call it sweet when maybe it's really dry for an example. (e.g white zinfandel)

The whole flavored scotch totally makes sense appealing to women in the flavored context, esp. since alot of scotch drinkers have their senses dulled by tobacco (e.g. cigars) and so the strength of the alcohol burn is more prominent to women. But sugar/flavor it up - and it's more palatable. But again, that's just a generalization. ;)

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks for the comments. As more women tend to be "supertasters," that means they experience the 5 tastes more intensely. As bitterness is considered the most dominant of the 5 tastes, then more women might experience a strong bitter taste. That could help to explain, at least in part, why some women prefer sweeter drinks, to balance out the bitterness they experience.

Though culture seems to play a part as well, as you have mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I (a 28-year-old woman) am another one of your exceptions! The first time I ever tasted alcohol was when I took communion at a church I visited, and I remember thinking that the burn of the alcohol was the most delicious and amazing experience! I am not much of a whiskey drinker, but I love sipping (NOT shooting) fine tequilas. While I do love a quality margarita, I also prefer beer to sugary mixed drinks, and my favorite mixed drink is a dirty martini.

My husband, on the other hand, orders a drink by requesting that the bar tender make him the "girliest" drink he can think of. Recently when we went out, after we had ordered from the bar tender, the waiter who brought out our drinks set the beer down in front of my husband and started to hand the peach margarita to me, and we had to switch them!

I don't know about my husband's tastes, but I have an intense aversion to anything that is fruit flavored, especially if it is artificially fruit flavored, and this is a huge factor in the types of drinks I like, or rather, the types I DON'T like.

I do love wine, however, but tend toward drier ones. My husband is not really a fan of wine, but will drink some sweet wines. We both love port and sherry so we can agree on that.

Anonymous said...

Also, I agree with Rebecca who suggested that the taste difference has more to do with education. The first several times I had the occasion to order alcohol, I chose drinks that sounded like delicious desserts, or rum and coke, because I didn't know what else there was. I also didn't think I liked beer at first because I had only tried cheap beers. It was only after being a waitress in a pub that I had the chance to try lots of different types of drinks (without having to pay for them!) and really figure out what I did and didn't like. I think that the lack of education idea holds true for my husband who likes "girly" drinks, too, because as I've introduced him to other drinks, he has found a few beers and wines that he likes okay.