Do Amish Drink Alcohol?

The Amish & alcohol

When I was first learning about the Amish, I was kind of surprised to discover that some Amish people drink alcohol. As I met more and more Amish people, I kept running across examples of this. That’s not to say that alcohol is a big part of Amish society across-the-board. But neither is it completely absent from Amish culture, as outsiders might assume.

Jump to:
Can Amish drink alcohol?
Which Amish drink alcohol?
Alcohol in Amish church service
Amish youth & alcohol
Amish & alcohol abuse
How does Amish alcohol use compare to non-Amish use?

We might think that drinking is not a part of the culture, but Amish and alcohol can and do mix.  Most famously, it’s Rumspringa-age youth. But in the decentralized Amish system, there is no across-the-board Mormon-like principle against consumption. It’s not banned in the Bible. And Amish groups and churches (there are over 2,000 individual congregations) are different. They have different attitudes towards alcohol consumption. That’s important to keep in mind.

So this question has different answers depending on the Amish group you’re talking about. There are a lot of different Amish groups. There’s a lot of diversity in the Amish world. So you have some that are very plain and traditional. And you have others that are more open to technology and “the world”. And you might be thinking that the most outwardly “traditional” Amish would be the ones most against alcohol. But that’s not the case (more on that below).

Can Amish drink alcohol?

So if you’re asking “Can Amish drink alcohol?”, the answer would depend on the community and church custom, and of course individual preference.

Some Amish are very much against alcohol while others are quite accepting of it in various forms. The New Order Amish are the best known of the major Amish affiliations which are against alcohol. This is a movement that started in the 1960s. You’ll find a lot of New Order Amish in Ohio and in other states as well. But the biggest population is in Holmes County, Ohio.

Despite what some think due to their name, the New Order Amish are not Mennonites, but are also a plain-dressing, horse-and-buggy Amish people. They have different beliefs regarding certain theological questions (such as a belief in assurance of salvation), and are generally at least a bit more progressive than average when it comes to technology use.

And one distinctive point is that New Order Amish are completely against consumption of alcohol. It is not condoned in their churches. Alcohol, like tobacco and bed courtship, was one of the sticking points that caused them to split away from other Amish in the 1960s. In the rest of the Old Order Amish world it’s not so clear-cut.

Which Amish drink alcohol?

In other Amish communities, you can find alcohol consumption. Some Amish people make homemade alcohol, specifically wine. For example, in Lancaster County, friends of mine make homemade wine, like beet wine and dandelion wine. You might have a little bit of that occasionally for health purposes. You might hear that it helps you sleep better at night.

Homemade wine-making using an old-fashioned kerosene-powered stove in an Amish home in upstate New York
Amish making homemade wine in upstate New York. The stove is heated using kerosene. Photo: Karen Johnson-Weiner

On the other hand, some communities actually have a reputation for alcohol use and even abuse. I’m not going to name them right here, but there’s some communities where alcohol is a problem. You’ll see that among Amish youth and even among the adults in some places.

I’ve noticed the odd bottle of store-bought hard alcohol on Amish shelves from time to time. I’ve bumped into an Amish man or two having a Saturday night beer. Amish people may have a celebratory drink at weddings. Homemade spirits like wine or cider were perhaps more common in the past.

Plainer Amish using alcohol

What’s a little ironic is some of the plainer Amish groups tend to be more open to alcohol consumption. You would think the most traditional Amish, the most conservative groups that use the lowest level of technology – you might assume that those groups tend to be the ones totally against alcohol, but that’s generally not the case.

Groups with a “plain reputation”, like the Swartzentruber Amish and Swiss Amish do consume alcohol. It’s the generally more progressive New Order Amish, who are the ones that are the most vocally against alcohol.

Two conservative Amish women in dark hued dresses and black bonnets standing in front of a white-sided home
The Amish are a conservative culture compared to mainstream America, but that doesn’t mean they all abstain from alcohol. Photo: Jim Halverson

And Amish have opinions on other communities’ customs. For example, I once sat with an Amishman in central Indiana as he told me, with something akin to horror, of a settlement in another state where hard liquor was customary on greeting a visitor. This is another reason why it’s not always easy to give a quick answer when asked how “the Amish” do something. It can really vary.

