In what could have been an awful piece of television, 6 European and 6 Japanese bankers in the City of London were sat down in a bar and given beer. After only 2 glasses, 4 of the 6 Japanese were bright red and visibly uncomfortable. One of the two exceptions was a noticeably small woman who polished-off half a dozen without problems. None of the Europeans were similarly affected.
The premise (which is widely accepted in Europe) is that beer and wine gave clean drinking water. If you reacted badly to it, good ol' Evolution found its path through unsanitised water. In the East, the drink was tea, so the tolerance of alcohol is not an innate part of the population.
Hell, beer WAS food for many generations. It is only very recently that food became cheap in the modern world. Before decent nutrition, beer was a way for manual labourers to get cheap calories quickly. We're talking up to the 1960s here, not just the 1690s.