Beer Before Liquor: The Drinking Myth You Have To Stop Believing

"Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you're in the clear." It's a famous (or perhaps infamous) rule. Anthony Bourdain broke it with Marcus Samuelsson in one episode of "No Reservations." Maybe you've broken it yourself and spent the next morning impressing it into your brain with the studious fervor of a Rhodes scholar. But is there any merit to this age-old adage? Turns out, the answer is probably "no."

Party people have been trying to outsmart their own metabolisms for generations. But how exactly does the body metabolize alcohol? When you start drinking, the liver starts producing enzymes to break down the alcohol, and the higher the ABV you start with, the more enzymes your liver will start churning out right out of the gate. In other words, "easing into the night" might actually be a bad idea.

Picture it like a fistfight: If you take two really hard blows on the chin, but the rest of the punches land soft, you can recover from those first heavy hits without too much of a problem. Conversely, if the punches just get harder and harder, chances are you're going to lose, and it's going to hurt. It's the same deal with how your liver detoxifies the body.

This, however, does not mean the "beer before liquor" rule is valid. Some people metabolize alcohol faster than others for a variety of factors, the least among them being whether they drank that tequila shot before or after the Pacifico.

Booze is booze is booze

The spirit itself doesn't contribute to a hangover as much as the time it takes to slug it down. A shot of 40% ABV liquor takes five seconds to go down the hatch, but you can nurse a 5% beer for 40 minutes if the bar conversation is good enough. That's nearly an hour for your liver to catch up and clean some of that booze out of your bloodstream before the next drink, working to keep you healthy and happy while you have fun. (The body is amazing!)

A Harvard study had 90 adults aged 19 to 40 drink wine before beer, then beer before wine on another night. Another separate group drank only wine or beer until their breathalyzer test hit 0.11%. The results? The study found that there was "no correlation between hangover symptoms and whether subjects drank only wine, only beer, or switched between them in either order ... The best predictors of a bad hangover were how drunk the subjects felt or whether they vomited after drinking."

Ultimately, binge drinking in any capacity is probably going to make you feel terrible. To help stave off a violent hangover, the actual rule should probably just be "pace yourself," or at least drink some water throughout the night and eat first. If all else fails, you could always just hair-of-the-dog it and grab a "Corpse Reviver," the cleverly named high-ABV cocktail designed for bringing hungover warriors back to life pre-Prohibition.