“Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.”
Sometimes wine is thrown into the mix. Other common versions of the line include, “beer before wine and you’ll feel fine; wine before beer and you’ll feel queer.” Or “grape or grain, but never the twain,” meaning one shouldn’t imbibe wine and beer in the same sitting.
Consuming too much alcohol is never a good thing. But these sayings suggest that mixing and matching your drink orders could affect how you feel the next day.
Is there any truth to it? We asked health experts to share their thoughts.
Where Do These Phrases Come From?
It’s tough to say where the phrases originated, but they’re likely generations old. There are iterations of the adages in different languages around the world, seemingly based on theories surrounding how people metabolize alcohol.
When you drink, the body immediately starts producing more enzymes to detoxify, aka break down and remove alcohol from the system, says Dr. Harvey Allen, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist and internal medicine physician at Digestive Disease Medicine of Central New York.
“Drinking hard liquor first usually overwhelms the body’s liver enzymes systems,” he says. “However, starting with beer decreases these liver enzymes in the body. When hard liquor is ingested following beer, the liver is completely overwhelmed and doesn’t have enough time to generate detoxification enzymes causing significant hangover symptoms.”
Other experts suggest that carbonated beverages like beer and Prosecco can irritate the stomach lining, which makes you absorb alcohol more quickly. This may also make you more sensitive to spirits consumed later. More fuel for this theory: Research published in 2007 showed most of the study subjects absorbed vodka faster when it was mixed with carbonated water.
Another explanation relates to a beverage’s alcohol by volume (ABV). Generally speaking, beers are usually larger in volume than wine or spirits-based drinks, but contain a lower ABV. So, it’ll take you longer to drink a beer than a shot or a cocktail, which theoretically gives the body more time to flush out the alcohol.