A discussion about this on another forum got me thinking. Hypothetically, if the physiological effects of alcohol were not present, would people still enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages? Surely yes, now that we've been conditioned to like it. But I wonder if we found a sample of people raised in a non-alcohol-philic society (assuming there is one), and presented them with a variety of alcoholic beverages, they would enjoy any of them. Whatever they decide, is it despite the taste of alcohol, or because of it?
My guess is they wouldn't enjoy it. Alcohol is poison to us (and most other organisms as far as I know), right? So it would be only natural for us to find the taste offensive.
But on the other hand, fermented beverages also last because of that very same reason. And many people unknowingly took advantage of that fact to preserve beverages - wine, beer, etc. So maybe over the millennia of surviving on alcohol, we (or certain populations) have grown a penchant for it?
I don't like beer or wine myself but I do know beer drinkers LOVE the taste of "good" beer- whatever that is.
Wine is the same- some people love it.
As far as going to the bar to taste- some like shots, mixed-drinks, beer and wine- sometimes all on the same night.
In my area they have wine tasting tours all over the place- It's a multi-billion dollar business-
You can also tour beer and spirit distilleries - with sampling/tasting rooms.
I love the taste and pallet cleansing power of good cellar aged 'old world' style red wines mainly from France, South Africa and Chile. I also enjoy the taste of Cognac and single malt Whiskeys. The alcohol high isn't important to me.
I love alcohol and the taste. Fine wines ... whiskeys , beers , cordials of all kinds.
I kind of enjoy the burning sensation of the harder liquors. Reminds me that I'm alive and the slight burning pain turns into enjoyment in a way.. then you get that warm feeling all over when sipping a whiskey.
If I didn't get drunk then I would drink endless amounts of the above mentioned.
I think that, while we realize that alcohol in its purest form is poison, we can condition ourselves, mentally as well as physically, to tolerate and even appreciate certain beverages.
Take Guiness, for example. Thick, dark, with a definite aftertaste that lingers (and lingers. And lingers). When first I tried it, I was appalled. Who in their right mind would willingly pour this stuff down their throat? But after a five day stay in Dublin (where, I am told, I thouroughly enjoyed myself) I learned to enjoy the Black Brew to the point where it is now my beverage of choice.
But always in moderation. As I age, the recovery periods are becoming far to long. :)
Liquor, yes. Malt/barley/hop type beverages and grape based beverages, I'm not so sure. It's true that the poison elements in the liquids would put us off, but based on your thought experiment, the poison element wouldn't be present in the alcohol to begin with. So that leaves only the taste of the beverage.
I've found the variety among the beer type drinks to be almost mind-boggling. Some of these I've found to be downright disgusting (Corona, Hoegarden). Others I've found genuinely tasty or at least a flavor adventure (Smokebeer, Vanilla Porter).
A similar question could be asked about many things we consume. Take soft drinks, for example. Many soft drinks actually contain phosphoric acid. This article, http://www.naturalnews.com/021774.html, contains a discussion on whether or not battery acid is worse for your teeth than the acid contained in the soda. One must assume that if there's a question about it, some doubt about the safety of it exists. So, why would someone put that in their mouth -- is it that the soft drink taste is THAT good?
I think also at least a nod must be made toward the idea of differing tastes. I still believe onions are the most disgusting vegetable ever, though I know people who swear that foods are not complete without them. There are, however, a number of foods that I have learned, after years of trial and error, to tolerate and even like. It seems inconceivable to me that out of the billions of people on this planet, should the physiological effects of alcohol were never present, many would still enjoy it, albeit at a much diminished population.