Amish youth & alcohol

Sometimes you’ll see headlines about Amish youth getting into alcohol-related trouble. And of course, Amish parents don’t like seeing their children getting into this behavior just as much as non-Amish parents don’t approve of it. Sometimes you’ll see even DUIs happen, where an Amish youth or even an adult gets pulled over and charged with driving under the influence. Generally alcohol laws apply to driving a buggy, like they do to a car.

Some communities have a reputation for Amish young people having parties where alcohol is present. Two of the most notorious communities for this are in Geauga County, Ohio, and northern Indiana (Shipshewana and surrounding areas). A Google search will provide the examples. One community in particular (New Wilmington, PA) has recently gotten attention for a number of buggy DUI arrests. There are more cases that no doubt go unreported.

News report describing a DUI charge against a Pennsylvania Amish teen driving a buggy
Amish people are occasionally charged with driving under the influence. Source: WKBN.com

Concerning the youth, some parents look the other way. But others put time and effort trying to crack down on it. This eye-opener of an article (no longer online) describes collaboration between the Amish and local law enforcement. One case ends in a couple of nights in jail for a pair of cocky underage drinkers. When asked why he chose such a harsh approach, the judge involved replies that “their elders want me to treat them like that”.

A desire to prevent alcohol abuse and wild behavior among youth has also led to the rise of supervised youth groups or “gangs” in a number of communities (notably Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and Holmes County, Ohio). In these groups, parents attend Sunday night singings and there is an emphasis on cleaner behavior. Some communities have even implemented alcohol education programs for their young people.

Past public examples have shown general Amish attitudes towards alcohol. For example, in 2007 Indiana granted a permit for wine sales to a local hotel in Shipshewana (aka Ship-she), the tourist center of the northern Indiana Amish settlement.  Shipshewana had been a historically dry town, upsetting some residents. Some cited Amish traditions as a reason for keeping the town booze-free. Years later residents rejected the idea of a liquor store in the community.

Alcohol as a part of Amish church

Twice a year the Amish have a communion service. At this communion service they will drink wine as a part of the service. In some Amish communities they will use grape juice, for example, in the New Order Amish, in place of the wine.

So there is some religious use of alcohol in this case in line with Scripture, though not all Amish are on board with consuming alcohol, even in these special church situations.

The Amish and alcohol abuse

Amish people are not immune from alcohol abuse and the problems than can come with excessive alcohol consumption. One writer in John Hostetler’s Amish Roots describes her father’s long battle with alcoholism, and his eventual triumph over it, thanks in part to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Red Amish barn structures with a clothesline and an open-top black Amish buggy
Amish people are not immune from struggles with alcoholism, though alcohol abuse is generally less common in Amish society. Photo: Jim Halverson

But on the public stage, if not the private, the Amish really aren’t that big on drinking.  As Donald Kraybill puts it in The Riddle of Amish Culture:  ‘Alcohol abuse, present among some youth, is practically nil among adults’. That likely remains true for the most part, with some exceptions. And again, individual Amish people may struggle with alcohol even though its use is not prevalent in their communities.

Amish alcohol use compared to non-Amish use

I would say that overall the Amish don’t really have a drinking culture. Alcohol is not fundamental to the “Amish way of life”. But of course “the Amish” refers to many different communities. So in some communities you have some that are more open to alcohol, where it may actually be more of a part of the culture.

The Amish are human, of course, and so you’re going to have people that may have issues with alcohol within the Amish. They’re not immune from that. But for the most part, if you take the average Amish person, alcohol consumption is likely not as high as with the average non-Amish person.

So you’ll still be a lot more likely to catch an Amish fellow with a cold can of Dew, a piping-hot cup of coffee, or a tin of straight-from-the-udder raw milk, than a cool Bud.

Related topics

What about tobacco use among the Amish? Some Amish do smoke, and some also raise tobacco. Similar to the situation with alcohol, smoking and tobacco cultivation are not condoned by all Amish and you tend to see it localized to certain groups and communities. Read more on the Amish and tobacco.

Get the Amish in your inbox

Join 15,000 email subscribers. No spam. 100% free

    Join the Amish America Patreon for bonus videos & more!

