Almost everyone has heard this old adage: “Beer before liquor, you’ve never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” But exactly how true is this?
The answer: It’s not.
But before we explain why everything you know is a total lie, let’s break down the meaning behind the saying. Depending on which peddler of false information you speak to, the reasoning behind this adage can vary. You may have heard something about how it’s easier for your stomach and body to digest drinks with less alcohol later in the night, which is why you should drink liquor first. Or maybe it has something to do with the chemistry behind adding beer to liquor, as opposed to adding liquor to beer. Regardless of the reasoning, you’ve probably been told by numerous people (probably while drinking) that they know from experience that this is true. And we all learned in science class that anecdotal evidence is absolutely the most reliable type of evidence.
But before you start sending angry letters of dissent, there is, in fact, a reason why so many people believe this – and it’s all mental. Sort of.
You see, if you start your night by drinking several beers and then switch to liquor, there’s a good chance you’ll subconsciously continue drinking at the same rate. So if it takes you an hour to finish your 12-ounce beer, it will only take you 20 minutes to finish your 4-ounce cocktail, meaning you’ve now unknowingly accelerated your alcohol intake. (Look at me, doing math.) That makes sense. But as long as you’re aware of the change in beverages and adjust your consumption rate accordingly, you’ll be fine.
It’s similar to how having shots at the end of the night is always worse than having them at the beginning. Again, it’s not the order, it’s about judgement. When you have a shot at the start of the evening, your cloudless mind can confidently say, “Sure, I’m 100 percent sober, why not tip back a bit of Jameson?” But when you’re thirteen sheets to the wind, it’s more like “Let’s see how many Jäger shots I can do without getting sick!” Except you don’t realize you’re already wasted, your friends already left the bar, and you’ve already vomited on yourself twice.
However, we can’t completely dismiss this saying without acknowledging that a study was conducted back in 2007 to test it out. It was called “Alcohol concentration and carbonation of drinks: The effect on blood alcohol levels” and was undertaken by the Universities of Manchester and Lancashire. We’ll spare you from reading all the big sciency words and summarize the findings here. The study found that it may be possible for diluted concentrations of alcohol to be absorbed faster than more potent blends, meaning a mixed drink would be absorbed faster than a shot. Or, if you still want to hear it in their words: “It is thought that in the absence of food in the stomach, small amounts of concentrated alcohol pass through the stomach at much the same rate as larger volumes of more dilute alcohol, allowing little time for gastric metabolism.”
Here’s what’s wrong with this study, in our opinion:
- The conclusion was prefaced with “in the absence of food in the stomach,” which is already a bad omen. There is actual scientific evidence to prove that you’ll get drunker on an empty stomach, so eating a bit before drinking, as most people do, should remedy this entire dilemma.
- Unless you’re chugging your mixed drink in about the same amount of time it takes to do a shot, it’s likely to be absorbed slower anyway, because you’ll be drinking it slower, so not all of this adds up.
- It was conducted with a test group of only 21 people. That’s pretty small, and how do we know any of the people involved are trustworthy? You know those Brits are a sneaky bunch.
The point is, there are too many variables and not enough evidence to support this theory. People come in different sizes, posses different alcohol preferences, drink at different rates, and are wildly unpredictable in behavior (especially after the aforementioned drinks). To surmise that there’s a general rule about drinking beer versus liquor that applies to every person, or even most people, is irresponsible. Like doing your taxes while you’re wasted.
And if you’re wondering about the aforementioned carbonation part in the name of the study, those results were admittedly inconclusive.
In the end, the key is to be aware of your drunkenness at all times. I know that’s hard when you’re at a party listening to the blaring sounds of Drake while playing naked twister – but every hour or so, take a second to evaluate your level of intoxication. If you’re obviously sober or on the sober side, feel free to throw back another drink (as long as you’re not driving or walking a dangerous obstacle course on your way home). On the other hand, if you’re feeling on top of the world thanks to the wonders of alcohol, you might want to ride that wave for just a bit before you imbibe again. No sense in ruining a good thing.
Or don’t listen to me; I’m drunk.
This article was fueled by: Longpine Brightside IPA