Alcohol guide for Freshers

Whether you’re drinking it or not, alcohol is something you probably won’t be able to avoid at university.

Drinking in halls, pubs and clubs is a way of life for a lot of students. Here’s a guide with everything you need to know about alcohol.

Where to drink

Pubs

Pubs are generally the cheapest option if you’re looking to go out – they’ll have the best value on a range of draft ales, lagers and ciders. A lot of pubs also have dartboards, pool tables and will show sport on the TV.

Generally, a pub is a great place to sit and have a casual drink with your mates – they’re extremely commonplace in the UK and even the most reasonable-sized villages will have one.

Bars

Bars tend to specialise in cocktails, wines or craft beers and act as a middle-ground between pubs and clubs.

While bars tend to be fancier than traditional pubs, they’re generally restricted to city centre locations and the prices will typically be slightly higher.

Some larger bars have a small dancefloor and can act as an alternative to a club.

Clubs

Clubs typically open around the time that pubs shut and then stay open until the early hours.

The music played can vary from night to night, with some clubs having specific nights dedicated to different genres.

Prices for drinks will be high, although it's worth asking if anything is on special offer.

How drinks are served

Pints

Beer is served as either a pint (568ml in the UK) or a half-pint. You'll normally drink a pint in a pub, restaurant or bar.

If you go to a club then you’re more likely to be drinking beer by the bottle as it’s difficult to avoid pint spillages while you’re busting some moves on the dancefloor.

A lot of places will also let you taste a beer before you buy a pint if it’s one you haven’t heard of before.

Wine glasses

Wine is generally served in either a small glass (175ml) or a large glass (250ml).

Shots

A shot is a small measure (around 25ml) of a strong spirit that’s necked in one go - their strength makes them a popular choice before and during a night out.

'Shooters' are the shot equivalent of cocktails are usually layered with brightly coloured liqueurs.

Straight spirit

Whisky, rum and brandy are meant to be sipped rather than downed. They’re served in a larger glass than a shot and people will often add ice (known as 'on the rocks', but expect to get a snarky look at the bar if you use that phrase) which cools and slightly dilutes the spirit.

Spirit and mixer

These consist of a single or double measurement of spirit topped up with a non-alcoholic drink (usually fruit juice or a soft drink) and ice.

Some long drinks come with a slice of lemon (cola, ginger beer and lemonade) or lime (cranberry and diet cola).

Bomb

Most commonly a Jägerbomb (a mixture of Jägermeister and Red Bull), this is a shot dropped into a non-alcoholic drink that’s short enough to be downed in one.

However, some people think that alcohol (a depressant) and caffeine (a stimulant) is a dangerous mix. It’s your decision whether you want to drink them or not though.

Cocktail

Cocktails pretty much include everything with more than one spirit in it. As a rule of thumb, drinks in Y-shaped martini glasses are very strong, drinks in tumblers are a little bit weaker and drinks in tall glasses are even weaker than that.

A cocktail menu should list the ingredients of each drink, so you can try new combinations that suit your tastes.

Cocktails are generally more expensive, but cocktail bars may have a happy hour period with substantial reductions.

Notes on ordering

Most pubs, bars and clubs will have house spirits and wines so you can just say 'a single vodka' or 'a large white wine' rather than asking for a specific brand.

You should name your drink ('Grey Goose' or 'the Sauvignon Blanc') if you want a higher-end spirit or a different wine from the list.

You’ll also be expected to name the type if you're ordering beer or cider, but you'll generally be able to see what they have on the taps at the bar or in the bottle fridge behind it.

Also, you don’t have to queue at a bar the same way you would queue at the post office or McDonalds. If there’s space at the counter then simply go straight up to it - hanging back a few yards from the bar is an indication to bar staff and fellow customers that you are not yet ready to order.

However, this does not mean that there is no order for being served. It’s the bartender’s job to serve people in the order they arrived at the bar. Of course, they can occasionally make mistakes so it’s polite to let them know if someone arrived at the bar before you.

Types of drink

Here’s a very brief overview of different drinks and what to expect from them.

Beer

Beer is the UK's traditional drink of choice and by far the most popular alcoholic drink in the world. Traditionally, it’s made from only four ingredients: water, malted grain (typically barley), yeast (which converts the sugars in the malt into alcohol) and hops (which acts as a natural preservative and adds flavour).

There are three main types of beer. There’s ale (warm fermented using a specific ale yeast), lager (fermented using a lager yeast and then cold conditioned) and lambic (spontaneously fermented by wild yeasts). There should be a beer for every taste because of the endless variety of beer within these three main types.

