The Irish Don’t Drink Nearly As Much As We Think

“It is a nation of contradictions, sir.” —Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

In A Nutshell

For centuries, Ireland has been hailed as an alcoholic’s paradise, but surprisingly enough, it is not even in the top 10 hard-drinking countries in the world. Per capita, alcohol consumption has begun to dramatically decline in recent years, causing hundreds of pubs to shut down. There are even laws against “Happy Hours” at pubs.

The Whole Bushel

There are few more pervasive stereotypes than that of hard-bitten Irishmen pounding shots of whiskey and chasing it with strong draughts of Guinness in some earthen-floor pub. Like many stereotypes, it contains a few grains of truth and plenty of falsehood. While the Irish do fancy a wee nip, a comprehensive 2011 report by the World Health Organization indicates that they don’t even crack the top 10 in per capita alcohol consumption. The Irish consume 14.41 liters (3.8 gal) of alcohol per capita compared to 18.22 liters (4.8 gal) for the tiny Eastern European nation of Moldova.

Drinking levels continue to plummet according to a report published by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland. Economic woes, which some might imagine would fuel beer and liquor sales, have sent things on a decided downturn. The report indicates that nearly 1,000 pubs were forced to close their doors in the five years between 2007 and 2012.

While it is legal to drink at the age of 18 on the Emerald Isle, they have penalties like any other nation for overconsumption, including a law against anyone driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more, in line with England, Canada, and the United States. One restriction that might seem bizarre to people from other countries is the abolishment of “Happy Hour,” the practice of selling liquor at a reduced price (typically right around the time people get out of work). Happy Hour has been banned in Ireland since 2003 as part of the Intoxicating Liquor Act. And good luck trying to get served in this predominantly Catholic country on Good Friday, Christmas, or during Sunday Mass.

This all brings us to Guinness, a distinctive stout beer enjoyed the world over, practically Ireland’s national beverage. While many people tend to equate the beer’s rich taste with high alcohol content, nothing could be further from the truth. Guinness, at 4 percent alcohol by volume, is one of the weakest commercial beers on the market; Budweiser, Coors Light, Heineken, Corona, and a host of others are more potent than Guinness. The black stuff (it is actually dark ruby if held up to a light source) is also low in calories compared to other regular beer. There is some evidence that Guinness has health benefits, with studies proving it has an effect not unlike a low dose of aspirin, is good for cardiovascular health, and may contain antioxidants. In years past, it was given to blood donors, patients who had just undergone surgery, and even pregnant women due to the belief that it was high in iron.

Show Me The Proof

15 Countries That Consume The Most Alcohol
Alcohol and the Law in Ireland
More than 950 pubs closed down in Ireland over a five year period
BBC: Guinness could be really good for you