What is it about whiskey? In the early 2000s, sales were stagnant. Years of underinvestment brought disinterest from the drinking public, and vodka, buoyed by the runaway success of Sex and the City and its cosmopolitan-guzzling protagonists, was far and away the country’s most popular liquor. Now, ten or so years later, four different whiskey brands are counted among the most popular booze in America, and Fortune magazine claims its sales have “bested the performance of tequila, vodka, gin and all other key spirits categories.”
What’s surprising isn’t just the liquor’s meteoric rise in popularity—don’t forget, tequila has experienced a similar surge in sales as well—but the perception of drinking whiskey as a hallmark of sophistication among Millennials, and in particular, Millennial males. Of the many (and believe me there are many) aspirational men’s publications online offering hackneyed advice to twenty-somethings on what it means to be a “modern man,” virtually all of them claim a “gentleman” drinks whiskey.
Why? Why is drinking whiskey anymore dignified than drinking beer, which was more popular with younger men just as few years ago?
Abbie Wood of The Drinks Business thinks she knows.
She writes: “In western markets, mixology trends and mainstream pop culture have been very kind to whisky. A revival of bartending as a craft, plus TV shows and films, like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and The Great Gatsby have all introduced classic American serves and golden age cocktails to new audiences, while giving whisky brands the ability to contemporize and modernize with credibility.”
Or, in other words, whiskey has become the drink of choice of self-perceived sophisticates with a couple of dollars to spend.
So, it shouldn’t be all that shocking then that Express, the clothing retailer that prides itself as “the style source for fashion-forward young women and men, for everything from first job interviews to weekend parties,” has started a whiskey club. After all, doesn’t sophistication naturally extend to fashion?
Express’s Whiskey Club
According to Mobile Commerce Daily, Express is “weaving together aspects of a sophisticated lifestyle to cater to its audience of modern men through a whiskey club integration, gift cards, social posts and an email campaign.”
For a limited time, express customers can sign up for Taster’s Club for $90 and receive a $25 gift card to Express. The subscription gets users a wide range of whiskey resources and information, as well as one specially picked bottle a month. Upon signing up, members will receive a Whiskey101 course, which includes information such as whiskey profiles, tasting notes, production techniques and style guides. Should they like it, subscribers will be charged $69 monthly and receive a new bottle of whiskey every month.
A coming trend?
On the surface, Express offering whiskey subscriptions is, well, absurd. Clothing and liquor rarely seem to mix. Remember back in 2013, when the comingling of booze and shopping was supposed to be the next big trend in retail?
But look a little deeper and you’ll see that Express is trying extend its image beyond its current constraints as just a clothing retailer. It’s not so much about the whiskey itself, but the association of the retailer with the liquor, and by extension, the sophisticated Millennial. With the partnership, Express might as well be claiming they are the official sponsor of the modern man.
While what Express is attempting to accomplish isn't exactly unexplored territory, it could very well effect the brand at a higher level. It's analgous to what Under Armour has done with their fitness apps (getting closer to athletes) and also remarkably similar to what specialty clothing retailers like Tyrwhitt are doing by partnering with Naked Wines.
Whether or not this is a coming trend remains to be seen. But it’s certainly intriguing, and it underscores the incredible need to know as much information as possible about your customers. Painting a holistic picture of the type of person who shops at Express can make all the difference for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.
We’ll drink to that.