Real ale is a British term used to describe cask conditioned, unpasteurised ale served from a traditional hand pump. Craft beer is an overlapping term used for the new wave of high quality beers with distinctive and exciting flavours that have become increasingly popular over the past 10 years.

Many real ales are considered examples of "craft" beers, but there are also some mediocre examples of real ales, and conversely some craft brewers choose to serve their beer in a keg format. These are known as "craft keg" beers.

The traditional beer brewing nations have been in North West Europe, whereas Southern Europeans specialised more in wine. For this reason, most of the different styles of beer were invented in just four countries: the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium. More recently the USA have been at the forefront of brewing innovation.

Beer style guide with descriptions

The traditional beer brewing nations have been in North West Europe, whereas Southern Europeans specialised more in wine. For this reason, most of the different styles of beer were invented in just four countries: the UK, Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium. More recently the USA have been at the forefront of brewing innovation.

British beers

Pale Ale (aka bitter)

Made by warm fermentation using predominantly pale malt, typically 3.5 to 4.2%. English styles typically use Goldings or Fuggles hops to give a delicious fruity, grassy flavour.

Best Bitter or Special Bitter

Like bitter, but up to 5% so slightly stronger.

India Pale Ale

Specifically brewed to last the long sea journey to India during the colonial era, it’s a stronger version of pale ale with more hops at 5-7% ABV.

Golden Ale

New style of pale ale developed in the 1980s to compete with lager. It’s pale yellow in colour with less bitterness but a strong hop aroma.

Red Ale

Uses caramel malt for a sweeter flavour and a distinctive red colour. Will often still be well hopped to balance out the sweetness.

Old Ale

Traditionally aged ale for extra strength (can be up to 10%) and flavour, dark and sweet. A winter beer to be sipped.

Mild

Dark in colour, with a pleasant biscuit-like flavour with an occasional hint of chocolate. Traditionally 3 to 4% ABV. A very easy drinking-session beer.

Porter

A traditional London beer made with roasted malts to give a slight roasted coffee flavour. Can have hints of chocolate or smokiness depending on the exact recipe.

Stout

Stronger and more bitter version of porter with a noticeably thick mouthfeel. Can be made with oats "oatmeal stout" or lactose "milk stout".

Imperial Stout

Strong stout at over 7% ABV. Extremely rich flavour, famous for its popularity in Russia and the Baltic nations.

German beers 

Helles

A light golden lager traditionally made with Hallertauer hops.

Dunkel

Like a dark version of the Helles but with some caramel malt and dark malt added for a slightly sweeter, maltier flavour.

Schwartzbier

A black lager. Easy to drink with a coffee and chocolate flavour.

Hefeweizen

A wheat beer that’s traditionally brewed in Munich. Will be cloudy yellow in colour, with flavours of cloves and banana.

Dunkelweizen

It’s to a hefeweizen what a Dunkel is to a Helles.

Bock

A strong, sweet lager from Einbeck. Over 6% and normally mid-brown in colour.

Maerzen

A strong beer brewed in March and aged over the summer for Oktoberfest.

Rauchbier

A speciality of Bamburg, the malt is smoked before brewing to impart a delicious flavour to the beer.

Altbier

A traditional ale from Dusseldorf. Served cold like a Helles but with a very distinctive malted milk biscuit flavour.

Koelsch

Beer from Cologne that’s like a tastier version of a lager. Has been cold conditioned for clarity.

Berlinner Weisse

A slightly sour wheat beer peculiar to Berlin. Often served with a foul brightly coloured syrup concoction that ruins the beer.

Gose

A sour and slightly salty beer made exclusively in Leipzig.

Czech beers 

Pilsner (the original golden lager) is brewed with Saaz hops for a peppery flavour and cold conditioned for a clean, bitter finish.

Cerne

The Czech version of a dark or black lager.

Austrian beers 

Vienna Lager

The Austrians only have one major contribution to the world of beer. Brewers in Vienna were the first people to add caramel malt to lager to create a sweet mid-brown version of a Helles.

Belgian beers 

Trappist

Generally strong and dark beers brewed by the monks in the Belgian Abbeys. Very rich and complex.

Blonde

Beer with a light golden colour. Belgian blonde beers can be very strong and up to 10%.

Dubbel and Trippel

Dubbel means "double strength" in this context, so you can probably guess what Trippel means.

Flemish Red

A red, slightly sour beer that often has a hint of cooking apples. Very complex and very tasty.

Oude Bruin

Similar to a Flemish Red but a little darker. Spicy with a hint of malt vinegar (in a good way). Moreish.

