Read Between the Wines: How Millennials Imbibe

millennials wine

Can you imagine a time when Budweiser was in fact the “King of All Beers” – reigning in the U.S. as the most-popular brew? Well, apparently that time was 2003.

In the 90s and early 2000s, Budweiser significantly outsold every other beer out on the market because, well, people didn’t know any better. As millennials have steadily reached legal drinking age (still waiting on those born in ’95), Budweiser’s sales have declined. According to Anheuser-Busch’s own research, 44% of people between the ages of 21 and 27 have never even tried a Budweiser.

This probably won’t come as shock to you, but when it comes to beer, millennials overwhelmingly prefer craft brews. Data from Beer Marketer’s Insights (reported by The Wall Street Journal) cites 2013 as the year craft beer overtook Budweiser, in barrels shipped. So in an attempt to improve sales from millennials and their sophisticated taste buds, Anheuser-Busch has been busy these last few years buying craft breweries, including Goose Island in 2011.

What they really should be doing, however, is trying to make beer more like wine. (And I am not talking in the form of a Bud Light Lime-A-Rita, or anything remotely like it.)

In general, the taste for beer is diminishing among this generation. According to Alpawise and Morgan Stanley Research, 27.4% of millennials reported beer as their favorite adult beverage in 2015 – down from 33% in 2012 (reported by Business Insider).

So, what are we drankin’?

I’ll tell you right now – wine is my personal favorite (shoutout to any bone-dry red). It’s perfect: It doesn’t make you feel gross and full, and the act of having a glass in the evening while cuddling up to Netflix is straight-up relaxing.

Millennials make up 29% of the total wine drinking population in the U.S., per the Wine Market Council. Boomers consume more wine as they comprise 41% of the wine drinking population, but that’s not the full story.

When we look at high-frequency drinkers (people who have more than one glass per week), millennials lead in wine consumption. In November 2014, some 59% of millennial high-frequency drinkers reported they were drinking more wine than they did in 2013. Only 27% of Boomers said the same.

What about spirits?

Nearly 30% of young adults claim spirits as their preferred alcohol category, according to Gallup and Goldman Sachs Investment Research. This is compared to just 13% of young adults who said spirits were their favorite type of alcohol in the early 90s. And these young drinkers enjoy all kinds of booze. Nielsen reported in 2014 that more than 20% of millennials claim to consume four (vodka, rum, whiskey and tequila) out of six spirits they were surveyed on. A similar share of Gen Xers claimed to consume only two (vodka and rum) of the six.

On a side note: Whiskey’s really gotta be up there for millennial men. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard these dudes say something along the lines of, “I just want to meet a woman who appreciates a good whiskey.” (Apparently being a whiskey drinker makes for a strong mate these days.)

So, there you have it. Millennials are moving away from beer consumption, in favor of wine and whiskey. If beer brewers want to stay relevant in the years to come, they better keep working to please millennials’ delicate palates.

2 thoughts on “Read Between the Wines: How Millennials Imbibe”

  1. Isn’t there something to be said for beer being the most drunk but never the “favorite”? It seems that when “favorite” comes to mind it doesn’t necessarily connotate most-consumed but maybe the choice that evokes a special occasion or rare pleasure? Personally I drink beer more than any other type of alcohol but would say my favorite is bourbon or Cabernet Sauvignon first despite only managing to drink those <2x a week if at all.

    Also does the data have anything to say about liquor always being preferred by younger generations rather than old? I feel like the energy of youth often leads to enjoyment of the most potent alcohol choices and that as we age we prefer milder beverages and drink to a light buzz or warmth rather than to excess.

    1. This is a really good point, Taylor. I do drink beer often because a. it’s cheap and b. it’s often readily available at events (shoutout to some PBR).
      The only thing we have to go off right now is that Anheuser-Busch and other major distributors are reporting declines in sales year-over-year. I know anecdotally that wine distributors are increasingly doing well, but I don’t have hard numbers to back it up.

      To your second point – while I haven’t seen the numbers, I think you’re right. As people age, their alcohol consumption patterns tend to change. (Personally, I consume alcohol WAY differently now than I did when I was in college. A glass of wine after work is relaxing; not an opportunity to go wild for the night.) That said, I keep writing about millennials having a tougher time growing up and becoming fully independent. That may play into how frequently they drink. It’s somewhat jarring, but I know people in their 30s who binge drink on a regular basis. That wasn’t the case with my parents, who were already settled with kids by their early 30s. I would love to keep observing how these consumption habits change over the next 10-15 years.

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