It used to be that young drinkers were pretty predictable. Cheap, bottom-shelf vodkas sold in plastic handles and sickening flavors sustained most of through our college years, producing bad decisions and even worse hangover. But as America’s pallet continues to mature when it comes to liquor, with the sales growth of whiskey outpacing vodka and gin for three years in a row, it turns out that the average millennial is more interested in barrel-aged bourbon and small batch aperitifs than fermented potatoes.
To fit the new, “craft”-focused taste of young drinkers, producers of clear liquors like gin and vodka are changing their game plans, aging their booze to get a brown color and more artisanal aesthetic.
According to Quartz, vodka sales across the US have dwindled recently, leaving large scale vodka producers like Diageo (the company that owns Smirnoff) and Pernod Ricard (the company that owns Absolut) searching for new revenue streams. By barrel-aging their vodkas and gins, producers are able to give their traditionally white liquors a brown, bourbon-like hue. The idea is to convince whiskey drinkers to turn back to their boozy high school sweetheart, and combat the “image problem” vodka has with young drinkers.
No longer are new drinkers taking their liquor advice from football commercials and billboards, but are instead attracted to a more exclusive, mature vibe that a rye old fashioned or a glass of Fernet-Branca provide. Absolut has already released its latest offering, Absolut Oak—a brown, barrel-aged vodka—to try and gain some ground with the craft bourbon in-crowd.
In recent years, the beer industry has experienced a similar industry-wide shift.
“People are generally trading up,” Linda Montag, a senior beverage analyst at Moody’s, told Quartz. “Folks want craft beer because it’s new and it’s sexy. Instead of chugging kegs of cheap beer, they’d rather be selective and pay up.”
Let’s hope you were never chugging your bottles of Absolut, but sipping a glass of brown liquor does sound more mature than dumping a gallon of cheap vodka into a vat of jungle juice.