Alcohol generally refers to beverages consumed for their alcoholic content. Alcohol is a mild poison (and disinfectant) and has a deleterious effect on the human body. In small or moderate amounts, this deleterious effect is enjoyable and produces a mildly euphoric state, commonly referred to as a buzz. In larger amounts, alcohol produces a state known as drunkenness, in which speech is slurred, movement increasingly uncoordinated, inhibitions lowered, and judgment impaired. In excessive amounts, alcohol poisoning can result in severe illness or death.
Alcohol in Period
In period, many alcoholic beverages were common, particularly beer, cider, mead and wine. Alcohol was greatly preferred over water or milk owing to the poor quality of one and the relative expense of the other. For higher-status people in period, a cup of wine or small beer immediately after waking would have been no different than a modern cup of coffee.
Mildly alcoholic beverages such as small beer and watered wine were safer than plain water, as the alcohol would kill many of the pathogens, parasites and bacteria which typically lived in the medieval water supply. Medieval people might not have understood disease theory, but given enough experience, they could recognize its practical effects.
It is interesting to note that, because of this preference, when we say one drinks or has been drinking, we immediately assume that alcohol is being consumed. A drink is assumed to be alcoholic, which is why the term soft drink has been developed to specifically refer to a non-alcoholic beverage.
Distilled liquor was uncommon in the early medieval period, but became increasingly common toward the end.
Alcohol in the SCA
When advertising most SCA events, the autocrat will list whether or not alcohol is permitted on site. A dry site will have no alcohol available, and drinking is not permitted. A wet site allows alcohol. Certain sites are listed as damp, meaning beverages with lesser alcoholic content, such as beer, cider and wine are permitted, but distilled liquor or mixed drinks are not.
Often, a site's rating will change depending on the time of day. A dry site might become damp or even wet during feast or afterwards.
On rare occasions, certain events are listed as very wet site: these are typically held on private property, and carry the expectation that heavy drinking is going to happen.
Sometimes the phrase "discreetly damp" is used, a very fuzzy term usually meaning something like "damp, but decant it into a period drinking vessel and be sure to pack all your empties off-site."
Many SCAdians engage in home brewing and wine-making, but it is important to note that, in most countries including the United States, Canada and Australia, distilling liquor without a license is a serious criminal offense, because improperly distilled alcohol can be poisonous. It should also be noted that many types of alcohol used in commercial, medical and industrial applications are lethal poisons, and should never be consumed as beverages.