Gueuze

Known as "Brussels Champagne". Exquisite and complex sour beers made from blending lambic beers of different ages using spontaneous fermentation. Some can be bracingly sour, others have a sweet aftertaste.

Kriek

Lambic beer aged in Cherry barrels for a sweet fruity flavour and bright pink colour. Other fruits used include Raspberry and Peach.

Witbier

An extremely refreshing white beer with flavours of spice and coriander.

Saison

Deliberately made to be refreshing beers for the summer. Blonde and clean tasting with a hint of sourness.

US beers 

American Pale Ale

The major US innovation was the use of new types of hops with distinctive citrussy and piney flavours. A pale ale flavoured with these hop varieties can be delicious.

American Black Ale

Effectively a porter but with new world hops added. An unusual but exciting mixture of dark chocolate and coffee with grapefruit and pine.

California Common

The result of early settlers attempting to brew lager (which needs to be brewed cold) in the California heat. Like lager but slightly sweeter.

Scotch Ale

Another accidental invention – it’s a dark and smoky imitation of a style that never really existed in Scotland.

Rye beer

Dark beer with a pleasant rye bread flavour.

Cider

Famous for its West Country connotations, cider is made from fermented apples and is available on tap in most pubs.

It’s sometimes seen as having a more 'user-friendly' flavour than beer, even though it’s around the same strength. Some strong ciders can be up to almost 8%.

Ciders range from sweet through medium to "dry" cider (which can be quite tart). Whichever you prefer is a matter of personal taste.

Pear is the most common flavoured cider, while a lot of others approach the realms of tasting like an alcoholic Ribena.

The best ciders typically come from the apple growing regions of the South West and Welsh Borders of England or Normandy in France.

A "snakebite" is a mixture of half beer and half cider, sometimes with blackcurrant syrup added. Once very popular among students, the flavour combination can hide the taste of the alcohol which means you get drunk quite quickly.

Wine and relatives

Wine

Comes in red, white and rosé (pink). Red should be drunk around room temperature, the others should be chilled (not too much or you won't taste them). Reds vary between light and full-bodied - this typically describes both the depth of colour and alcohol content.

Whites and Roses can be dry, sweet or somewhere in the middle (known generally as 'medium'). There will probably be a choice of wines in a restaurant but not a pub.

The alcohol content of wine tends to range from 11-16% ABV. White wine with an equal part of sparkling water (or sometimes lemonade) is called a spritzer.

Sparkling wine

Almost always white or rosé wine. Sparkling wine is called champagne if it’s made in France, prosecco if it’s from Italy or cava if it’s from Spain.

Sparkling prosecco is generally a little sweeter than champagne, although any sparkling wine can range from sweet (demisec) through to dry (brut). It’s a similar strength to wine, although some people say the bubbles will make you feel the alcohol faster.

Dessert wine

Usually white, this is sweet and towards the top end of the alcohol range for wine. Drunk in miniature wine glasses. If you already have a set of those, then you probably know more about alcohol than this article could ever tell you.

Fortified wine

This includes sherry (usually white), port (usually red) and a few others. They're sweet wines that have been made stronger (around 20%) by the addition of a spirit, usually brandy.

Spirits

There are a huge variety of spirits, but here’s a guide to the most common types you will come across.

Vodka

A neutral-tasting spirit originating in Russia and Eastern Europe that’s used either for shots or in mixed drinks. There are premium brands such as Grey Goose that can be very expensive, but anything that's not too cheap will be palatable. Typical mixers include coke, fruit juice, lemonade or soda and lime. Around 40%.

Gin

Arguably an acquired taste, it’s a clear spirit with the flavour of juniper berries and herbs. Some brands are more strongly flavoured than others, but you can always ask the bartender for advice.

Most commonly drunk with tonic water or in cocktails such as a Bramble, it's also not bad with cranberry juice (providing you like it to begin with). A gin and tonic ("G 'n' T") is a summer classic. Around 40%.

Rum

A spirit distilled from sugarcane, rum comes in four main varieties: light (clear), gold, dark and spiced. Most light rums come from Puerto Rico and have a mild flavour that makes them the most suitable for mixed drinks and cocktails.

Gold or amber rums gain their colour from aging in wooden barrels. Dark rums tend to be more flavoursome and sophisticated than light rums. Spiced rums (like Captain Morgan's) are often the sweetest variety and may include vanilla or caramel flavours as well as traditional spices.

Rum is the base of a lot of tropical cocktails, from a piña colada or daiquiri to the ubiquitous rum punch. A rum and coke with lime is called a "Cuba Libre" and a dark rum with ginger beer is called a "Dark and Stormy".

