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I know there have already been discussions if Butterbeer and other drinks in HP are spiritous or not. I'm NOT trying to re-hash that discussion.

But I am going to assume that at least the wine & "oak-matured" mead mentioned in the books can have intoxicating effects like the real world. I'm not sure about the UK, but the minimum drinking age in the US is 21 years. I seem to remember references throughout the novels (although I can't remember exactly where) that say something to the effect "just get them to drink a few butterbeers/mead/wine/etc and they'll start talking" (they weren't talking about potions/magic either).

I can remember at least one concrete example that I can use for this question. Towards the end of Chapter 18 of HBP, Professor Slughorn gives Harry & Ron some mead on Ron's 17th birthday as a pick-me-up for Ron after he gave Ron an antidote to the love-potion-infused chocolates that he accidentally ate.

Assuming there is a minimum drinking age higher than 17 in JKR's home county, why would she include this kind of under-aged drinking in a children's novel? Is the thinking that the kids can do magic and make potions which can be much more potent than spiritous drinks so it doesn't matter? Or is there compelling evidence that wine & mead are non-intoxicating in the Potterverse?

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    Minimum drinking age in the UK is 16 for stuff like beer and wine (when purchased with a meal by an adult), if I remember correctly... and mead is "honey wine".
    – Catija
    Nov 14, 2015 at 5:42
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    Isn't 17 the wizard age of adulthood?
    – Rogue Jedi
    Nov 14, 2015 at 5:42
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    Assuming there is a minimum drinking age higher than 17 in JKR's home county, … This assumption is wrong: Under certain conditions, minors aged 16 can get beer or wine in a restaurant, and for a private setting (i.e. no pub), as in this case, the absolute minimum age is 5. No restrictions from age 18. Similar rules apply in many other European countries (the Scandinavian countries being a notable exception).
    – chirlu
    Nov 14, 2015 at 5:45
  • @Rogue Jedi: True, but minimum age for alcohol can be both lower (UK) and higher (US) than the adult age. Also, Harry was not yet 17 at the time.
    – chirlu
    Nov 14, 2015 at 5:48
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    Assuming there is a minimum drinking age higher than 17 in JKR's home county. You don't have to assume this, did you try to find any information in drinking laws in the UK?
    – Austin
    Nov 14, 2015 at 6:46

2 Answers 2

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According to bbc.co.uk:

Young people aged 16 or 17 can drink beer, wine or cider with a meal if it is bought by an adult and they are accompanied by an adult. It is illegal for this age group to drink spirits in pubs even with a meal. It is illegal for people under 18 to buy alcohol in a pub, off-licence, shop or elsewhere.

Harry Potter is 11, and then 12 in the first book, 12, and then 13 in the second, and so on and so forth. So, as soon as book 6, Harry Potter would have the ability to drink alcoholic drinks if the above rules were implied.

However, a problem lies with the stated question. You are attempting to apply out-of-universe laws and regulations to the in-universe Harry Potter laws and regulations. The wizarding world has its own set of rules, laws, by-laws, and regulations that do not always run parallel to the laws and regulations of the surrounding world. Even if we assume that the surrounding muggle world in the Harry Potter universe is in fact supposed to be our reality (a fair assumption as many real-world references are made as pertaining to the muggle world throughout the books and films), this does not mean that the same laws that apply to muggles, also apply to wizards.

To summarize, wizards live in their own world with their own laws, much without the influence of muggle laws and muggle police forces, except for the rare occasion when the two worlds collide. What could be considered to be underage drinking to us muggles could very well be perfectly legal, of-age drinking to wizards. Maybe they don't have any laws pertaining to alcohol in the wizarding world? Maybe their legal drinking age is 7? We don't know, as specific wizarding world laws such as the legal drinking age have never been explained in any canon material, as far as I have found.

As a side note, Warner Brothers released a statement about this exact issue, which can be read more about in this nytimes.com article:

Warner Brothers, which released the movie, said the drinking scenes were “open to different interpretations.”

“One of our main objectives in bringing the Harry Potter films to the screen has been to remain as faithful to their original source material as created by J. K Rowling,” the company wrote in an e-mail message, adding that the wizarding world “should not be held to the same standards as the real world.”

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  • Of course, you can feel any way you want about what the legal drinking age should be, but the long and short of the matter is that we have no idea what the legal drinking age laws actually are in the wizarding world. If anyone can find any canon material that states anything about the legal drinking age in the wizarding world, or if the wizards are forced to live by the same laws as muggles, please let me know and I can edit my answer.
    – Paul Omans
    Nov 14, 2015 at 6:20
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    It's a very nice answer and I'm pleased to see you went to the effort of actually citing the state of the law. However, minor correction, "as soon as book 5" should be "as soon as book 6". Harry, as you rightly say, turns 11 at the start of book 1, gets accepted to Hogwarts and then turns 12 on the next 31st of July which isn't actually shown until book 2 (first chapter, in fact, The Worst Birthday). He starts book 5 having just turned 15 and doesn't turn 16 until the start of book 6
    – Au101
    Nov 15, 2015 at 2:32
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    @Au101 Thanks, edited. I was wondering if that was how it worked or not.
    – Paul Omans
    Nov 15, 2015 at 14:29
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in most european countries the legal age to purchase your own alcohol is 18 however as was stated in a comment the UK has a minimum age of 5 years for supervised consumption of alcohol in private

a teacher providing alcohol probably counts as supervision although parental permission coul be an issue (however in the specific case mentioned in the question the alcohol could have been considered medicinal)

tl;dr

in the location the books take place no illegal acts are taking place in regard to alcohol

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