Given the lavish drinking habits of J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits, it’s a wonder they managed to make it out of the Shire, let alone defeat a flaming disembodied eye. Their success suggests they were aware of their upper limit — the maximum number of half-pints their furry little bodies could take in before passing out. While Tolkien never explicitly reveals that secret number, his books provide us all the data we need to calculate it.
Emily Asher-Perrin of Tor.com took it upon herself to apply basic math and physiology to the clues provided in the Lord of the Rings novels, noting that several elements — including hobbit size, preferred beer type, number of beers, and, crucially, the efficiency of hobbit livers — factored into how much a hobbit can drink.
Some variables were easy to figure out: The Fellowship of the Ring chapter “Concerning Hobbits” notes that the halflings are, on average, three feet and six inches tall, and Asher-Perrin calculated that, thanks to ancillary meals like “Elevenses,” they’re likely to be heavier than the average 42-inch human, weighing in at about 70 pounds. It’s safe to assume that the hobbits, having shared many drinks with Men like Aragorn, imbibe human-strength ale, which for simplicity’s sake, we assume is about 5 percent ABV.
Ultimately, it’s the alcohol elimination rate — the rate at which the body can clear booze from the bloodstream via the liver — that determines how hard hobbits can go on a night out. Not all livers, of course, process alcohol equally, and it’s been shown that those that are accustomed to processing booze — those of the hobbits fall into this category — will do so more quickly. Note, however, that livers that are injured (from, say, excessive drinking) will ultimately be less efficient. Merry and Pippin, we’re looking at you.
Asher-Perrin used the Widmark formula, an equation that gives a rough estimate of a person’s blood alcohol content, together with an estimated alcohol elimination rate, to conclude that the average hobbit could consume an Imperial half-pint an hour and maintain a “vague euphoria,” but exceeding one-and-a-half pints hourly would result in motor skill and memory impairment, together with decreased self-control. Enemies of hobbits should note that they are likely to be their most vulnerable when they’re drinking more than two pints an hour, which is when blacking out and vomiting sets in. At two-and-a-half pints per hour, the average male hobbit will have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.082 percent. In human terms, that’s past the legal intoxication level of 0.08.
Guidelines for human alcohol consumption vary by country, but the United States government considers “binge drinking” — that is, reaching a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent — to be the consumption of four drinks in two hours for women, and five drinks in the same amount of time for men.
That is to say, going drink for drink with Frodo and his crew is probably not a great idea, because they pretty much clear alcohol from their bodies at the same rate as we do, and — given their lush lifestyles — are likely to be much more accustomed to boozing than most humans.
Either way, it’s still safer to challenge a hobbit than an Ent.