Whiskey Cocktails Winning Over a Nostalgic Generation

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

Millennials are approaching dark liquors the same way they are favoring craft brews. Traditionally, whiskey and bourbon drinks were reserved for cigar smoking old men in the back room of the cocktail party. Now, brands like Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, Fireball and a number of private labels are becoming the go-to drink for the youngest generation of legal drinkers. There is also a new subculture surrounding dark liquor drinkers and specialties bars are popping up all over the country. We often talk about how millennials are constantly changing consumer trends and bringing us further into the future. This time, however, we are taking a step back and appreciating the classics.

Why dark liquors?

There has recently been a strong push for nostalgic marketing among the millennial generation. Ultimately, everything old has a way of becoming new again and the spirit industry is experiencing this same resurgence. According to research conducted by BAV Consulting, millennials associate whiskey with brands like Polaroid, BBC and AMC revealing a sense of nostalgia for older, more retro brands.

Beau Williams, owner of Julep, a popular bar in Kanas City, Missouri that features a towering wall of whiskey varieties, agrees that the best whiskey brands carry a note of nostalgia. “Whiskey is really a craft and it’s difficult to produce well. When done right it is something that is timeless and a little nostalgic in the best way.”

Millennials also have a perception that drinking dark liquors comes with a certain degree of class that they are able to afford. According to research conducted by Nielson, millennials report a desire for spirits that are “delicious, smooth tasting and stylish.” A drive for craftsmanship has also motivated millennials to turn towards dark liquors and steer away from flavored vodkas. “Vodka sort of jumped the ship when it started offering things like whipped cream flavored vodka. It’s easy to loose interest in something like that,” said Williams.

He explained that most people who are reluctant to try whiskey say it is because of the “lack” of flavor. “When you really get into it and talk to someone about the oak, maple and honey flavors that really live in whiskey and help them taste the natural flavors they start to realize they don’t need all the artificial flavoring they thought they did.”

However, one of greatest drivers of millennial whiskey consumption is the overall story of the industry. Some of the most popular brands today have hardly changed their packaging and branding in decades and have instead focused on living their stories through the ages. Jack Daniels is the number one selling whiskey brand and while some evolutions have been made in the design, it has maintained its classic detailing and bottle shape. “It’s a classic story,” said Williams, “and millennials are enchanted with it.”

Who is the millennial whiskey drinker?

As the youngest legal drinkers in the United States, millennials are taking the spirit world by storm. Taking a deep dive into our millennial research, we found a cohort of millennial drinkers that are the more likely to favor whiskey compared to other millennial drinkers. We call them the Social Drinkers. The Social Drinker makes up 35 percent of our millennial drinker population. They are the drinking buddies everyone wants to have around. They are often the leader of the group and are prone to making plans and setting the evening agenda.

These millennial drinkers are determining the future of the spirit market every time they step into a liquor store, bar or restaurant. While so many industries are driving fast into new technologies and innovations, it is important to remember that these nostalgic drinkers still have a taste for the classics and the good times that go with them.


CLICK HERE for our Millennials On Tap report

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.