Beer, wine or spirits: What’s winning with American drinkers?

Consumers are imbibing, but alcohol preferences are changing.

As record numbers of breweries dot the country, 42% of Americans who drink alcohol report they prefer beer, a Gallup poll released this week revealed. Wine was the second most preferred adult beverage, with 34% indicating it as their go-to, while spirits are preferred by a notably lower share at 19%.

Earlier in the decade, wine and beer nearly tied in popularity, as younger imbibers (ages 18 to 29 ) began drinking more wine, Gallup noted. Of the 1,033 adults it surveyed by phone from July 1-11 this year, 63% say they drink alcohol.

Research from Technomic also found that beer remains a popular consumer choice. For example, 66% of consumers (and 69% of those age 21-34) who drink adult beverages in bars and restaurants report ordering beer in the last 30 days, according to Technomic’s most recent On-Premise Intelligence Report. By comparison, 62% report ordering spirits and mixed drinks, while wine accounted for 43%.

When it comes to the types of beer being chosen, clear lines are drawn by generation. Older consumers still prefer domestic lagers, while younger drinkers opt more often for craft beers—a choice in sync with their more adventurous tastes. “Millennials and Gen Z entered legal drinking age with a different palate than previous generations,” says Donna Hood Crecca, principal for Technomic and a specialist in the researcher’s adult beverage group. “They’re more in tune with rich, complex and even savory flavor profiles … and are eager to learn the back story of a beverage. These are contributors to the craft beer trend and one of the reasons younger consumers are less engaged with the major domestic lagers—they seek a more complex or unique flavor profile and authentic back story.”

These characteristics carry over into younger drinkers’ wine and spirits choices as well, she says.  Red wine and whiskey are popular, with 43% of consumers indicating they have been drinking whiskey since they entered legal drinking age.

Whatever they choose to drink, millennials and Gen Zers put considerable stock in the alcohol selection when deciding what bar or restaurant to visit. Forty-seven percent of 21- to 34-year-olds say drink offerings are particularly important in that decision-making, per Technomic.

“Restaurant operators should craft drink offerings that are relevant for their customers, tapping into flavor and category preferences and balancing favorites with new, unique offerings,” Hood Crecca concludes.


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