The other day I was at work and overheard a conversation I’ve heard at least a hundred times in a hundred different places. The subject is one of the oldest and most misunderstood drinking rules ever: The Beer Before Liquor Rule. Heed its warning, and you just may avoid a hangover. Ignore it, and you most definitely won’t.
It’s mostly misunderstood because people always screw up the saying itself, which in turn sends them directly up Shit Creek without a paddle.
You’ve all heard it, or variations of it, before: “Beer before liquor never been sicker. Liquor before beer have no fear.” This boys and girls is the correct variation of the saying.
But here’s the rub. The very people to whom this saying was meant to protect are the ones who question it. The college-aged Green Horns. [Editor’s note: Green Horns? Nice one grandpa.]
Their first mistake is they overthink the whole thing. Actually no. First, they mess up the saying. Then they use the two years of fancy schoolin’ they have under their belts to justify the order they put the saying in.
I’ve heard some of the most complex and well-thought-out explanations you could imagine. They range from the different types of alcohol content combining to create a super drug that intensifies exponentially each hour by the square root of your body weight to various alcohol combinations doing something to you that some guy saw on an X-Files rerun.
The truth is anyone who’s been drinking for more than 10 years knows exactly why the saying is true. And it has nothing to do with chemistry, aliens, full moons, or anything like that. The explanation has come from generations of drunken experience and observation.
Why the Beer Before Liquor Rule Works
Here it is. The definitive answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything. Sort of.
Beer before liquor, never been sicker:
Think about the progression of your night as you drink. The first few Heinekens take a while to put down, but as you relax and the alcohol takes effect, it takes a whole hell of a lot less effort to drink each beer. Each new one goes down faster than the previous until you lose count and are just drinking as fast as you can without realizing it.
This is completely fine as long as you stick to beer (Unless the beer is Steel Reserve).
Over the course of the session, you’ve increased the rate of consumption, but not the alcohol content of what you’re consuming. However, if you get to that point of rapid consumption and switch to liquor, not only have you increased consumption, you’ve increased the amount of alcohol your taking in by 30-40% per drink. This is where your blood alcohol levels spike, and you blackout and wake up in someone’s yard naked with one of the most monumental hangovers ever orchestrated by a sophomore P.E. major.
Liquor then beer, have no fear:
Have no fear indeed.
This is the preferred M.O. for a night on the town as is the one most associated with getting laid. You start out drinking high-powered courage in a bottle, a.k.a. Jim Beam. Which, by drink number 4 or 5, gives you the stones to walk up to any coed in the joint and tell her to stay sober because she’s going to be driving you home tonight.
Once you’re good and animated you either start running low on cash or realize that lame line actually might have worked and you switch to beer. Like before, your rate of consumption has increased.
However, the amount of alcohol consumed per drink has decreased by 30-35%. You’re essentially weaning yourself from Jim Beam’s vicious teat, thus keeping enough of your wits about you to be able to show the aforementioned coed which driveway to park in. And this also ensures the only nasty thing you wake up with is in the bed next to you.