In brief, alcoholic drinks are not simply reducible to a uniform chemical substance with physiological effects. They constitute a form of material culture subject to almost unlimited possibilities for variation in terms of ingredients, techniques of preparation, patterns of association and exclusion, modes of serving and consumption, aesthetic and moral evaluations, expected behavior when drinking, styles of inebriation, and so forth. They form a versatile and highly charged symbolic medium and social tool that are operative in the playing out of ritual and politics, and in the construction of social and economic relations, in crucial ways. Hence, alcohol, as a special class of embodied material culture, is a particularly salient example of what Mauss referred to as a “total social fact,” and it constitutes an especially revealing focus of analysis for anthropologists and historians.
Michael Dietler, “Alcohol: Anthropological/Archaeological Perspectives”, Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 35 (2006), 232.