We've become accustomed to scoffing at gender stereotypes in many areas of life — and yet, a surprising number of people cling to ridiculous clichés when it comes to drinking.
"People say 'girly cocktail' all the time," says Emma Hollander of Trina's Starlite Lounge. Usually, she says, they mean anything pink. But a drink's vessel can set off alarms as much as its color: "Sometimes I will pour a whiskey drink from the cocktail menu into a cocktail glass, and guys will be like 'Can I have a more manly glass?' "
A more manly glass? What does that mean? A halved cannon ball? A goblet made from your enemy's skull?
"The idea of the girly drink drives me crazy," says Misty Kalkofen of Brick and Mortar. "So I'm not 'girly' because I like mezcal and spirit-forward cocktails? Absolutely ridiculous."
These stereotypes, explains Amy Douglas, who reviews spirits as the Whisky Bitch, assume that women, or more often "girls," only want a cocktail "in which the alcohol content is either considerably lighter than others, due to being clobbered by mixers, or drinks in which you essentially 'can't taste the alcohol.'
"Gender-dependent marketing happens in so many areas, and it's incredible that in 2013 people still try to get away with this crap," she continues. "One of the reasons I started doing whiskey reviews, in addition to my devotion to the spirit, was to try and reverse the bias that whiskey is a man's drink, a macho spirit. Totally untrue."
Such gender stamping in our drinking culture — the idea that a weak drink equals a weak person — reinforces all of the other problematic ways that we stereotype. And too often it traps people with drinks they might not even like.
"Nearly 10 years post–Sex and the City, women still cling to the notion of the dreaded Cosmo," Douglas says, likening the flavor to a melted Jolly Rancher.
At Trina's, Hollander will wean Cosmo fans onto the Shaddock, made with Bols Genever, St. Germain, Aperol, and lemon. "It looks like a Cosmo," she says, "but it tastes nothing like a Cosmo. Frequently, women will see me pour it and say, 'I want one of those!' " She explains that it's not sweet and fruity — Aperol is pretty bitter — but they often insist on trying it anyway. Surprise! They always like it — because it's a good drink, not because of its "feminine" color.
And what about a man who happens to like a fruitier, sweeter profile? Kalkofen remembers a hotel chain's cocktail menu from a few years ago that was actually broken down into a men's page and a women's page. "Honestly, as a woman I could order off of either side, and it would be fine," she observes. "A lady ordering Scotch is cool. A guy with his coworkers out for a drink after work can't order from the ladies' side without most likely taking shit for it for some time to come."
There's nothing wrong with appreciating a lighter alcohol presence or some sweetness in your drinks. There's nothing wrong with stretching your horizon, either; spirits are meant to be savored for their own qualities, and many are quite approachable. Bourbons and Irish whiskeys are a good place to start for beginners, Douglas says: Irish whiskeys are mild with raisin and honey notes, while bourbons, like Four Roses Small Batch, are floral and sweeter.