Minimum unit price: Irish alcohol is the least affordable in Western Europe

Ireland’s new minimum alcohol price law came into effect last week and has proven to be controversial to say the least.

Some argue that a floor on how much we pay per unit of alcohol is needed to reduce problematic alcohol use, while others are furious at having to pay more for their drink.

But how much has the new regime made one of our country’s favorite pastimes one of our country’s favorite pastimes?

Buzz analyzed the numbers to find out how long a minimum-wage Irishman will now have to work to afford popular drinks – and how that compares to other European countries.

In a word

The Irish will now have to work longer to buy alcohol than any other country in Western Europe. Of our national minimum wage of € 10.20 an hour, a bottle of wine will “cost” at least 43 minutes, a can of beer ten, and a bottle of vodka over two hours.

This makes us an outlier when several countries with comparable minimum wages – like France, the Netherlands, and Germany – have some of the most affordable alcohol prices. Scotland, the first country to introduce minimum unit prices in 2018, also edged out Ireland.

However, alcohol is even more inaccessible in Eastern European countries, mainly due to their relatively low wages. Croatia, Latvia, and the Czech Republic, none of which have minimum unit prices, have emerged as the most expensive places for a minimum-wage worker to drink.


To afford the minimum price of € 7.40 for a 750 ml bottle of 12% wine, you would now have to work nearly three quarters of an hour with the Irish minimum wage of € 10.20. This is slightly more than the European average of 40 minutes.

In Sweden, where drinks containing more than 3.5% alcohol must be sold in public stores, you can exchange just 24 minutes of work for a bottle of wine.

But it is France that will give you the most for your money. It would take eight minutes to afford one of the cheapest bottles of supermarket wine (around € 1.45).

Countries where wine is less affordable are Bulgaria, Poland and Malta. However, in real terms, it’s still much cheaper to buy a bottle in all of these countries – with the lowest prices ranging from € 5.70 to just € 2.66.


A 500ml can of 5% beer must cost at least € 1.77 in Ireland under the new regime, which equates to around ten minutes of work.

Unsurprisingly, the beer-crazed Germans come out on top in Europe, trading just under two minutes of work for a can. Corn Croats have to work ten times longer with their minimum wage of € 2.77 an hour to afford the cheapest beer there (€ 0.92).

Drinkers at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany enjoy their cheap mugs


The Irish minimum price of € 22.09 for 700ml of 37.5% vodka makes it one of the least affordable in the EU. This equates to two hours and ten minutes of work at minimum wage.

It’s also almost the most expensive in real terms, just behind Sweden’s € 23.20.

With a discounted bottle costing only half an hour of labor, Germany became the cheapest country to buy vodka, followed closely by Denmark and Spain. In contrast, a Czech worker would have to work more than four hours to afford 700 ml of alcohol.


It is not all gloomy. Ireland is always winning when it comes to one drink – Guinness.

Four cans of local stout will cost 47 minutes of labor here, the third best in the EU. In contrast, in Latvia, workers have to time three and a half hours to pay the same amount.

However, it is now cheaper to buy black stuff in Germany, England, Scotland and France than in your home country.

The bottom line

Of course, making drinks less affordable has been the driving force behind the new pricing – the government wants to encourage us to think twice before buying.

“Tackling the availability of cheap hard liquor will reduce illness and death from harmful alcohol use and ensure that cheap hard liquor will not be available to children and young people at low prices. “pocket money” prices, ”Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said when the measure was introduced last year.

But as the cost of living and inequality in Ireland continue to rise, many may wonder whether minimum pricing will be too much of a burden on ordinary workers.

Mary I. Bruner