Anthropological research on alcohol use and misuse has largely focused on the symbolic meaning of alcohol in ritual settings and its role in the everyday lives of indigenous populations. Much has been written on the role of alcohol as a social lubricant, a vehicle for anxiety relief, a marker of ethnic identity and social status and, in some cases, a part of everyday resistance practices deployed by subordinated populations. Less attention has been given to how the excessive consumption of alcohol is perceived amongst the people themselves, and their own ways of trying to make sense of alcohol-related problems within a rapidly changing social and economic environment. This article considers these issues by looking at a particular group of low-caste/class boatmen in the city of Banaras, and how they articulate alcohol use and abuse. It suggests that perceptions, consumption and broader cultural classification of alcohol can only be appreciated by considering how specific community structures, conflicts and everyday practice are interlaced with culturally constituted notions of power and danger in Hindu society.