Over the weekend, the Washington Post Magazine published a survey detailing the most popular spirits in ten U.S. cities. The study, conducted by Nielsen Scarborough USA, spans a 30-day period and tracks millions of adults. The findings are intriguing.Boston, for example, leads when it comes to gin consumption. More adults in Los Angeles drink tequila than in any of the other major cities—perhaps a reflection of demographics. New York City takes top honors in two categories: rum and Scotch-whisky. There has been a resurgence these last few years in bourbon (6.2 percent growth in volume in 2013) and Washington, D.C., has more bourbon drinkers than any other large city.
All that said, vodka is still the most popular spirit in the ten cities surveyed. So while our nation's capital leads in bourbon consumption (10.7 percent of drinking adults), 19.5 percent drink vodka. Although 7.3 percent of Bostonians enjoy gin, a whopping 21.1 percent prefer vodka. And Chicago has more vodka drinkers than anywhere else at 22.5 percent. (The closest another spirit comes to edging out vodka is in L.A., where the 18.9 percent of vodka drinkers narrowly surpasses the 18 percent of tequila lovers.)
These numbers bring a bit of perspective to the brown spirits boom. In 2013, the combined total of brown spirits (Scotch, bourbon, and Irish, Canadian, and American whiskey) consumed by Americans was 53 million cases. Vodka alone totaled 66 million cases. This translates to more than 157 million gallons of the neutral spirit. It's true that vodka growth has slowed to about 1.1 percent, but overall volume remains massive.
As I note in my book Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America, one reason for vodka's dominance is that there are still a lot of Americans out there who don't actually like to taste booze in their booze. (A popular focus group question according to one ad exec is, "Why doesn't Poland Spring make a vodka?") It's not a judgment—just an observation.
And no, this blog item is not just a peg for my book, which, incidentally, would make the perfect gift for your drunk uncle. Or recovering uncle—there are plenty of pictures, too!