The Differences Between American and European Drinkers, According to Bartenders

Mark Yocca / Supercall
Mark Yocca / Supercall

There’s more than an ocean separating American and European drinkers. Tipplers from each continent tend to prefer their spirits, cocktails and wine in totally different ways. While certain American habits are so obvious that bartenders can spot them from across the bar, there are plenty of ways drinkers from the good ol’ U.S. of A. differ from their European counterparts (and, as Klaus St. Rainer of Goldene Bar in Munich points out, lots of ways drinkers from European countries differ from each other as well). For a real breakdown of peculiar habits all around, we asked bartenders on both sides of the Atlantic to weigh in on the differences between Americans and Europeans at the bar.

Americans Worship Whiskey (and Whisky)

“Americans are more prone to ordering whiskey, particularly bourbon and rye. They always prefer it one of three ways: neat, on the rocks, or in an Old Fashioned.” — Weston Lou of Hakkasan New York

“Bourbon and rye are their drinks of choice, but they also look at Scotch whisky with respect and awe.” — Greg Almeida of Scarfes Bar in London

Europeans Go for Gin

“European visitors at Hakkasan New York seem to prefer gin drinks, specifically guests from the U.K. and Spain. They also want to try gins from local botanicals—we have a few from Brooklyn that are particularly popular with guests from the U.K.” — Lou

Americans Prefer American Wine and Europeans Prefer European Wine

“It is clear the consumption of local wines is still the strongest. In the United States, consumers favor American wines, the French consumer favors French wines, and so on and so forth.” — Guillem Kerambrun of Caprice Restaurants and Birley Clubs in London

Americans Enjoy Drinking Fast, Being Bold and Seeming Cool

“American drinkers have an eye for new and bold flavor combinations.” — Tre Stillwagon of Analogue in New York

“[Americans] like big, bold tastes (e.g. extremely sweet, or extremely bitter).” — Almeida

“I love the [European] idea of an aperitif / digestif hour. It’s something that we need [in America] and it’s been pushed to the wayside. The American mindset is very fast paced and centralized on efficient drinking.” — Stillwagon

“In the U.K. and America, alcohol is a taboo. It is a forbidden fruit until you come of age, and as a result it is made automatically ‘cool.’” — Grant Murray of Bar One and Scotch and Rye in Inverness, Scotland

Continental Europeans Grow Up with Booze, So They Treat It More Casually

“Most Europeans start drinking at an earlier age so the discussion of alcohol is never a big deal.” — Heather Perkins of DiAnoia's Eatery in Pittsburgh

“In [Continental] European countries, young people are involved in the traditions of moderate drinking combined with healthy lifestyle balance.” — Murray

“Europeans don’t make a big show when serving alcohol. Most bars in Italy don't even have a drink list at all, although they serve thoughtfully crafted cocktails.” — Perkins

“The hotter, more ‘relaxed’ countries within Europe seem to be able to incorporate alcohol into their daily lives without disruption. You will see Italians drinking liquor with their morning coffee, Parisians drinking wine on their lunch break, but very rarely will you see these people drunkenly fighting in a kebab shop at 3 a.m. about somebody looking at their bird.” — Murray

“The point is to eat and drink with friends. European wine and spirits are almost wholly designed to be enjoyed with food.” — Frank Cisneros of Bar Moga in New York

Americans Prefer Classic Cocktails and Name Brands

“As the inventor of cocktails, Americans are really proud of their classics, and tend to be very knowledgeable about them. They often have their own favourite brand of spirit, but will also be open to try a newcomer, especially if it is a local brand mixed into a classic. Their respect for classic can sometimes mean they are a bit more hesitant to try new flavour combinations.” — Almeida

Europeans Are Interested in New Cocktails

“European drinkers take time and have focus on innovation.” — Stillwagon

“European drinkers are fairly new to the cocktail world, and have a tendency to go into bars and ask for classic Mojitos or Caipirinhas. They don’t have the same cocktail culture and heritage that Americans tend to have, which is in some ways beneficial and frees up their choices. They are more likely to be open to new cocktail suggestions and new spirits with unusual ingredients—often chosen after a bartender's recommendation which is somewhat flattering.” — Almeida

Americans Love to Talk With Their Bartender

“I love that Americans come to the bar and expect a show from the bartender. They have a culture of talking to bar staff, and more often than not they will initiate a conversation with us as easily as if we were friends for years which is very welcoming and makes you feel relaxed.” — Almeida

Europeans Keep It Succinct

“Service is efficient and fast: "Hi, two G&Ts please!" and that can be it. Unless you engage them and really try hard, conversation might not come until the very end.” — Almeida

But in the End, We’re All Growing Closer Together

“To be honest, the drinking behavior of professional drinkers seems to come more and more on the same level over the last few years. [That’s] of course one of the impacts of the internet and social media.” — St. Rainer