Alcohol and The Amish
I was in a convenience store - my favorite, Sheetz - not too long ago near Mansfield, Ohio and I saw an Amish man buying chips and beer. A couple of non-Amish people in line behind the man guffawed at the sight of the man in the wide-brimmed black hat buying beer, but why? Can the Amish drink alcohol? Of course, they can. The question might be better asked: does the Amish church permit alcohol use?
And, bottom line: who cares if an Amish person is buying beer?
Of course, one type of beer most Amish drink at some point isn't alcoholic at all: root beer. Ha!
🍷 Do The Amish Drink Alcohol?
No law, no religious directive says that they can't. Outsiders make a lot of erroneous assumptions about the Amish when it comes to certain lifestyle choices and it's really unfair to the Amish.
There are some religions, like the Latter-Day Saints, where alcohol is expressly forbidden. The Amish, however, are not such a religion.
Such unfounded assumptions raise the Amish to a behavioral standard that they themselves have never claimed to set. A lot of outsiders just assume that the Amish don't drink alcohol. It's an assumption probably drawn from the Amish appearance of piety and plainness But the Amish also have a deep Germanic heritage and part of that culinary heritage is alcohol (I'm a quarter German, so I can say that), especially beer.
I don't often see the Amish popping open a bottle of Merlot, but many will make their own homemade wines. I've tried some Amish-made dandelion wine on several occasions and it is good stuff.
Speaking from my personal observations only, excessive alcohol seems to be "hit and miss" among the Amish. In some communities it seems to be a bigger problem than others. Two communities that have made the news in recent years for cops arresting drunken buggy drives are Berne, Indiana and Middlefield, Ohio.
It was actually Sunday morning, an hour past midnight. The report said Turnbull County sheriff’s deputies saw two Amish men drinking beer in the back of the buggy as the driverless horse trotted down the road.
On the roof of the buggy was a 12-pack of Michelob Ultra.
A drunken horseman on a crowded road is no laughing matter. In the Geneva and Berne, Indiana communities, "package stores" (a fancy term for liquor store) do a booming business among the Amish.
In Geneva, Indiana the "Case n Quart" is a beer joint right on the edge of the Amish settlement and I've seen plenty of buggies parked there over the years. An Indiana news station interviewed the owner:
"Indiana’s NewsCenter visited Geneva’s Case and Quart, where the owner said about 25-percent of her business is with Amish customers. In fact, while conducting the interview an Amish man is in his 60’s was refused a sale because he didn’t have a photo ID.
The Case & Quart outside Geneva, Indiana....
🍺 Do Some Stores Target The Amish For Alcohol Sales?
Now this also raises an interesting issue and maybe what I am doing is a stretch? But the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota have sued alcohol establishments in White Clay, Nebraska just across the state line from the officially dry Pine Ridge Reservation. The tribe claims the alcohol businesses in White Clay target the Sioux. So is the demand there and then the stores come? Or do the stores come and create demand? Alcohol can ravage any group of people.
In Berne, Indiana there is a liquor store with a "hidden" backdoor that the Amish derisively call "The Mennonite Door." And Mennonites call it "The Amish Door." Each group finger-points at the other for drinking but, in reality both do to some degree.
The Thrillist is even promoting a "Beer Tour Through Amish Country", but that really is more about the German traditions of beer that happen to be in Amish country more than about Amish drinking beer.
🍸 Alcohol Most Commonly Consumed by The Amish
In my experience, the most common in order is this:
- Beer: It's cheap, it's convenient in cans, young people can put caseloads or kegs in the back of a buggy. The Amish tend to go for the cheap stuff or dark beer.
- Wine: Yes, you will find wine in Amish homes. But not $5-buck chuck (is that even still a thing) or a bottle of Winking Owl from Aldi (good stuff), but you will find homemade wines in some Amish homes. Dandelion wine is especially popular and, wow, it is really, really good. But you'll also find muscadine wine and some home-grown grape wine varieties. One Amish woman I know would often have a glass of homemade dandelion wine before bed to help her sleep. That gets into some of the old folk medicine heritage of the Amish.
- Hard Liquor: This is what I see the least of among the Amish, but hard liquor is also not unheard of. I have seen Amish people buying vodka and gin and downing it straight.
Do Amish Teens Drink?
Alcohol use by teenage/underage Amish appears to be a bigger problem than in the adult Amish population (although by no means limited to this group). I've seen large groups of Amish young people congregating at liquor stores.
Amish youth when they go through a period sometimes known as rumspringa will partake in parties where alcohol is present or they'll just imbibe in small groups. The practice is tolerated by parents who don't like it, but let their children experiment and explore.
That said, plenty of Amish young people don't drink. Bottom line in all of this? The Amish in this regard are not much different from the rest of the population...You have a mix of teetotalers, occasional drinkers, and alcoholics.That said, I'd say that alcoholism is under-reported among the Amish and some awareness campaigns might go a long way. But Amish elders have often resisted non-Amish initiated public service campaigns regarding alcohol.
According to a paper written by some Indiana alcohol interventionists who work with the Amish, the Amish realize the perception and reality are often counter and that their youth experience alcohol differently than non-Amish:
Concerns included a perception on the part of the Amish that their patterns of use and abuse are different than those of the English population;
for many, their first exposure to alcohol occurs on their 16th birthday or
soon after. This translates to a more rapid trajectory and more intense first
experience than many of their English counterparts. Particularly if they experience parochial schooling, these youth are unlikely to be exposed to peer
use of alcohol or drugs at the same level as their English peers. Amish youth
also express confusion over the breadth and depth of personal disclosure
expected of them in classes or groups; they have usually been taught to keep
a personal distance from the English
The New Order Amish and Alcohol
There are different sects of Amish and different groups view alcohol differently. The New Order Amish might imply by its name that they are more "liberal" and open to activities like alcohol consumption, but the opposite is actually true.
The New Order Amish are more evangelical and stricter in some lifestyle choice areas. Most New Order Amish churches forbid alcohol as a matter of course, whereas Old Order and even the ultra-conservative Swartzentrubers allow and tolerate alcohol.
📋 The Facts: Do The Amish Drink Alcohol?
The answer to "Can The Amish Drink Alcohol" or "Do The Amish Drink Alcohol?" is qualified "yes." In most Amish churches, there is no prohibition against alcohol. Let's go over the groups again that drink and don't as part of church rules:
Nebraska Amish/Swartzentruber Amish: These are the most conservative groups and they do not prohibit alcohol consumption. It doesn't mean all Amish drink, the majority don't but it is not forbidden.
Old Order Amish: By far the largest sect, and alcohol is not expressly forbidden. Most common among the youth, but all age groups can be seen drinking alcohol on occasion.
New Order Amish: Church rules prohibit members from consuming alcohol. Would be in violation of church rules.
Beachy Amish Mennonites: Alcohol is generally forbidden by the church, but this may vary from congregation to congregation.
🌎 Amish Communities Where Alcohol Is Common
These are not the only communities where the Amish consume alcohol, but these are ones that have made the news for buggy operators drunk driving or where Amish365 editors have seen first-hand.
Holmes County, Ohio