You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Beer, Wine, and Gender Preferences

To revise the old cliche, women are from Vinotopia, men are from Beervana. So say the trends in consumption, where when offered beer, wine, liquor, half of women prefer wine and 58% of men prefer beer (the remainder divided evenly between beer and liquor in both cases). So it is no surprise that wineries are trying to appeal to men, as OPB reported this morning:

Ted Farthing is the executive director of the Oregon Wine Board. He says wine and beer and liquor are all competing against each other, for our limited beverage budgets. Now, winemakers across Oregon, and the country, say one way they have decided to fight is to target the men, especially young men, in bars and breweries....

In order to market to men, Napa Valley winemaker Bennett Lane bought a NASCAR racing team – and just sponsored a minor-league NASCAR race. Other winemakers have crafted labels meant to appeal to men -- like Kung Fu Girl, Red Truck, or Maximus.

In another (less insane) strategy, wineries are trying to appeal to younger men, and turn them into wine drinkers before beer can snare them. But, as the article points out, it's tough for wineries to appeal to young people when a bottle of their pinot regularly sells for $20. Even that expensive bottle of Black Butte XXI looks reasonable by comparison. The biggest problem, of course, is that to get male wine drinkers, you have to vault the barrier of gender norms.

Cultural Signals
This is a fascinating topic because it gets at something far deeper than the liquid in a glass. The social cues these beverages deliver are so ingrained that to appeal across genders, industries are going to have to re-program American culture.

Wine is the drink of the cultural and intellectual elite. Gallery openings are marked by wine and cheese. When you go to a nice restaurant, you're offered a wine list, perhaps with a menu written in French. Beer, on the other hand, is packed in a cooler, drunk on the tailgate. Even the countries of origin say something about these stereotypes. Beer halls and taverns, meeting places of the British Isles and Germany, are rugged, working-class places. Smoky, windowless, elbow-to-elbow. But from Italy and France, those sophisticated, artistic wine countries, we get airy cafes and sidewalk wine bars.

From this, it's easy to sort the genders. Even the glassware seems to divide them--the voluptuous, delicately-stemmed wine glass on the one hand and the blocky pint glass or tin can on the other. They seem calculated to designate sex-appropriate drinking.

Decoupling Gender
Yet these are stereotypes; they are cultural. In France and Italy men do not fear a glass of wine. And here in Oregon, women do not avoid a pint of ale. The gender-specific roles are not innate, they're assigned. The way you begin to break down the associations is to break down the stereotype. Portlanders are fortunate to live in a city with light, attractive pubs and breweries, which send no particular gender cues. We have begun to decouple the beverage and stereotype. And Rome, where real men drink vino, never had the stereotype to begin with.

I'm particularly skeptical of the Nascar gambit because it doesn't transcend stereotypes, it flips them. Are macho gearheads going to switch to wine because it's named "Red Truck?" Unlikely. Seems like it would be far better to dissociate gender from wine altogether. For decades, wine has been sold to women using particular feminine cues. It hardly follows that it can be sold to men just by sending the opposite cues. Rather, the wine industry is going to have to stop sending all gender cues.

I wish the wine industry well. I like wine, and I love our local pinots. And this is the point: it is possible to enjoy both wine and beer. I feel the same way about beer--I want it to quit being pitched as a manly-man drink so women can feel welcome to join the boys at the bar. It is nice to imagine a future when neither beverage sends any cues at all and we all enjoy the local bounty.


  1. The Wort Crew are serious drunkards. :-} We enjoy beer, wine and liquor.

    We don't believe in old school gender tagging and stereotyping.

    Even social financial status doesn't always draw a line between the old beer vs wine camps. They're are lower cost beers, as well as, lower cost wines.

    Boys vs Girls; Men vs Women; Venus vs Mars? We know there are people in this country living in the past, decades past, but we need to continue breaking down those old gender and even social stereotypes.

    Did anybody really think that wine was girlie? Does anybody believe that a women can't enjoy a good Scotch or a hearty beer? Sounds ridiculous to us, but I'm sure there are people (and we won't tag them with a nasty title) who still believe that women should stay pregnant and in the kitchen.

    We have to remember, we live in a country where a good chunk of the populous really hasn't mentally come of age of understanding human behavior or even human rights.

  2. I drink a lot of wine too. In fact, now that this rain and your post have given me the inspiration, I'm going to open a bottle right now.

    I also display no shame in ordering pink drinks in martini glasses from upscale bars (ie. Teardrop, 820, Ten-01, etc.) if I think they sound good.

  3. I'm not sure if it's all gender stereotypes at play here. Part of it is personal taste. I think one thing many winos overlook is that somone may simply not like wine. I personaly am not a huge fan of the fruit wines. As a homebrewer though I have done tomatoe wine and enjoyed it. I also enjoy meads and sake. Yet for some reason I just can't stomach most wines. Same goes for liquor. I really don't enjoy most mixed drinks. When I go to a bar and order liquor, or drink at home I usually drink whiskey, and that's usually on the rocks. Is it really because of my gender? I don't limit myself to what I try, wether it be a glass of wine or a mixed drink, but if I dont like it I wont drink it.

  4. @ Jared

    ....but you have that Whiskey in a dirty glass...right? It wouldn't be manly otherwise! ;-}

    I think if comes to personal preference, for the most part. Role paying would be purely subjective.

    Jeff likes those Fruit beers. Eh, so what! He could ask for it in a Tulip Champagne glass with a slice of fruit! It's his choice! Some of us might snicker a little.... but it's his choice.

    I don't think Jeff would order a COSMO or a Lemon Drop, both being very female (girlie) oriented drinks. But, if he liked them, that's OK too. Maybe some Homophobic local shit kickers may have a problem with that, but it's OK.... evolution takes millions of years and we need to be patient those who are less evolved.. :-O

  5. @ the doc

    Usually a clean lowball glass, though I'll use whatever is at hand and will even drink my whiskey, or sake from a coffee cup *gasp*

    After your comment about Jeff liking fruit beers it occured to me that I usually don't like those either, or most fruit cordials... Maybe its the fruit that I don't like rather then the gender of the drink.... Let's see, mixed drinks can contain?? Fruit flavors... Hmm I think I may have found the reason.

    Thanks for the insite :)

    As to snickering at drink choices

    Does anyone really do that? The only time I've ever heard anyone give a guy a hard time for ordering a girly drink was when half the guys at a friends bachelor party ordered long island iced teas with dinner. Even then the reason they got a hard time was because it was a bachelor party.

    The fact that you group cosmos, lemon drops, and fruit beer in the female category almost makes me think you put drinks, and their drinkers, in gender categories yourself :)

  6. Just wanted to comment on this as thought the gender issues you address are really interesting. I work for an initiative called BitterSweet Partnership in the UK which has been set up to address the fact the UK beer industry has traditionally ignored women (an example being stereotypcial and sexist advertising) Beer shouldn’t be pitched as a masculine drink and it’s great to get other people’s opinions on this. Our website is if you're interested in learning more