In addition to the main varieties, flavoured rums such as Malibu (flavoured with coconut) are also available and may have a lower ABV. Most good rum originates in the Caribbean. Around 40-50% (some very high strength rums are produced, but generally intended for setting on fire on top of a drink rather than direct consumption).

Tequila

A Mexican spirit made from blue agave (similar to a cactus), tequila has a very distinctive flavour.

It's found in some cocktails (most notably a Margarita) but is most commonly taken as shots involving salt and a slice of lemon or lime - you lick the salt, drink the shot and suck the slice of lemon and lime. Around 38-40%.

Whisk(e)y

A spirit distilled from grains (like barley, wheat, corn), there are a few main varieties of whisky.

Scotch whisky (no 'e') is made in Scotland and will either be a blend (made from the products of many stills and mixed to produce a certain variety) or a single malt.

Drink good whisky straight or with a few drops of spring water - asking for a single malt with coke might offend the bartenders.

There are also Irish whiskeys that people tend to be less snobbish about. Bourbon (distilled from corn and made in Kentucky) is the most popular type of whiskey from outside the British Isles.

The rule of thumb is not to risk anything too expensive if you want to drink it with a mixer. Good mixers are coke or ginger ale. Around 40%.

Brandy

A spirit distilled from wine, brandy is traditionally drunk from a balloon-shaped glass to warm the spirit and catch the smell.

It’s typically an after-dinner drink that’s popular at Christmas time. Brandy made in a certain region of France is called cognac. There are a variety of spirits made from fruits other than grapes that are sometimes still called brandy, the most prominent being Calvados, which is made from apples.

Pick a cheap brand if you're going to have brandy with a mixer; high quality cognac can be extremely expensive. Varies between 35 and 60%.

Liqueurs

A liqueur (not to be confused with 'liquor', an American term for spirits) is a drink made from alcohol, flavouring and sugar.

Examples include everything from amaretto (almond, although usually made from apricot pits), sambuca (aniseed) and limoncello (lemon) to Chambord (black raspberry), Bailey's (cream, coffee and chocolate) and Jägermeister (herbs and spices).

Some are best taken as shots, others might be better in mixed drinks. Alcohol content varies wildly between 15 and 50%.

Alcopops

These are mixed drinks based on vodka and rum that are normally sold in bottles with strong, sweet flavourings.

They’re stereotyped as being the drink of teenage girls, which is a stigma with some truth to it. They're not usually very strong, around 4-5%, but it can be easy to drink more than you intend to since the alcohol is virtually tasteless.

Drinking issues

"I've never drunk before"

Just be careful. Your tolerance won't be great, and you'll reach (and surpass) your limit quickly.

Be sure to eat something before you go out as you won't get drunk as quickly, meaning you’ll be less likely to throw up. However, don’t eat so much that you feel full and go out already feeling slightly sick.

Start slowly and don't be pressured into drinking more than you want to. Just be honest and say you're not a massive drinker if you don't have a massive drinking history - people will respect your honesty.

There is also nothing wrong with having a few drinks and then alternating alcohol with glasses of water. You could even switch to water completely - if you don't feel like drinking then you don't have to.

There will be plenty of other people who won't be drinking during Freshers Week, so you won't be alone and you can still have a great time without being drunk.

Ultimately, drinking alcohol is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Find a drink you like the taste of and drink it at your own pace.


"I've drunk too much"

Drink a lot of water. If you need painkillers, pop a couple of ibuprofen as paracetamol shouldn’t be taken alongside alcohol.

Open the windows in your room to get fresh air. Try to get some sleep and then eat something with a lot of protein when you wake up.

However, if your stomach feels a bit odd in the morning then try eating a piece of plain bread very slowly while also drinking something very sweet and carbonated to help to settle your stomach.

"I did something stupid"

The chances are that nobody will remember so don't worry too much. You’re allowed to do stupid things during Freshers Week and at least it’ll give you a good conversation starter. All you can do now is to wait for the embarrassing photos to appear on Facebook.

Final advice

Try out different drinks and figure out what you like. You can also get higher-quality versions of pretty much any category of drinks (except alcopops) that taste better.

Buying yourself a bottle of something decent and inviting people round is a quick way to make friends and to pass the time if the bars are closed, you don’t want to go clubbing or if there’s nothing else to do.

Overall, remember that you don't have to drink just because everyone else is! Even if you do decide to drink then this doesn't mean that you have to get drunk. Conversely, just because no-one else is drinking alcohol doesn't mean you can't.

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