What’s in Your Glass? That Depends on Who You Are and Where You Are

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Whether unwinding after work, catching a drink at the bar with friends, sitting down to dinner at a nice restaurant, heading to a picnic, or going to watch a major sports event  – many adults have a favorite drink-of-choice. But just what is that favorite adult beverage? A new Harris Poll reveals that drinking-age Americans’ preferred alcoholic beverages have a lot do with not only who they are but where they are.

When imbibing at home, those who drink at least a few times per year are most likely to tip back a glass of spirits (57%) or beer (56%) followed closely by wine (52%). When out at a restaurant or bar, beverage priorities are largely similar with half preferring spirits (51%) or beer (50%) and 4 in 10 choosing wine (41%). Looking deeper at demographic differences, however, preferences begin to shift.

Danny Brager, Senior Vice President of Nielsen’s Beverage and Alcohol Practice remarks, “America’s drinking preferences of adult beverages is heavily weighted on situational choices. What’s in their glass really does depend on who they are demographically and geographically, product selection availability and the venue and occasion for which they are making that choice. That ‘who’ and ‘where’ factors into every single choice – either at home, or out of home. In today’s crowded marketplace, where abundant new product choices are being introduced to consumers each day, every beverage is competing to be that selection.”

Not too surprisingly, men and women have different tastes when it comes to alcohol. While men prefer beer whether at home or out, women favor wine at home and spirits while out, with beer being the least likely choice in either venue. By region, the Northeast, South, and Midwest all have a hankering for spirits or beer both at home and out, while Westerners prefer wine in either setting.

LGBT individuals prefer spirits both at home and out, followed by beer, with wine well down the list of their preferences in both settings.

Looking by generation:

  • Millennials (age 21-35) turn to beer and spirits at home, but spirits ranks first while out.
  • For Gen Xers (age 36-50), beer is king both at home and at a restaurant or bar.
  • Baby Boomers (age 51-69) prefer wine and spirits at home, with no clear preference while they’re out.
  • Matures (70+), on the other hand, prefer wine no matter where they are.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,060 U.S. adults aged 21+ (1,324 who drink alcohol at least several times a year) surveyed online between January 13 and 18, 2016.

Preferences by location

Looking beyond a general restaurant/bar setting, legal drinking age Americans’ preferred adult beverage differs greatly based on where they’re drinking outside of their homes. Most prominently, Americans have clear favorites when it comes to a few select locations.  Beer is a clear winner with about half of imbibers preferring beer while at a picnic/cookout (52%) or at a sporting event (48%). Beer also tops at concerts (27%).

In a fine dining setting, nearly half (49%) of drinkers prefer a glass of wine, the beverage also favored at work events (24%) and brunch (22%), albeit by a much smaller margin. Not to be forgotten, spirits are favored at bars (37%) and on planes (24%).

Preferences by alcohol type

Taking a deeper dive into the different types of alcohol, among regular adult beverage drinkers, their top favored spirits at home are vodka (26%), whiskey (23%), and rum (19%) – followed closely by tequila (17%). At a restaurant or bar, vodka leads (19%), followed by whiskey (16%), tequila (16%), and rum (12%).  Both in home and out of home, tequila grows in preference particularly among those 21-35 year olds.

When it comes to beer, legal aged drinkers are nearly equally likely to prefer non-craft domestic brews (21%), craft (20%) or import beer (20%) at home. While at a restaurant or bar, import beer (21%) and craft beer (20%) are favored, followed by non-craft domestic varieties (18%).

On the wine front, preferences for both sparkling and sangria are higher among 21-35 year old  than other age groups both at home and at restaurants and bars, as well as among females compared to males. On the other hand, preference for table wine grows with age.





This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between January 13 and 18, 2016 among 2,060 adults. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.  Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #44, June 15, 2016

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll