Aims: This study aimed to explore rural Australians' perceptions of social and cultural factors influencing alcohol use in their communities. Methods: Semi-structured interviews exploring rural community key informants' (n = 46) perceptions of social and cultural factors influencing alcohol consumption in their community were conducted. A narrative analysis identified cultural capital as a salient concept for explaining how rural community life is created and sustained via drinking practices. Results: Themes relating to participants' accounts of learning to drink, normal drinking; exclusion because of not drinking and problematic drinkers are described. Conclusion: In rural communities, beliefs and values about drinking as a positive social practice are transmitted, rewarded and reproduced across multiple groups and settings, reinforcing that drinking is an integral part of Australian rural culture. Drinking is so important that engaging in drinking practices creates and sustains cultural capital. As a result, alcohol-related harm is of little concern to rural dwellers. © The Author 2012. Medical Council on Alcohol and Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.