    Similar Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    15 Comments

    1. The Amish do have a German heritage after all, and the Germans do drink.

    2. The Amish ambivalence about alcohol was a surprise me when I first started visiting their communities years ago…..for some reason I had it in my mind that the Amish wouldn’t drink at all….but your post said it well, it really just depends on the person, not a centralized church edict….I’ve sipped Amish-made, homemade dandelion wine (yum) and seen plenty of cases of beer being bought by Amish……but, as you say, others won’t get near it…kind of mirrors the non-Amish population….

    3. I’m not sure why I think this, but someone must have told me this once: Do most “edicts” in the Amish community come from the local Bishop?

    4. How Amish edicts change over time

      Hi Melissa–Most of the ‘big-time’ edicts come from the Bible of course, but when you get down to the cultural issues of say, what kind of clothes are acceptable (which is what I think you’re talking about-?), it’s usually a bit more democratic, ie if there is enough support for a change–say to allow a certain type of farm technology–there is usually something like a vote held. If people can agree on a change, great, but there is always the potential for a split or dissatisfied members leaving for a more liberal or conservative congregation. The rules for a particular district are reviewed twice a year at a special church service held just prior to the Communion service.

      The Bishop is charged with upholding the agreed community standards among his members, enforcing the rules with the help of his deacon and ministers. He’s not really a totalitarian figure as much as it might seem, ie he doesn’t legislate so much as executes.

      Kevin–dandelion wine–sounds great–I can’t imagine what that’s like. Maybe I will get a shot to try, I will be in Holmes County in 2 weeks.

    5. Marsdon

      It seems a bit contradictory to not drive or have modern conveniences, which seems to be a type of gross abstinence, to allowing drinking and teens getting in each other’s beds and doing who know’s what. Teens in bed is just insane.

    6. S. Graham

      Hi, I have a question but please don’t post my name on the site. My husband and I live in Northern Ontario. We are not Amish but we live in style as in faith the Amish way. Do you know of any churches we can look into with thease morals. We find it hard on our own and the way people talk we need a good church community.
      Thankyou.

    7. I work at as the Associate Winemaker at Fenn Valley Vineyards, in SW Michigan. The other Saturday a large bus load of Amish stoped at the winery and tasted and bought wine here. I doubt it’s for their chickens.

    8. Amish red beet wine

      Vernon, you are probably right, unless that is a new poultry raising technique I’m unaware of!

      When I’m among Amish friends I see the differing attitudes toward alcohol.

      At one home, an occasional social glass of homemade (fairly strong!) red beet wine is offered as a treat. In another, alcohol is off-limits for all members of the family–and that particular church as a whole takes a hard line against alcohol. It really varies among Amish churches and individuals.

    9. Don’t know about their drinking habits, but I know they do make moonshine in Missouri. There’s a mason jar full (well, about 3/4 full maybe) in the fridge. It’s not mine. and since I don’t drink, I can’t attest to the quality, but I’ll bet as moonshine goes, it’s good.

    10. Mary Brandenburg

      One of younger friends in Mt. Hope (around 32-ish) very much enjoys an “ice-cold” beer after a long day in the shop during the summer heat. Also, many families make their own wine and bottle it for use during their “communion” Sunday that is held twice per year.

    11. todd

      wine and amish

      I must add to this post and thought of taking the bread as the body of Christ and drinking the wine as the blood of Christ as well. Nothing is more sacrid than breaking bread and drinking from the blood. It’s what the apostles did on the last supper w Jesus.

    12. Do the Amish drink?

      ติดต่อได้ 24 ชม.
      http://www.2planned.com
      0884010904
      0884010905
      ID line มี 2 ไอดี
      2planned
      2planned2

    13. J. Terwilliger

      I've seen

      I’ve seen plenty of amish around my community but cases and cases of beer, however I have never seen them buy the “hard” stuff.

    14. Jenny

      I grew up in Lancaster County. My parents befriended an Amish family when I was a baby, that we still keep in touch with 40 years later. I would spend weeks on their farm, “dressing Amish” and doing everything their kids did, with the exception of attending church services. My dad was a hospital administrator, and one winter, while visiting the family, he noticed that their oldest son, John, had a severely broken nose that was almost flattened. At first he was told that he broke it when he slipped on the ice, but they finally confessed that be broke it falling flat on his face on the ice…coming out of a bar, completely drunk! He was on an “extended” Rumspringa, so this was casually dismissed. Once becoming a member of the church, they were no longer allowed to drink publicly or socially, but it was a personal/family choice to have a drink with your family at home.