The “Spirit” of Summer: How Alcoholic Beverage Preferences Change During the Season of BBQs and Shorts

Seems like everyone’s got a favorite alcoholic beverage in the summer, and it’s probably not a ‘Hot Toddy’. Last year we explored consumer feelings towards Bud Light’s seasonal Lime-a-Rita and other flavored beers and thought the findings were interesting, so we wanted to take a different angle. This year we wanted to get a quick read around the broader question: Are Americans’ hard alcohol/spirit preferences different during the summer?

We launched one of our Instant Research Groups and within 5 days we were able to gain deeper understanding on:

  • Consumers’ general drinking habits
  • How the summer season impacts the amount or frequency of alcohol consumption
  • How the setting for alcohol consumption changes during the summer
  • What types of alcoholic beverages are enjoyed during the summer

We talked to two legal-aged groups (ages 21-40 and 41-65) comprised of males and females who consume spirits or hard liquor at least once a week. This includes whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, tequila, cognac, brandy, cordials and liqueurs, vermouth or scotch.

Key Finding: Summer is about Socializing, so the Right Spirit Makes All the Difference

General Drinking Behavior

The most popular liquor choices among respondents, regardless of season, were tequila, rum, whiskey and vodka mixed with juices and sodas or as frozen drinks or cocktails. Vodka, rum and tequila were the most popular liquors for mixing, while whiskey was the most popular to consume “straight” or without a mix.

Respondents who liked the particular taste of alcohol tended to prefer gin, whiskey, tequila shots and specialty liquors like Kahlúa or Baileys, while others choose drinks and liquor where the taste of alcohol is masked or blends well with a mix, such as vodka, rum and tequila / margaritas.

IRG Respondent

Usually vodka is my favorite. If you mix it well with a soda or fruit, sometimes you can barely taste it. I think you do need to be careful with flavored vodkas because sometimes they mix terribly and are too fake-tasting.

Female, 25, NY
IRG Respondent

I typically consume spirits sipped straight because I really want to enjoy the flavor of the drink and this is the best way to do it. I prefer not to mask the flavor of a good bourbon, though I do prefer mixing rum because it blends very well.

Male, 34, MD

General frequency and setting preferences were not tied to any one age group. Most respondents associate drinking liquor with a celebratory occasion or with relaxing, saving specialty cocktails for dinner and shots for going out. Several set their drinking time after 3 p.m., before dinner or with a meal. And because liquor was seen as more expensive than beer, some respondents prefer to drink it at home or only for special occasions.

IRG Respondent

I typically drink spirits about three days a week. Each Friday night my husband and I go to the movies and have a couple of drinks after. On every other Saturday we go out and Grandma watches our son and we enjoy drinking with our friends.

Female, 35, MI
IRG Respondent

When I am having a party with my friends at my house mostly. Also at holidays or New Year’s, etc. I mostly drink beer or shots at bars, not liquors. They are way too expensive unless you buy a bottle yourself for your home from the liquor store.

Male, 41, PA

Frequency and Setting

So does anything change when summer arrives?

Respondents associate liquor with both downtime and socializing, and since these events tend to increase during the summer, alcohol consumption—both in frequency and quantity—increases as well.

Summertime social events or occasions where drinking is involved include holidays, cookouts or barbecues, weddings, concerts, baseball games, and beach or lake vacations. And other factors like mood and ambiance—even price and type of food—come into play, too.

IRG Respondent

I tend to drink more at baseball games, BBQs, picnics or any outdoor activity. Sometimes we go camping and/or hiking and I will drink beer. Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day are the three holidays where beer rules.

Male, 59, NJ
IRG Respondent

Yes, I tend to drink more when we tailgate at the Rangers baseball games, at cookouts at friends or at the house. It just seems like the grill and warm weather are reasons to make margaritas.

Female, 57, TX

And Now We Come to Drink Choices…

Summer definitely seems to have an influence on the type and mode of drink respondents prefer, with increased interest in iced drinks, fruity or blended drinks and/or light beers. In fact, respondents told us the perfect summer drink usually involves some kind of fruit blended with rum, vodka or tequila (the liquors most associated with socializing)—while leaving out whiskey, scotch or gin (the liquors most associated with staying home and relaxing). And several stated that cold beer is a better choice for lakes, camping and day-drinking.

While some respondents don’t deviate from their preferred type of alcohol during the summer, they do report less desire for shots or “neat” drinks in favor of drinks over ice. And beer comes in handy again, as well as other lower alcohol-by-volume (ABV) beverages, if drinking casually or for longer periods of time.

IRG Respondent

In the summer I sometimes favor a lighter, fruitier drink like a margarita. The weather is usually warmer and there are a lot of outdoor activities, so it seems to hit the spot better than a heavier cola-based drink. Also a nice Corona at a barbecue seems to hit the spot.

Female, 38, WA
IRG Respondent

I’m always open to a bourbon or scotch year round, but in the summer months I may vary my drink of choice to match the season. I tend to drink mixes that contain rum and vodka because I feel they match these months best…You want something that cools you down rather than warming you up as it goes down…

Male, 34, MD

Liquor Manufacturers: Break out Your Little Umbrellas

Aside from the fun we have with these studies, they always reveal a larger opportunity. In this case, here’s how the liquor and spirit markets can better take advantage of the summer months:

  • As many respondents drink what their friends or hosts are drinking, liquor manufacturers should continue to provide consumers with quick, easy drink mixes and recipes to encourage the hosts of summer events to serve and share their options.
  • Providing respondents with lower ABV options or premixed fruity drinks may encourage consumption, as these provide both a summer-y taste as well as the ability to consume over longer stretches of time, such as all-day tailgating, days at the beach or family and corporate cookouts.
  • Though whiskey drinkers are loyal, this drink is not yet as closely associated with summer as options like tequila, vodka and rum. Whiskey manufacturers may choose to pursue more cold or summery drink recipes and mixers to encourage more casual whiskey consumers to begin to choose whiskey as a summer option.

And Remember: It’s Not Just about the Alcohol

Getting a quick read on consumer behaviors and preferences, no matter the topic, can positively impact everything from advertising to packaging. How do you know what consumers are really doing out there? Ask them. Once you know, you’re more able to align your product and service offerings with what they really want, and even be able to take advantage of seasonal changes and differences like what we’ve seen here.

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