There’s a big difference between having breath that smells like alcohol and having alcohol breath: The former simply acknowledges that one’s breath smells as though they’ve consumed alcohol, while the latter is that wretched scent of yeast, sugar, nastiness and the sort of moldering despair you can smell seeping from the entrance of a rural cellar in the late stages of fall. There is a very fine line between the acquisition of the two, however, and some drinks will lead you to the gross territory more quickly than others.
Bad breath is typically caused by bacteria, consuming smelly foods or some combination of the two. Onions and garlic can cause bad breath on their own by nature of the food, but can also interact with the bacteria within the mouth producing a new, even worse scent. Further, as food particles break down among your teeth, bacteria can increase: Because alcohol is produced via the fermentation of sugar via grains and fruit, the same process can occur when we consume a good ole adult beverage.
Alcohol can further worsen your breath in other ways, too. Beyond food, bad breath can be caused by smoking, medications, infections, poor dental hygiene and even nose and throat conditions, but often, bad breath is simply a side effect of having a dry mouth, perhaps as the result of one of these aforementioned causes. And as anyone who has had a few too many knows, alcohol can easily dry you out.
Saliva, it should be noted, doesn’t sit in your mouth just because it’s fun: Ultimately, its purpose is to help break down food and remove bacteria and particles from the mouth. When our mouths are dry, there’s no saliva to whisk away the icky stuff, and that un-whisked icky stuff is going to lead to butt-breath.
Beyond sugar-devouring bacteria and dry mouth, alcohol can worsen your breath because it’s capable of changing the entire microbiome of your mouth. One major study of non-drinkers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers found that non-drinkers had a higher presence of healthy mouth bacteria and a lower presence of the bacteria that can cause infections, while the inverse was true for moderate and heavy drinkers. According to Gizmodo, the researchers speculate that alcohol changes the microbiome by “killing off certain immune cells, damaging the teeth or fundamentally changing our saliva’s composition.” Further, there may simply be a correlation between heavy drinking and poor dental hygiene (if you regularly pass out without brushing your teeth, congratulations, you are seen). The study didn’t break down specifically which kinds of alcohol make your breath smell the worst, but they did find significant microbiome differences among wine drinkers.
In summation, the record as to which alcohol is most likely to get you rejected for a smooch still isn’t set, but there are some anecdotal suggestions: Vodka has been found to kill bad-breath bacteria, for example, but when mixed with sugary juices and sodas, you’re probably going to undo those already-dubious benefits. Meanwhile, beer provides some of the most distinct bad breath, since all that yeast can make your mouth a bacteria orgy. The hops aren’t doing you any favors, either, with the office consensus being that India Pale Ales are by far the biggest culprit of oral nasty (probably because of all those dang hops).
Basically, that hip brewery probably isn’t the best place for romancing someone whose mouth you’re hoping to explore.