If rosé got really big in 2014 and became a “lifestyle” the year after that, 2019 would be the year it got so big that everything that was not previously rosé became rosé too.
There are now rosé-flavored energy drinks, rosé-flavored candy, rosé-flavored condiments (jam, vinegar, and, yes, mustard). And as of this year, we will also have no fewer than four brands of rosé-flavored vodka, in addition to multiple kinds of rosé gin, beer, cider, and spiked seltzer.
Even alcoholic drinks that are not rosé are now trying to capitalize on the incomprehensible hugeness of what rosé has become. It raises the question: Why would an alcoholic drink want to taste like a wholly different alcoholic drink? Cocktails that involve wine and beer are delicious. But an amalgam of multiple discrete types of alcohol conjures horrific flashbacks of sneaking tiny swigs from a dozen different bottles from my parents’ liquor cabinet into a water bottle. That is something that no one should ever drink, much less sell.
There are two main factors at play that led to the advent of wine-flavored liquor. One of them has to do with the way the beverage industry is experimenting with marketing to more drinkers. And the second, of course, is that rosé is bigger than alcohol: It’s an aesthetic. After all, why wouldn’t you capitalize on the wine that has its own Instagram museum?
Let’s get this out of the way: Rosé is good. The kind of rosés we think of when we think of rosé in 2019 are generally not the sweet magenta white zinfandels of the 1970s, which lots of people understandably despise. They are whispery pale pink and dry as a bone, which makes them largely neutral, flavor-wise. Sure, you might pick up some strawberries or citrus, but these are flavors that very few people truly hate, and even if they do, they’d barely taste them anyway.
But this is not why rosé has suddenly eclipsed the confines of the wine section. It’s because rosé is no longer a drink but a way of life, so much so that it’s almost a cliché to even point this out.
“Rosé pulled off a neat trick,” writes Sarah Miller in a piece for Eater about the cultural baggage associated with rosé, “It reminded people of something fun and a little silly from the past, and even as it exchanged the silliness for sophistication — for marvelousness — it maintained that sense of fun. … Its enjoyment was intertwined with the delicious smugness that comes with having good taste and knowing it.”
Rosé’s first big tipping point occurred in the US around the summer of 2014, the year that Whole Foods, after noticing its rosé promotions were hugely successful in Southern California, decided to extend the promotion nationally. There were a few reasons for its immediate appeal: First, you don’t actually have to talk to a sales representative in order to know what you’re getting. As Eater notes, you can kind of tell what a rosé will smell and taste like simply by looking at the color of the bottle, which isn’t always the case for reds or whites. They are also, for the most part, cheap.
That rosé is also pink and pretty is of crucial importance, and it is probably not an accident that its popularity coincided with the elevation of the color pink as cultural icon, particularly within the food industry. And though this is presumably part why rosé is so often coded as feminine — and therefore often derided in the same breath as anything pumpkin-spiced — in the US, men and women drink basically the same amount of it.
All of this has, predictably, translated to huge sales. Rosé has consistently been the fastest-growing wine category over the past few years and shows little sign of slowing down. Emily Saladino, the editor-in-chief of VinePair, tells me she’d previously predicted that “peak rosé” was the summer of 2018. Instead, she says, it’s breaking through from coastal markets like New York and California, where trend cycles are much faster, and into the rest of the country. That rosé is also appearing beyond wine is evidence of a phenomenon she calls, hilariously, “rosé creep.”
Rosé “is so much bigger than wine,” she says. “You could probably put the word ‘rosé’ on a bottle of Robitussin and it would move units at this point.”
That’s essentially what alcohol brands are doing. There are no fewer than 31 kinds of rosé cider currently being sold in the US, accounting for more than 9 percent of total cider sales. Bud Light’s popular Lime-A-Ritas launched an offshoot rosé spritz-inspired line this summer. Multiple spiked seltzer brands, including Truly and Smirnoff Ice, have recently added rosé flavors to their arsenal, and now at least four vodka brands — Svedka, Three Olives, Hangar One, and Effen — have too.
But besides the enormous success of rosé wine, there’s another reason we’re seeing more beverages that combine two vastly different types of alcohol. “There’s an aim here to get whoever isn’t your primary audience,” explains Saladino. “Consumers drink across categories more. Most people in their 20s and 30s whose families drink have one uncle who drank exclusively Dewar’s. He didn’t just drink scotch; he drank Dewar’s.”
“Nowadays, I’m hard-pressed to think of too many folks in the millennial generation whose tastes are quite that narrow,” she adds. “A lot of millennial-aged people are part-time vegans or are weeknight vegetarians. People want that same flexibility with their drinks.”
It’s why we’re seeing offerings like bourbon barrel–aged wine and brut IPAs, and it’s indicative of one of the biggest trends in the beverage industry right now: hybridization. Bourbon barrel-aged wine “doesn’t make sense from a winemaking perspective, to be frank,” Saladino says, “but it’s popular. It’s getting folks who don’t identify as a wine drinker to try wine.”
Rosé vodka, on the other hand, does make sense from a distilling perspective: Despite how it may feel to take a shot of it, vodka is a largely neutral flavor, and a good dry rosé doesn’t exactly hit you over the head with flavor — ergo, we have rosé vodka as opposed to, say, cabernet sauvignon vodka. “Vodka is delicate enough to let the rosé notes really shine,” explains Hangar 1’s head distiller Caley Shoemaker.
Plus, it’s about the idea of rosé anyway. If rosé is meant to be consumed “all day,” then rosé vodka is what vodka brands want you to drink all night.
Which I did, to some degree. I was alone in my apartment on a weekday and it was technically “for journalism,” so I tried just one very pink pour of Three Olives’ version, on the rocks, and added a couple of frozen berries.
The most important thing I can tell you about rosé vodka is that it tastes remarkably like actual rosé and has roughly triple the amount of alcohol. I am not here to moralize on things like birthday cake-flavored liquor or pineapple Juuls as they relate to potentially corrupting the underage; all I can tell you is that if you drink rosé vodka as though it is regular rosé, you will probably end up not remembering it.
But by this, I also mean that rosé vodka is extremely delicious, far more so than any other flavored vodka I’ve ever had. And as rosé starts to feel less like a coastal trend and more like the new normal for summer drinking, that fruity-but-not-sweet flavor could mean that rosé cider or rosé vodka isn’t just a gimmick but a lasting innovation. Therein lies the genius of rosé and the reason behind rosé creep: Everything’s better through rosé-colored glasses.
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