The Burn of Girlie Bourbon

The New York Times recently ran a piece on the trend for flavored whiskeys in their Dining & Wine section — declaring it the fastest-growing segment in the Bourbon industry. The writer also referred to a “secret” that industry officials, they said, aren’t keen to talk about: the aggressive campaign to go after female drinkers with these sweeter versions of hard liquor.

As a drinker, I enjoy the breadth of choices that have opened up in the world of spirits — especially well-thought out ones with interesting flavor profiles, and those handcrafted by good bartenders (like the house infusions from Brass Tacks in Georgetown, see picture). But as a woman, I’m annoyed by the alcohol industry’s assumption that I want a “girlie” drink — and by the women who fall for the marketing ploys of companies like “Little Black Dress Vodka,” who make flavors for “ladies” and characterize them in the style of a bad Cosmopolitan article: “Sassy. Flirty. Happy go-lucky. The girl next door. You’ve got what it takes to light up a room — and anyone can see why. Well-liked and easy-going, you mix well with every crowd and it doesn’t take much for you to make the party remarkable.”

Then there’s former New York City Housewife Bethany Frankel and her Skinnygirl™ cocktail mixes that encourage us to “Drink Like a Lady™” (i.e., stay thin). Wineries try to win us over too with cute monikers like “Cupcake Vineyards” who offer us friendly flavors like “Red Velvet” and “Angel Food,” — because goodness knows we might not be smart or sophisticated enough to understand common wine descriptions like “tannic,” “oaky,” “dry” or “herbal.” We’d probably get “floral” though.

It’s like I’m back in high school again, sipping a wine cooler when all the dudes were drinking bad beer from a keg. True, it’s hard to say which was worse, but it’s the assumption that we girls would prefer something sweet and pretty that irks. Now it seems, even the world of brown liquors are out to stereotype my role as an adult female drinker. Though, when I think about it, it’s not really so surprising. I recall my grandmother and her friends, when they’d infrequently indulge in alcohol, defaulting to a Whisky Sour (the simple syrup and cherry juice offsetting the strong liquor). Generations of good market research.

Though I’m certainly not advocating pregnant women drinking, all of these newfangled ploys to get women to drink what are ultimately often inferior products make me delight in a Mad Men scene where Betty Draper, her marriage on the brink, unexpectedly and unhappily pregnant with her third child, confidently takes a seat at the bar and orders a Gimlet — after which she has sex with a stranger in a public restroom. Now that’s what I call lady-like.

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