Harry Potter and alcoholic beverages (no spoilers)

Throughout the Harry Potter books, the kids have been drinking butterbeer. I’ve been assuming it’s something like root beer; it has no alcohol in it. In chapter 3 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, however, Dumbledore serves mead to Harry and Dudley. In that same chapter it states that both boys are 16 years old. I’ve never heard of a non-alcoholic mead before, so that would be quite illegal in the U.S. A conviction for providing alcohol to a minor is serious.

Is this legal in England? Can you serve alcohol to 16-year-olds?

Good question. I’ve always wondered about this too. It seems like butterbeer itself might be alcoholic - doesn’t Winky turn into a big boozer just from drinking butterbeer?

Maybe in the wizarding world, alcohol for young-uns is ok. I’m sure the mead they were drinking was alcoholic. I’m not sure about the butterbeer. They started drinking that in CoS, right, so 13 years age?

The drinking age in England is 18, but you can get a glass of wine or beer in a restaurant if you’re over 16.

Of course, those are muggle laws…

Butterbeer, according to Rowling, is kind of like a butterscotch cream soda. There’s a recipe for it over at MuggleNet.Com.

It’s only bad for house elves, I think.

The mead thing sounds like one of those special occassions-“You boys can have a bit of booze, just this once.” Remember the time Ron was going to try and order fire whiskey in the Hogs Head during the first DA meeting?

I’ve always been under the impression that wizardfolk were just more relaxed about alcohol. After all, I’m sure there’s a hangover cure spell out there (and possibly a sobering-up spull as well), so drinking wouldn’t be nearly as risky a venture as it is for Muggles. That Winky clearly gets drunk off butterbeer indicates that it is mildly alcoholic (although Dobby states that it’s weaker than most hard drinks- the wizard equivalent of a wine cooler, perhaps?).

Then again, I’m also of the opinion that teenagers would be far less inclined to binge/ drink heavily if drinking wasn’t such a cultural taboo, so that could just be my biases talking. :wink:

Most lilkley due to a more relaxed attitude towards drinking, like Tarrsk said , in addition to the fact that a person becomes a legal adult at 17 in the magical world, rather then 18, or 21.* One year before isn’t such a big deal.

*This is due to a form of legal reasoning known as “ploticus necesitus”

Now that’s an opportune typo.

I’m with you on this one. We’re preparing you to be a legal drinker by… allowing you no³ exposure to alcohol until you reach your twenty-first birthday.
3: That is, no legal exposure. If you want to go to some illegal party and poison yourself, that’s OK.

Under UK law, it’s not illegal to give any child (over the age of 5) alcohol in a private place, such as a home. In public, it becomes a different matter – minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to possess or drink alcohol in a public place, with the exception that those over 16 are allowed to buy or be bought beer or (hard) cider with a meal.

When Winky gets drunk on butterbeer, Hermione says, “It’s not strong, that stuff.” Dobby replies that it’s strong for a house elf, because house elves don’t drink.

This seems to imply that there’s at least SOME alcohol in butterbeer.

Yeah, that was my assumption - it’s not strong enough to get a human drunk, at least without drinking glass after glass of it, but house elves just can’t hold their booze. There are several situations in which we’ve seen young people drinking - even though I think Krum was of age in Goblet of Fire when Karkaroff offers him alcohol, if the Wizarding world shared America’s terror of alcohol, no teacher would be offering it to a student. I get the impression that small amounts of alcohol are permitted to young people.

It’s also possible that butterbeer is not alcoholic per se, but has such an effect on House-Elves due to their physiology. Think about how catnip affects cats, but does nothing for humans.

But Hermione says “it’s not strong” not, “it’s non-alcoholic”. I agree that it’s probably about as alcoholic as a wine cooler and a bottle or two isnt’ going to affect the average teenager. Also, house elves are very small, so less alcohol would have a greater effect.

Thank you for all the information. I knew England’s attitudes about alcohol were different than those in the U.S. (more sensible, in my opinion, but that’s taking us outside of Cafe Society territory), but didn’t realize that the laws were so different.

Here, the government has underage inspectors that go into places with liquor and tobacco licenses and attempt to purchase booze and cigarettes. If they succeed, there are stiff fines and multiple offenses result in losing the license.

A parent who purchases alcohol and provides in to his own children in the privacy of his own home can have his children taken away by social services people. What Dumbledore did would be a very serious offense indeed in the U.S. Of course that doesn’t mean people don’t do it anyway…

How does that work?

My understanding is that if you’re over 16, you’re allowed to have a glass of wine or beer in a restaurant or pub as long as it’s ordered with a meal.

I’ve always figured butterbeer was a sweeter version of “small beer,” a low-alcohol brew that used to be a standard-issue default drink for everybody, including kids. In Shakespeare’s time, people drank it for breakfast.

Given the generally archaic feel of the wizarding world, it’s not surprising that they’re not hung up about underaged drinking.

I’m not sure if it’s as bad as all that. Maybe it just depends on what state you’re in. I grew up in Wisconsin, where people under 21 can be served alcohol in a public place if they’re with their parents, legal guardian, or spouse over 21. However, the bar or restaurant can chose not to serve them, if they wish. cite

Yes, it must definitely depend on the state you’re in. When we lived in California, serving alcohol to a minor was almost a lynching offense. Here in Montana, they’re really starting to crack down on it now, but it’s not as serious as it was in California.

I always figured it was like a cream soda with a shot of butterscotch schnapps–which I tried and it wasn’t bad at all.*
*It was better with a couple of shots, rather than just the one, though!