The world of beverages remains full of gender norms—apparently it remains a thing to request, uh, a “man cup” so you can still look like a tough guy while sipping a cocktail, and the worlds of beer, wine, coffee, and cocktails all have long and storied histories of ascribing gender to inanimate objects.
In Sweden, however, a new gender-neutral cocktail might put all of that to rest. Award-winning bartender Josephine Sondlo and sensory researcher Johan Swahn worked together with Irish whiskey distiller Tullamore D.E.W. to blend a drink intended to put dated ideas about who drinks what to rest.
The drink, named Hen (after Sweden’s gender-neutral personal pronoun), starts with a base of sugar that’s been infused with sencha tea and champagne, then gets whiskey, verjus (the juice of unripe grapes), two kinds of bitters, and a splash of kombucha, has a lot going on. Sondlo created the cocktail by interpreting Swahn’s research data, which suggested that women were better than men at identifying bitter flavors, as well as at judging the intensity of sweet, sour, and salt. In addition, the data suggested that approximately 35% of all women are considered supertasters, meaning they have heightened perceptions of all flavors, when only 15% of men fall into this category.
“Even before we start drinking, we are taught that men drink certain things and women drink certain things. It has nothing to do with how we actually perceive flavor,” Sondlo told MUNCHIES.“Because we’re supposed to like something, we repeat and eventually acquire a taste for whatever it is that we are supposed to be drinking. Look at what most people think women like—sweet drinks. Look at what the research tells us: the male palate tends to lean towards sweet, more so than the female.”
“There are so many factors that play a role in our perception of taste,” Swahn explains. “Based on the research, it’s definitely possible to compose a cocktail that is more gender-neutral, but to say it will be liked by all is impossible, merely due to our subjective preferences—culture, context, age, etcetera.”
Although it seems the only universally neutral thing about this cocktail is the potential hangover, Sondlo adds, “I don’t think that the purpose of this campaign is to prove that there are no differences between men and women. I see it as a way to challenge how we think about cocktails and gender.”
The cocktail is currently served at Bar Hommage in Stockholm.