How often do you see a woman sidle up to the bar and order a whiskey neat?
Not often? No surprise. Recently, there has been plenty of debate about how booze companies market to women: the New York Times reported that attracting lady imbibers is a main proponent for the explosion of flavored whiskeys. Mary Orlin, the Wine Fashionista, wrote a HuffPost piece on why SkinnyGirl wines are a bad idea because they assume women place fun over quality. TheJaneDough.com compiled a slideshow devoted entirely to the worst in "lady liquors." The Associated Press reported the stir created when Sauza Blue Tequila began luring women with an ad featuring a sexy fireman and cute kitten.
The sad truth is that despite craft cocktail and farm-to-table trends that have swept the United States, many women are notorious for giving bartenders ill-informed drink criteria ("something fruity, something sweet or not too strong, please"). In fact, that was me before a trip to bourbon country opened me up to the wide world of hard liquor in all of its OK, high-proof glory. It suddenly struck me how embedded in our drinking habits -- and in our glass -- gender roles are in America, thanks to the pandering, dumbed-down marketing to me and other women by liquor companies who have placed having our business over our respect.
Because that's all we see, that's how many women think they should drink. We go to the liquor store and we buy these products. Bartenders start assuming that's all we'll ever want because women haven't felt empowered to confidently step outside our comfort zones and demand the best, despite our appreciation of food and the finer things in life. It's a vicious cycle, one that constantly keeps me correcting servers who assume my husband ordered the Don Julio 1942 neat and I, the lager. I'm tired of asking for a recommendation and instantly being pointed to the sweetest options on the menu.
Sure, the alcohol one chooses to drink may seem trivial at first, but every lady should know her liquor. In a business meeting, a man drinking a single malt scotch appears powerful and determined. Unfortunately, the lady drinking a blueberry basil martini may appear gentle, meek and afraid to take risks. Women who say, "I'll have what she or he is having" look like they can't think for themselves and that they not only don't know what they want in their libation, but in life, too. Men at women may sit at the bar counter together, but they are still a world apart when it comes to their drinks. The liquor companies perpetuate the stereotype that women are impressionable and don't care about complexity and quality.
The problem is that it works. And the only way to truly enact change is by arming ourselves with the tools and references that make us more responsible and educated buyers who can cut through the pre-bottled cocktails and specially-created-for-us products and start tasting fine whiskey, gin, brandy, tequila and rum products many big marketers seem to think only men can appreciate. Put as much effort behind what you drink as how you eat and dress. Read reviews, bend a bartender's ear. Be adventurous at the liquor store and keep an open mind. Ignore the rest. Spirits that are truly high quality don't need sex appeal, a martini glass or pink to sell them, and they should appeal to both women and men.
My advice to the liquor companies: Want to gain women's loyalty for life? Educate us, rather than pander or exploit us. You'll come out on top because women are smart. We'll buy the best once we discover for ourselves what the best is. Men and women don't need different drinks.
Bottom line: ladies, don't let smoke get in your eyes. Drink a mezcal instead.